Exhibit A: Fraulein Graf. Just turned sweet 16, already a three-year veteran of the world rankings. The day she became a semifinalist in New York, her considerable earnings provided her younger brother back home with a computer for his birthday.
Exhibit B: Herr Becker. Wimbledon champion at 17, while still resembling a Cabbage Patch doll. Mr. J.P. McEnroe, speaking from the vantage of 26 years: "At his age I was staying in three-dollar hotels. He's already got watch contracts."
Alas, The Quarterfinal was not to be. A blond Swede named Joakim Nystrom, who nearly beat Becker at Wimbledon, dispatched him in the round of 16. So McEnroe was left to carve up two of the remaining four Swedes—the nighttime defeat of Nystrom was mostly an exquisite revival of physical prowess, the steaming midday bouncing of Wilander a glorious exhibition of mental tenacity. Then, inevitably, he encountered Lendl, who had faced precious few obstacles in the dreary bottom half of the draw. Lendl's semifinal opponent was Connors, whom he trounced. Jimbo is still a force against lesser lights, but no match for the top three. He now stands 1-12 against Lendl, McEnroe and Wilander for the last twelvemonth. He pleaded a turned left ankle in defeat. "Yes," said Lendl in his usual deadpan style, "it seemed to me he was favoring it after the points, but during them it didn't seem to be bothering him at all."
Overall, the tournament was a monument to form—the 11th-seeded Graf and Heinz Gunthardt, an unseeded Swiss, were the only non-Top 10ers to make the quarterfinals—and the defeats of Kevin Curren and Johan Kriek created the only passing stir of the early going. American tennis is so woeful that even our South African white hopes can't win.
Curren, the Wimbledon runner-up who has candidly admitted that he sought U.S. citizenship simply as a flag of convenience, won this year's dog-in-the-manger award by attacking his new country's Open with such fervor that he ended up asking that "they" unload an A-bomb on the premises. Of course, "they" might start in the press room, where eight years after the Open was deposited in Flushing Meadow, a large segment of the parochial press contingent continues to concentrate its most searching inquiries into how the boys and girls of Racketdom, poor things, are coping with New York—as if New York were some exotic jungle site and playing the Open was on the order of being on the wrong side of an Ugandan coup.
Still worse was CBS, which paid Connors to interview players live while he was still in the tournament. Really, now: Has television no respect for the dignity of a competition? Must it trivialize everything into some tawdry form of talk show? Hardly better was CBS hiring Pam Shriver to interview her doubles partner, Navratilova. But at least Shriver was no longer in the singles draw, having been eliminated by the fledgling Graf in the tournament's best match.
Their quarterfinal meeting was the first women's match during the Open's tiebreak era to go the maximum 39 games. After two hours and 45 minutes on the airless Grandstand Court, the score stood at 7-6, 6-7, 6-6 and 4-all in the tiebreaker. Only then did Peter Graf, Steffi's father and coach—"I have two hearts for her," he said—swallow hard. Steffi won the next three points. Were you nervous, Steffi? "Well, not really." Were you tired? "Well, not really." Innocence can sometimes be a better weapon even than a stout forehand.
Graf's shirt clung to her pasty body, drenching her. In a fortnight that was stifling almost every day, only the estimable Mrs. Lloyd didn't seem to be saturated in sweat. After she rolled over Claudia Kohde-Kilsch to advance to the semis for the 15th straight year, the loser said the winner might be playing better than ever. That made it all the more curious two days later when Evert Lloyd came out so dispirited against Mandlikova, displaying an utter stranger's backhand, one that floated aimlessly and landed without punch. "I'm not a machine," she said with a shrug.
Still, Mandlikova needed three sets to win, while Navratilova's idle dismantling of Graf raised few doubts. Betty Stove, Mandlikova's coach, took her pupil in hand. "O.K., let's not make a big thing of this," she said. Be calm. So what if it meant beating Chris and Martina on successive days? The next day Mandlikova circled away from Navratilova in the locker room, cat and mouse, trying to avoid eye contact. Finally, a few minutes before they went on, Stove brought up tactics. "It's a battle of who gets to the net first," she said. Mandlikova began taking the net on the champion's serves instantly—and almost with disdain. Often, both players ended up there, firing reflex volleys at a few paces. Usually Mandlikova prevailed. The comet never flashed brighter; after 17 minutes she led 5-0, and a few moments later she had a point for the bagel.
But never go away when Mandlikova flares. She hadn't been in a tournament final in six months. Just last month she had led Kohde-Kilsch 5-2 in successive sets and lost them both. And this was Navratilova across the net. Suddenly Martina was breathtaking, and it was 5-all. Navratilova then had eight break points for 6-5. Even when she botched that opportunity, she came back and purchased a tiebreaker. But Navratilova could only hold one of her five serves, and Mandlikova ran out the breaker 7-3.