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United States Open! The National Championships! Third Leg of the Grand Slam! New York, New York! Tennis! Live, it's Serious Tedium!
With apologies to Joe Piscopo—and, needless to say, to John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, whose continuing brilliance in the face of the numbing mediocrity surrounding them absolves them of all blame—daily bulletins from Flushing Meadow proved more convincingly than ever that tennis is in a fairly monotonous way. Not that no one wants to see McEnroe whip Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors yet again. Junior beat both last weekend to win the Open for the fourth time. Or watch Navratilova whip Chris Evert Lloyd once more. Her 13th win in a row over Chris gave Martina her second consecutive Open title. The question concerns the supply side of tennis—where are the reserves?—and the answer is: nowhere. There ain't nobody on the bench to play this game.
The 103rd edition of the national championships consisted of one spectacular Saturday and 12 days of blah. Take the men's final on Sunday—please—when McEnroe chipped away at Lendl for 100 minutes like a guy sculpting in ice. Here was the second-ranked player in the world, possessor of the vaunted slingshot forehand as well as an arsenal of serves and passing shots that make most mortals quake, and he was utterly helpless in the 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 slaughter.
Lendl had had the effrontery to rally from two sets behind against an infuriated McEnroe to win the French Open in June. That's one of a pair of blemishes on McEnroe's 66-2 record in 1984. (Vijay Amritraj in Cincinnati is the answer to the future trivia question about his other defeat.) But on the hard stuff in New York, Lendl didn't have as much time to set up for his thunderbolt passes or to run down McEnroe's crisp, darting volleys.
It didn't seem that McEnroe could possibly play any better than he had in devastating Connors in the Wimbledon finals, but he was just as good at Flushing Meadow, in both behavior and shotmaking. The debacle in Paris taught him to knock off the browbeating of officials and to conserve energy in Grand Slam events. "I understand how people get turned off seeing a guy jumping around and screaming at the chair," Junior said. "Of course, they don't understand that's a result of pressure. But I'm finding out life isn't fun when you're banging your head against a wall."
McEnroe's head-banging of Lendl was overshadowed by the drama of the day before, or rather the everlasting strokes of the morning, afternoon and night before. Call it Sempiternity Saturday, Tennisathlon, whatever. The U.S. Open had never seen anything like it. The day began at 11, and by the time it was over at 11:14 p.m., the jaded/slash/manic New York tennis fans had been treated to 16 sets, 165 games and 979 points on the Stadium Court of the National Tennis Center. These hardy souls hardly could be expected to remember when John Newcombe's smile began and Connors's sneer ended—those being the parameters of the Saturday show—much less get hopped up in time for Sunday.
CBS was responsible for the exhausting scenario. Fearing a repeat of last year, when the women's final and men's semis resulted in quick blowouts and a huge chunk of dead air, the network requested that the men's 35s semi between Newcombe and Stan Smith lead off the program. Little did anyone know that not only would Smith, who defeated Marty Riessen for the title on Sunday, and Newcombe go the distance, but so would everyone else who followed on the bill; that the spike-haired young Aussie Pat Cash would carry Lendl to two tiebreak sets while turning into a star, albeit another ill-mannered, and maybe even dangerous, one; and that two beyond-their-prime legends would come surprisingly close to upsetting their long-time tormentors. About the scheduling, the result of which had McEnroe begin his semifinal against Connors at 7:28 p.m., Mac said, "Ridiculous." Almost in the same breath, however, he admitted, "It had to be [for the fans] the best day at the Open...ever."
Not to mention that it came just in time to rescue the tournament from the malaise afflicting the sport. If pro basketball is nothing but the final two minutes, Grand Slam tennis tournaments have been reduced to the final two rounds. Before Saturday, the surviving six players—McEnroe, Lendl, Connors and the new kid, Cash, among the men; Navratilova and Evert Lloyd on the women's side—had won a combined 84 sets and lost but two. This is the same sextet that wound up closing out Wimbledon. Raise the nets, allow zone defenses....
So. Just how boring was most of the U.S. Open? It was so boring that....
•An obscure husband named John Lloyd, ranked No. 49 in the world, got more headlines than his wife, who's ranked No. 2.