In the often bitchy world of international tennis, Hana Mandlikova and Ivan Lendl have shared much. Both are Czechoslovaks—you'd be rich if you had a nickel for each time a headline read CANCELED CZECH after either one lost—both were prodigies, and both possess magnificent lithe bodies with legs that only cowboys and showgirls are supposed to own. Both lead the league in calumny, too. You'd be richer still if you had a nickel for each time she was labeled erratic and he a choker.
This is not to say that Mandlikova hasn't been erratic. And Lendl indeed has a history of overpowering small fry in the early rounds and then losing finals to his peers. Nonetheless, the scales were balanced with irony and justice alike at Flushing Meadow last weekend when both not only won their first U.S. Opens but also defeated the defenders—Mandlikova in a compelling tiebreaker drama over Martina Navratilova, Lendl in a masterful rout of John McEnroe.
It was the first time two Europeans had won the U.S. Open, the ultimate sign that however much American money the championship produces, it grinds out less palatable American tennis sausage all the time. The dominion of championship tennis has crossed to Europe. To paraphrase what W.H. Auden wrote in quite another context 45 years ago, "All the dogs of Europe are barking."
The Davis Cup is Continental property. So is the Federation Cup. Sweden, with a population [1/30] of ours, produces more top tour contenders than America does. Europe gave this Open four female and six male quarterfinalists, the first time ever that the Old World, or any world save our own, so dominated our national championship. Perhaps most significant of all for the future, this was the third successive Grand Slam tournament in which a genuine teenage star from outside these shores was unveiled. The French Open introduced us to Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, Wimbledon to Boris Becker and Flushing Meadow to another German, Steffi Graf, who made the semis before bowing to our best immigrant, Martina Navratilova.
Indeed, only the Statue of Liberty—green cards, anyway—might save American tennis from atrophying altogether. The best example of a foreign import, Lendl, resides in Greenwich, Conn. with his German shepherds and his sports cars, a suburban country-club squire who commuted to his tennis office between visits to the links and aerobics classes. Apart from a walking start, his defeat of McEnroe was awesome. Lendl, who has been studying under Tony Roche, the past master of the volley, won from the net as well as from the baseline. Curiously, McEnroe won his first 16 points on service, broke Lendl the first time he served, had a set point at 5-2 and served for the set at 5-3. But, suddenly, the match turned, and Lendl started thinking, "There's no ball I can't get to, and no shot I can't hit."
He won the tiebreaker with the loss of a single point and maintained control thereafter, winning the last two sets 6-3, 6-4. McEnroe never saw Lendl play better. Lendl's crosscourt forehand—this from a man who dined out down the line for many years—was simply devastating. But this weekend was one of metamorphosis, and fittingly the shot that won Lendl the title was a volley.
To be fair, McEnroe had the more trying trip to the final. In the fifth set of a first-round encounter with Shlomo Glickstein, a heavy-legged Israeli ranked in triple figures, McEnroe trailed 5-4, 15-30—two points from perhaps the greatest upset in tennis history. The fans roared for Glickstein, who was also only two points from an upset at 6-all in the tiebreaker, but McEnroe grubbed out the victory. Afterward, Mac stood like some noble Roman consul, his left hand extended high, palm out, his face drained by the grim demands of triumph.
Mac's travails were far from over. He would have to take on the usual injustices of an unfair, imperfect world. Once he dispatched a ball boy to the stands to tell the Mets' Gary Carter not to sign autographs. When playing one Martin Wostenholme, a Yale grad from Toronto, McEnroe heard a fan be so audacious as to say, "Come on, Marty." So McEnroe barked at him, "Why don't you go back to Canada?" The fan hails from Long Island. Mac also treated Open fans to the predictable imprecations at the CBS courtside microphone, shouted accusations that the tournament referee was boozing on the job, delivered a tasteless Japanese imitation for a photographer from Tokyo and demanded that a gentleman in the seventh row put out his cigar.
But always The Quarterfinal loomed. There McEnroe would find Becker, the captain of the children's crusade, in their first meeting since Becker won Wimbledon. McEnroe quite enjoyed all the fuss Becker was attracting. Normally the Europeans dig emotional foxholes at the major venues, surfacing only to hit and run, leaving the aging American quartet of Jimbo, Chrissie, Martina and Mac to sell newspapers. Third-ranked Mats Wilander, the French Open champion who carried McEnroe to five well-played sets in the semis, is, in fact, regularly brought up on multiple charges of shrinking violetism. This time, McEnroe publicly accused Wilander of "trying to backdoor" into the No. 1 ranking. Baby Mats responded, mild-manneredly, of course. "I never expect to win," he allowed, flaunting his un-Americanism shamelessly. "[Bjorn] Borg probably had more of an American attitude." Trenchant pause. "But he also quit when he was 26, so it wasn't a very good attitude."
And there it was, right out there in the open again: the ugly issue of burnout. Burnout! It now joins teenage acne, herbal deficiency, heartburn, psoriasis and the fear of herpes in the pantheon of modern American afflictions. This Open had more carryings-on about Borg, Andrea Jaeger and Tracy Austin than it had about McEnroe and Navratilova. Some people actually claimed to have seen the ghost of Andrea come back from Burnout Retirement Village and play into the second round. Then the Women's Tennis Association announced a series of restrictions on younger players. It's doubtful, however, how many Yuppie tennis parents will be influenced by these modest strictures 'gainst burnout when they can see before them the clear and present advantage of burn in.