Pick 'em out, John," said the guard. "Pick out the ones you want." It sounded as if he meant fruits and vegetables, but he was referring to John McEnroe's friends who wanted to join him on the stadium court at Flushing Meadow. The champ identified his people as he moved through the crowd, tapping this one, casting an arm about that one.
"Pick 'em out."
"John," said a little girl, and he turned toward her.
"What about this one, Johnny Mac?" said another guard.
"Oh yeah," he said, and he patted her on the back and signaled that her mother was O.K., too. His curls were pressed down on his wet forehead, his collar was up, as always, like his dander, but now he was champion at home again, in Queens, U.S.A. Not only was he welcome at this place, but they also were dropping the barriers and letting his people in where it was exclusive.
After demolishing Bjorn Borg in four sets—4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3—at the U.S. Open a few minutes earlier, McEnroe had become indisputably the best. Oh yes, Borg still reigns supreme on clay, but that is small global potatoes, like stacking up the Hiroshima Carp next to the Philadelphia Phillies. Indeed, so high does McEnroe now stand that he helped make the women's tournament more intriguing than the men's. Of course, that is subject to sudden change. With her thrilling victory over Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin is, at age 18, poised at that same edge of domination where McEnroe stood this time last September.
Austin, though, must yet repel legitimate contenders, like the renascent Navratilova. McEnroe bestrides his field. For too long now, Borg's failures to win the Open have been attributed to New York, the airplanes, the weather, the lights, the longitude, everything in town but Bowie Kuhn. Sunday McEnroe exposed all that dime-store psychology as so much fancy.
Instead it is simply this: Borg doesn't have the total game to beat McEnroe on a hard court, at least not in Flushing Meadow, not when it matters. McEnroe so controlled the match that on those rare occasions when he was broken, it was more because of his own momentary lapses than of anything the befuddled challenger did.
The night before, in the semis, Borg had everybody raving by slugging fast flat serves past the late, great Jimmy Connors. But that wasn't comparable to dealing with Mac. Borg could flail away against Jimbo because if he missed the first one. so what? Connors was no threat to come in against Borg's relatively weak second delivery. Connors has now lost 10 times in a row to Borg. Against Borg, Connors is like an eager child who has been given a toy to construct, and each time he faithfully puts all the pieces together the same way, all wrong.
Playing McEnroe, Borg dared follow his serve in only when he sliced a first ball wide to the backhand in the deuce court. On most other occasions, after an exchange or two, there would be McEnroe, treading water at the net. On several break points McEnroe crowded the second serve, slid over and nailed a forehand right past Borg. It was scary how easily he made those returns against the second best player in the world.