It was kind of a sidewinder's duel—this battle to be the best, uh, lefthanded player in the world. There they were, the two deadliest gunslingers in town, 20 paces apart. One had been waiting for the other a long while. Both knew it would come down to this. Him or me. The streets were empty. It was time. High Noon in Dallas. All Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe needed last Sunday afternoon was Tex Ritter singing. In the World Championship Tennis finals the question was not who was the good guy, who the bad guy. It was who was the baddest.
McEnroe's usurpation of the lead villain's role came nearly a year and a half ago, just about the time Connors was turning into a husband and a father—and a human being. Connors wears a lighter shade of hat now, and after his 2-6, 7-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory in Big D, the third time he has defeated his younger rival in four meetings this year, it seems he may be wearing McEnroe's number as well.
"I don't want to hear about No. 2," Connors said after he had twice clutch-served to save the key second set; after he had roared to the attack to manufacture an errorless tie-breaker, which he won 7-4; and after he had slashed away from the backcourt as of old to completely dominate the bewildered Junior in the final two sets. "There's only one number. This is just a step up the ladder."
In his single-minded determination to catch Bjorn Borg, who wasn't in Texas, Connors has been doggedly pushing himself in workouts, picking his tournament spots and honing his game, with the result that he has become more conservative, adaptable, patient, in control. When McEnroe blasted five aces in the first set, permitting only four points against service, Connors relaxed and looked for other openings.
Immediately, he broke Junior in the first game of the second. "I realized I could return his stuff," Connors said. "I waited for my exact shot. Then I took chances. Right away I lifted my game."
The tie-breaker turned on a backhand torpedo by Connors that McEnroe could not handle at net—5-3 to Jimbo—following which Connors won it by spinning a nifty serve of his own down the middle, which McEnroe returned wide. That, essentially, was it.
For the new champion, whose weight and penetration of shot recalled his 1976 U.S. Open victories over Guillermo Vilas and Borg—Connors' days of wine and roses—this championship signaled something very special.
"I'm not exactly going into retreat formation," he said. "I was gnawing and clawing out there. Mac wanted to know what I was like in my prime. Well...."
Connors thus became the second player in the WCT showdown's 10 years of existence to win the event twice. In that decade it has become one of the five or six most prestigious tournaments in tennis because of its dynamic final matches. This has happened even though WCT's founding brother, Lamar Hunt, decided early on to locate his pet project at an arena generally associated with basketball in a town generally associated with football and on a weekend generally associated with horse racing. Of course, the Hunts have been known to gamble the, uh, silverware on just about anything. But this bet paid off. Mention " Dallas" in tennis circles and everybody knows what you mean.
Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver brought WCT- Dallas instant notoriety back in 1971 and 1972 by playing two classic finals, both of which Rosewall won, the latter climaxed by a fifth-set tie-breaker that is still considered one of the game's most dramatic moments. In 1974 a skinny, brittle teen-ager with a discus thrower's forehand stunned WCT- Dallas by reaching the first of what would be many major finals and taking a set off John Newcombe. He was 17. His name was Bjorn Borg. Then last May, McEnroe burst from the cocoon and accomplished the somewhat amazing feat of defeating Connors and Borg in successive matches to win yet another landmark WCT.