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One day the Indian Vijay Amritraj, a spokesman for dignity, was asked about McEnroe's behavior. He replied that if he had to act like McEnroe to win the championship, he wouldn't want it. Very soon Amritraj found himself playing doubles with his brother, Anand, against McEnroe and Peter Fleming, the eventual champions. McEnroe accused a dark-skinned linesman, who happened to be wearing a turban, of being "biased."
In an awkward, interminable semifinal with the unseeded Australian Rod Frawley, McEnroe was especially irascible, shouting objections to calls as well as assorted unprintables 13 different times before earning another on-court audience with Hoyles. Lady Diana Spencer left the Royal Box during the match. "The wedding's off," someone said. "Her ears are no longer virgin."
Though McEnroe's complaints were undeniably exaggerated and his actions inexcusable, at the core of his running battle was a beef cited by many competitors, namely that Wimbledon is overly regimented and haughty, an antiquated relic. "The root problem is that officials on and off court didn't acknowledge our words or feelings," Fleming said. "It really isn't much fun to play here."
Or sometimes even to watch. Take the case of former champion Stan Smith's wife, Margie, who was once kicked out of the members' tearoom while sitting with her husband. It didn't matter that, seven months pregnant, Margie needed a rest. She wasn't a member. This year Adriano Panatta telephoned the All England Club to request a delay in his opening match because he had played a final in Venice the day before. According to player association bylaws, he was allowed a postponement in such a situation. Wimbledon defaulted him. Even Frawley, a consummate sportsman, called the officiating "blackmail."
Further uproars came over the treatment accorded Borg, who gets the best match times and who hasn't had to battle the noise, crowd chaos and crazy bounces on the field courts in four years. "To win the title, a guy should have to play under all the conditions," said Connors. What about grunting, Jimbo? Yes, here came another Wimbledon proclamation, this one condemning the filthy, vile, national-security threat of grunting. You know who you are. "Rules, rules," said Connors. "I might as well have been defaulted all my life. We get no consideration here. The players are nothings."
Easily the most bizarre effect of McEnroe's pervading influence on the proceedings came on semifinals day after he had been embroiled in still another yell-off. This time he confronted James Whittaker, a gossip columnist for The Daily Star whose usual beat is up the nearest tree where he can spy on Prince Charles with his trusty binoculars. After Whittaker persisted in questioning McEnroe about an alleged tiff with his girl friend, Stacy Margolin, McEnroe called him and the British press in general every name on the bathroom wall and then stormed out of the interview room. A remarkable scene ensued in which the merits of snoop journalism were debated among media reps from several countries, and soon a Brit and a Yank were on the floor engaged in...why, yes, a "punch-up."
Meanwhile, out on Centre Court, Connors, having rallied from two sets behind against Amritraj in the quarters, was roaring about the greensward and belting the daylights out of the ball and Borg, too. Soon it was 6-0, 4-2 Connors. In Set 2, Game 8 the old adversaries played some of the more amazing tennis in Wimbledon memory, rivaling last year's Borg-McEnroe tiebreak. The game lasted 24 points and 19 minutes, Connors wasting six points to hold serve for 5-3, Borg needing five break points to hurtle back into the match at 4—all. Though Connors took the set 6-4, he was hardly the same player thereafter. Borg swept the next two sets 3 and love and kept serving aces (16 altogether) before he and Connors put on the best theater of the tournament in the fifth. "It was great," said an interested third party, McEnroe. "Clay-court tennis on grass." Connors, still the most exciting player in the game, has never played better in defeat. He seldom has played as well in victory.
Game 3: Connors held from 0-40. Game 4: Connors had two break points for 3-1, but Borg boomed two aces to Jimbo's forehand corner in the ad court. Game 5: Connors held from 0-40 once more. Game 7: Connors, at 0-40 yet again, saved once, twice. Then Borg knifed a medium-pace backhand return cross-court. Connors prepared to come over the ball for a forehand kill, but he changed his mind in mid-swing, let up and sailed the ball deep: 4-3 for Borg. He then held twice to take the set 6-4.
"Pride in extending him? That's crap," said Connors. "You win or you don't." But Connors also said, "He had to play his best stuff to beat me." Borg was to admit later, "Me and Jimmy had an unbelievable match."
On Saturday, though Borg controlled the championship round through a set and a half, his service wasn't sharp. He hit 10 aces, but converted only 55% of his first serves. Still, McEnroe couldn't pierce the champion's armor until Game 7 of the third set on his 11th break point of the match. And that came after a long rally in which a McEnroe backhand took a bad bounce and died in the grass as Borg fanned. He walked hangdog to the chair. Did he know this must be the day?