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A Giant Stride Ahead of The Field
Curry Kirkpatrick
July 11, 1983
Both John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova walked right through Wimbledon
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July 11, 1983

A Giant Stride Ahead Of The Field

Both John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova walked right through Wimbledon

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Against Connors, for instance, Curren not only rendered useless the best return of serve in the game but outwitted the defending champion in the rallies and ignored Jimbonian psychological chicanery as well. Connors deployed all his macho fist shakes, glares, mimicry and verbal outbursts. "He doesn't even know where the serve is going," Connors cried. Once when the umpire announced, "Advantage, Curren," Connors called out, "Advantage, Bum-bo." Nothing worked. The rockets continued to scorch the turf, and Curren fought off three set points in the fourth to win 6-3. 6-7, 6-3, 7-6.

But Curren, from Durban, South Africa by way of the University of Texas—hook 'em, Springboks—was hardly finished. In his marvelous quarterfinal with Mayotte, during which smiles and sportsmanship were resurrected for the moment in the main arena, Curren was never in control, never able to steer his ace machine in the proper direction. Mayotte served for both the second and fourth sets—and lost both. He saved three match points in the fourth-set tiebreaker. Yet Curren emerged with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-2, 7-6 victory. Such perseverance and fortitude! Gentleman Tim applauded Curren as they approached the net to shake hands and clasp shoulders. It was a fine moment.

The same spirit characterized the Lewis-Curren semi, which was an undulating contest of wills and spills. Whenever one of them pulled off a feat of rare athleticism, the other would dive him one better. A Curren get would be countered by a Lewis sprawl. A Lewis attempt at a behind-the-back retrieve would be followed by a Curren forehand drive from his knees. In the crucial sixth game of the fifth set, with Curren leading 3-2 after having been up 3-0, 40-15, both men played short side-to-side angles and fell to the sod on the same point, which Curren won. Then Lewis, gasping audibly on every stroke, won the next point, thrashing a winner while in midair. An astonished Curren applauded with his racket. Oh, what grand stuff it was, and it continued right up until Lewis caught chalk with a serve on match point to win 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 8-6 in three hours and 45 minutes. "Nobody cuts off volleys like this guy," said Curren. "Chris's anticipation was unbelievable."

Similar encomiums greeted Navratilova's every result in the women's draw as she wafted to her fourth Wimbledon championship in five hours and 32 minutes. That's seven matches in 5:32, or an average of 47 minutes a match. She lost just 25 games.

"This isn't a team; it's an entourage," said Navratilova of her various and sundry caretakers. So let's hear it for Entourage Navratilova: Robert Haas, who kept punching up the minicomputer to scout alleged opponents; Nancy Lieberman, who kept the media at bay ("Sure, I know where the press room is," said Agent Orange. "I just look for where they throw the dog meat"); and the anonymous personal cook who kept preparing, as Navratilova put it, "Czech dumplings, great with sugar, butter and cheese." Ummm, yummy. Oh, and let's hear it for Sherry Acker, the only dumpling to stay on the grass more than an hour with the champ.

Of course, as Navratilova said, "Everybody else took the big guns out for me." Evert Lloyd fell to a bug and Kathy Jordan, Hana Mandlikova to Jennifer Mundel, Tracy Austin to an ailing back and Pam Shriver to Iva Budarova. Red Rova, Red Rova. Could Billie Jean King come over? No she couldn't. As she did last year, King, now 39, took her battle-scarred knees to the semifinals even though few people saw her get there. King was constantly shunted to the outside courts, while "the cutie pies" (her term) such as Bassett and Andrea Temesvari were granted Centre Court privileges. "Like it's great in there," Bassett, 15, said. "Like you don't hear any noise or anything. Then the seagulls fly over." What? Earth calling Carling.

The cutest of the cute, 1983 NCAA champion Beth Herr, an Olivia Newton-John with a forehand, had King beaten in the second round before getting scared and losing 8-6 in the third set. But Andrea Jaeger took no prisoners, viciously passing and lobbing King into 6-1, 6-1 oblivion to become, at 18, the youngest women's finalist since Mo Connolly in 1952. Or the youngest sacrificial lamb. Navratilova gave Jaeger the what-for 6-0, 6-3.

Jaeger, Bassett and a few others caught the Super-tramp concert at Earl's Court on Thursday night, but Lendl, who was sporting a new semi-Mohawk/punk haircut, loathed the music and walked out after 20 minutes. The next afternoon McEnroe sent Lendl packing from the tournament. Lendl converted 30 of his 37 first deliveries in the first set, but he still lost it. He failed to capitalize on break points in two games, and then at 3-2 in the tiebreaker, he muffed a shoulder-high backhand volley. McEnroe, who never dropped his serve, wasn't in trouble again in the 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory in which only one rally extended more than six shots. Once Mac drilled a ball at Lendl—"perfectly all right," said Ivan—but his deportment toward officialdom was impeccable, as it was most of the final week.

Earlier in the tournament, while McEnroe was edging toward a serious confrontation with the All England Club, several players had criticized his on-court shenanigans publicly for the first time. In a second-round encounter with Florin Segarceanu, McEnroe dug a divot with a petulant racket throw, insulted umpire Malcolm Huntington, thumbed his nose at referee Alan Mills and threatened to quit. The players were enraged. Waltke: "McEnroe's not penalized enough. We're sick and tired of it." Hank Pfister: "...a habitual complainer. He detracts from the game." John Fitzgerald uttered the un-kindest cut of all when discussing the potential of Mats Wilander. "I'd like to see Mats be Number One," he said. "We'd all like to see a nice guy at the top again."

Could it be that peer pressure struck a chord? Mac hardly let out a peep the rest of the way. After his victory on Sunday he even shook hands with Huntington and Mills. "I think I've made a conscious effort to get along," said McEnroe later, before Peter Ustinov joined him at the champion's Chelsea flat for a celebratory cocktail. "I'm glad I was able to win the way people want me to. If I can harness my feelings now in the correct way...." Then: "But don't take this too seriously."

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