- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Umpire: Play on. You're being rather naughty. Kindly play on....
Player: I want to see my daddy. There was chalk dust....
Umpire: Boring...I'm sorry about this. You're a tedious little brat. I'm sick of you.
Then the umpire shoots the player.
Of course, as the honorary membership attests, all of this has become passé. Except for drawing some minor reprimands, McEnroe checked his bad behavior at the Lost Luggage tent. For its part, the All England made sincere attempts to be more solicitous toward its athletic minions. As for the courts, a source of great ire in recent Fortnights, they were tended by a new groundsman and were in their finest condition in ages.
None of the above, however, improved the gentlemen's final. When McEnroe won the first set, he appeared to be in control. But he would only break Connors twice more in the match, and on both occasions Connors really gave away his service. Indeed, after the opening set McEnroe had nothing to recommend him except his serve, which often was wonderfully consistent—and as his 19 aces (to Connors' none) showed, devastatingly powerful—even as the rest of his game withered. "This is a joke!" McEnroe hollered at one juncture, displaying an accuracy of thought, if not stroke.
Connors got back into the match by winning the second set, but he squandered a lead in the third and ultimately lost the set in a tiebreaker (7-2). It was surprising that either player won this set. so lackluster was the play during it. One classic game of 12 points featured one winner and 11 errors. When Connors served for the set at 5-4, McEnroe broke him by making only two errors to Connors' four, two of which were double faults. Connors would finish the match with 13 doubles (to McEnroe's 10), an inordinately high number, even for a man with a new serve.
Play did begin to pick up some in the fourth set. Connors sporadically reverted to his pre-Gitlin schemes and played some serve-and-volley. There was no pattern to what he did. Sometimes he would stay back on his first serve, and then he'd bolt in after his second. Whatever, he won a high percentage of points whenever he took the net, and ultimately, over four hours and 14 minutes, Connors, the counterpuncher, attacked better than McEnroe, the charger, received.
The trouble is that, though McEnroe vs. Connors would appear to make the ideal confrontation, their strengths tend to mess up each other's rhythm; they almost never play good matches against each other, let alone pretty ones. In this final, there were only a few sustained moments, most notably the fourth-set tiebreaker, which Connors won 7-5, and parts of the fifth set, when both players finally approached their capabilities.
At 1-1 in the last set, McEnroe had a disastrous service game in which he double-faulted and played two loose volleys before Connors broke with a blistering backhand return down the line. Thereafter Connors stayed ahead with some exceptionally fine serving. Indeed, he never faced a break point. "He won fair and square, and I'm happy for that," McEnroe said afterward. And Connors said, "I like playing John because I know what he's going to give me, and he knows what I'm going to give him." So, McEnroe was a good loser, and Connors was a good winner, even if neither was a terrific player this day. The final shot, anyway, was a winner on the line. Chalk dust.