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He Lit Up The Joint
Curry Kirkpatrick
September 20, 1982
It was lights-out in the U.S. Open final for Ivan Lendl when Jimmy Connors got his juices flowing
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September 20, 1982

He Lit Up The Joint

It was lights-out in the U.S. Open final for Ivan Lendl when Jimmy Connors got his juices flowing

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Item: public relations. Following each match, Lendl would don a WCT cap and a shirt that read TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS—FOREST HILLS and parade all over the joint, at once alienating Grand Prix tour bigwigs (who are at war with Lamar Hunt's maverick WCT circuit), the ATP (his fellow players' union), the U.S. Tennis Association (whose officials thought they had buried Forest Hills forevermore several summers back) and Lendl's own agents at Donald Dell's ProServ, the same peace-loving, wonderful folks who represent the peace-loving, wonderful Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith.

One night Lendl impishly rambled on and on during a CBS interview while knowing full well that the network desired only a quick spot. As a result, CBS had to waste several takes, which forced the international print media, angrily stewing several foxholes away, to blow deadlines on several continents. Lendl then greeted his numerous friends in the press room by yawning. A woman asked him a question in English. Lendl, who converses with ease in that language, snickered. "Could you please translate that?" he said.

Since last year's Open, Lendl had won 117 of 124 matches. This year he had reached the final in 16 of the 18 tournaments he entered, winning 11 of them. At the Open he overcame a two-sets-to-one deficit against the bee-bees of Tim Mayotte, a Wimbledon semifinalist; avenged his French Open loss to Mats Wilander with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 rout; and rudely trashed the upset hopes of the veteran Australian Kim Warwick, who had surprised two seeds, Jose-Luis Clerc (No. 7) and Yannick Noah (No. 9), to reach the quarters. "I had to get ahead of him [Lendl] early because once he starts thinking about losing he gets nervous," said Warwick, who never got ahead and lost four, three and one. Then Warwick said of Lendl, "He won't beat McEnroe or Connors. Certainly not both. The two of them are better on this surface. Especially in New York." Warwick virtually spat out the words. He was asked if his opinion was colored by any dislike of his conqueror. "What's there to dislike?" he said. "There's no personality there. The guy's just a bleeping bighead." So much for objectivity.

In the harsh light of reality—late Saturday afternoon, shadows falling, withering 90° heat—Lendl exposed the three-time defending champion's vulnerability to a sheer bare-knuckled slugger. In baseball parlance, Lendl took McEnroe downtown with his 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 victory right there in Mac's home ball park. In one respect McEnroe's game is all junk and bully—create openings and craft shots, vary the rhythm, kill the ump. But McEnroe's kit bag emanates from and is dependent upon the effectiveness of his side-kicking southpaw serve, which raises hell with most righthanders. A suspicion gaining credence on the tour is that if McEnroe were righthanded, he would be your basic everyday losing quarterfinalist.

McEnroe overcame Borg with his serve. He still befuddles Connors with his change of pace. But Lendl is of a different ilk. He whaled away at McEnroe's delivery, not only preventing any consistent Mac attack but also sending McEnroe reeling on his heels behind the baseline, uncertain and ultimately at the mercy of the Lendl forehand, surely the fiercest weapon in the game today. On Lendl's serve, McEnroe offered little retaliation. When Mac's returns weren't crisp and deep, when he simply flipped back all those spins and short angles, the "artistry" everyone raves about, Lendl jumped on the junk and swatted it off the premises. "He forces me to do things I don't like to do. I get disorganized," said McEnroe after the debacle.

In the last 15 months Lendl now has beaten McEnroe six straight times, winning 16 of 17 sets, in three countries plus Texas, on several surfaces. Name your poison. Following Lendl's victory last week, McEnroe gracelessly whined that he felt "bleeped upon" by the crowd—an astounding revelation considering the New Yorkers' hosannahs after their native son went ahead 5-2 in the third set tiebreaker—and complained about bad line calls, a tedious refrain that was particularly insufferable from a loser.

After Lendl won the first two sets, riding breaks in the fifth and first games, respectively, and surviving a double fault at set point in the second, he fell into a shaky patch. He warded off break points in two early games in the third set and patiently waited through many shouted complaints to the linesmen from the grim weeper on the other side of the net. Lendl twice served to save the set. Still, there were doubts he could hang on, and when McEnroe led 5-2 in the tiebreaker, with two serves coming, Lendl's fortitude was once again called into question. It's over. McEnroe wins 6-4 in the fifth. The feeling buzzed through the stadium. But following a duel at the net, Lendl nailed a lunging backhand winner into the open court. Then McEnroe double-faulted. Whoosh! Just like that, from 5-2 to 5-4, a brand new tiebreaker.

Against Lendl's second serve, McEnroe floated a wounded butterfly of a return too deep. At five-all Lendl walloped, with all his might, as brave a shot as he has ever struck—another forehand down the line—to reach match point. McEnroe served and volleyed to save it, and after changing sides, he shook his fist on high to the roaring crowd. Then McEnroe stalled, fidgeted, tightened his shoelaces...and missed his first serve by four feet.

When McEnroe's second delivery came up a balloon, Lendl lashed an untouchable forehand crosscourt return that so stunned his victim he hardly vibrated a vocal chord. On this match point, Lendl cracked another forehand to put the champ out of his terrible misery of a summer—an ending fittingly grody to all the Macs.

In the locker room earlier last week there was this exchange:

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