- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Ilie Nastase: "Lendl, you have your name on your sneakers. You have your name on your rackets. What the bleep did you ever win to deserve that?"
Lendl: "I want to play you, Nastase. I want to hit you with the ball."
Nastase: "Don't screw with me, Lendl. You do, I go get Connors."
Which is exactly what happened in the finals. The Open got Connors and Connors got Lendl. Even if he had lost, Connors would have been No. 1 on the preposterous ATP computer, but now he is No. 1 in deed as well as by machine. Only four other men, Bill Tilden, Fred Perry, Don Budge, and Rod Laver, have twice won Wimbledon and the U.S. championship in the same year. That's pretty fair company. Of course, Connors also has Patti. And Brett. "They are my life, not tennis," he says. And now he had his fourth U.S. Open as well. And this time he was the good guy.
As for the distaff version of the Open, the important moments were delineated by of all things a cheesecake, a cat and a Gadusek before Chris Evert Lloyd finally righted the ship by winning her sixth Open in the last eight years as well as her 66th match in the nationals, the latter a record achieved by no other woman in history.
Evert Lloyd wasn't supposed to win this tournament, of course. Nor was the defender, Tracy Austin. No human female on the planet was given a chance against the great Martina Navratilova—the expatriate, diva and cover girl; winner of 64 of 65 matches this year and 41 straight; seeker of the Grand Slam, not to mention the Grand Strap, a million-dollar bonus for winning four tournaments designated by Playtex. However, before anybody could figure out those staggering credentials and possibilities, some weird occurrences took place. First, Navratilova went around humbly crediting herself with instant immortality and saying things like, "I don't have to play my best to win." Then Evert Lloyd got mad, or rather "a little insulted," and suggested, à la Casey Stengel, how you could look it up about immortality. Then Evert Lloyd got sick. A piece of cheesecake was the culprit.
Next, Andrea Jaeger roughed up and four-lettered an usher for asking her to move from an aisle in the stadium. This was George Steinbrenner's personal usher, mind you. Then somebody named Bonnie Gadusek showed up in the quarters insisting she used to be a prospective Olympic gymnast who broke her neck on the unparallel bars (no wonder she broke her neck), received a K-Mart racket as a get-well present and wrote letters to 50 tennis coaches before Harry Hopman agreed to work with her. Gadusek also claimed to be from Pittsburgh. Whoooa.
Subsequently, the weirdest thing of all happened. Navratilova got beat. What was more perplexing was that nobody seemed to know whether she had lost to Shriver, her good friend and doubles partner, or to a cat who had nibbled from her bowl of nuts. Wild Kingdom. Film at 11. Navratilova would have escaped such a predicament if she hadn't squandered a 6-1, 5-4, 30-15 lead and then lost her concentration in the second-set tiebreaker, which the rejuvenated Shriver won 7-5. As Ted Tinling, the noted courtier, was to say, "You let Pamela back into a match and she knows no bounds." And it wasn't as if Shriver hadn't been there before, either.
In 1978, like a cygnet testing her feathers, Shriver had defeated the No. 1-ranked Navratilova to reach the Open final. Now, from two-all in the third set, she played four perfect games—"I was zoning," said Shriver. "...No, I don't use that word; it's tacky"—climaxed by a sharp backhand volley that seemed to knife into both the competitors' hearts. They left the court in tears and hugs, the Grand Slam gone on tiny cats' paws. "I told Martina that I was sorry," said Shriver. "I don't know why."
Afterward, somewhere between the time Navratilova belted one photographer with a towel and ransacked another one's film—freelancer Art Seitz swears he's hiring Marvin Mitchelson to sue for damages—she got around to explaining how she had recently contracted acute toxoplasmosis, a viral condition sometimes transmitted by cats that weakens the muscles. Navratilova didn't say how weak she felt in the 17-minute first set or when she was serving for the match in the second, but Seitz verified that her muscles didn't seem weak when he encountered her. In that fray she was aided by her strawberry-blonde henchperson, Nancy Lieberman—a/k/a Agent Orange—who elbowed Seitz in the back. The next day, one Gary Wadler, M.D. confirmed Navratilova's condition to such an extent in the media that the explanation produced some undesirable effects. Shriver, a tad sarcastic: "If she was that diseased, I can't believe I lost a game." Famous New York comic: "I know that doctor. He kept me out of the service." Amateur humorist: "Cat? The girl played like a dog." Yada yada yada....