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For those of you who have been preoccupied with Iran and the prime rate, the Davis Cup has been reconstituted this year. Most particularly, the Cup and, surely, the air rights above it have been leased to the Japanese. A communications and electronics corporation named NEC is paying a million dollars to the players, and all the signs now say: DAVIS CUP BY NEC. By? May we expect soon: OLYMPICS BY BURGER KING? A windy fellow from Tokyo came to the U.S.-Czech draw and told all about the hopes and dreams of NEC. Notwithstanding, the format has been streamlined. Previously, it was divided into geographic zones, and it was an egalitarian mess, an athletic Babel. There were so many matches that it was necessary to start playing the 1980 Davis Cup in 1979 while the 1979 Davis Cup was still dragging on.
Now only 16 countries are permitted in the annual championship flight, but there is no grandfather clause. First-round losers must meet each other, and then the four two-time losers are bumped the next year. They are replaced by four new nations, which qualify through a subsidiary zone competition. For example, Chile and India weren't in the Sweet Sixteen this year, but they have already qualified to move up in '82.
All of this is academic, though, so long as Ashe can assemble America's very best. McEnroe has always devoted himself to Davis Cup play, but Connors had signed on only twice, the last time in '76, Tony Trabert's first year as captain. After Jimbo lost to Raul Ramirez of Mexico in the fifth and deciding match, he gave up all Cup connections until this January in New York when Mr. and Mrs. Ashe sprung for a dinner for Mr. and Mrs. Connors. That evening Connors volunteered, with enthusiasm, to play for the man who used to be his archrival in tennis and tennis politics alike.
So, for the first time ever, a U.S. team took the court with three Wimbledon singles champions plus another one in the captain's chair. (The Great Britain team of 1902 had three Wimbledon winners, Joshua Pim and the Doherty brothers. The French teams of 1927 and 1928 played Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet and Jean Borotra, all Wimbledon titlists. Perhaps the greatest Davis Cup squad of all, Australia 73, used only two Wimbledon champions, Rod Laver and John Newcombe, but kept a third, Roy Emerson, on the bench along with Ken Rosewall. A fourth Wimbledon winner, Neale Fraser, was the captain. All five had won the U.S. title.) However, given the unusual constitution of this tie, a solid argument can be made that Lutz, the only American without a Wimbledon, was the most important Yank. After all, McEnroe couldn't beat Lendl, and Connors took him only after a U.S. victory had been assured. But Lutz was the most dominant figure in the match upon which the tie turned, the 9-7, 6-3, 6-2 win over Lendl and Smid.
Despite the accomplishments of Lutz and Smith, they were only at Flushing Meadow on a pass. The Mayer brothers were Ashe's first choice, but Gene injured his right wrist at the Italian Open, and still hasn't recovered. McEnroe and Peter Fleming, the Wimbledon champions and acknowledged best team in the world, had been advanced as the logical pair. A great many Davis Cup experts maintain that far from tiring a singles man out, a few sets of doubles is just the right amount of work on the middle day. Ashe agreed in principle, but not for a match in the heat of July. He preferred fresh old horses and a day off for Junior. Besides, as Connors put it for Smith and Lutz, "Their record speaks for themselves."
Lendl rarely plays doubles except in national competition, but he and Smid work well enough together and have shown a facility for winning on the road under pressure. Like so many Eastern European players, Smid is an athlete first, tennis player second, and in doubles his vulnerable slice backhand is not as easily exploited as in singles. The American veterans were respectful. "We wanted to get the first serve in so they couldn't slug away at the second," Smith said. Between them, he and Lutz spun in 73% of their first deliveries, which was enough. Curiously, while Lendl and Smid kept banging away at service returns instead of looking for softer doubles angles, they otherwise played too cautiously, falling back on more of a clay-court defensive style. The hard surface at Flushing Meadow was made quicker than ever before to give even more home edge to the bully-boy U.S. team. No prisoners.
If one point could mean a match, the whole tie, it came in the 15th game of the first set, 7-up, Smith serving and scuffling some at 40-all. A dandy long rally evolved, and Smid threw up a sweetheart of a lob that bounced deep in the alley. Smith hurried back, but he was on his heels and looking the high bounce into the sun. Any natural fast-court pair would have followed such a lob to net, but, instinctively, Lendl and Smid hung back and gave Smith breathing room. Soon the Americans were back in the point. They won it as well as the next one to hold for 8-7.
In the next game, Lendl, who had been inconsistent with his volleys, muffed a couple and lost a 40-15 lead, and Lutz scorched him on set point with a blazing backhand return. Shocked. Lendl somehow got a volley back, but Smith knocked the set off. The Americans were thoroughly in control thereafter. "When you serve an ace and he makes a return like that, he deserves to win the point," Lendl said afterward of Lutz in that same wordly, nearly smug manner in which he dispatches almost all and sundry who would engage him. He is not a man to suffer fools gladly, if at all, and not just fools. Nothing seems to rattle Lendl except, occasionally, inquiries about what exactly it is that he does as a soldier in the Czech army.
Of the four undisputed top players in the world, Lendl, the youngest and the least (so far), is also the least known. The two Americans, of course, are famous for their bombast, and so it is especially easy to lump Lendl in blandness with Borg, the other European. Yet there is an edge to Lendl, an air of mystery that certainly has never seemed part of Borg. But Lendl...who is this manned mask? He appears to be a consummate loner. His only known confidant and friend—"his God," as they say on tour—is Poland's Wojtek Fibak, who is almost a decade his senior and is likewise celebrated among the players for his aloofness and imperiousness. When Lendl plays in New York, he stays at Fibak's manor house in Greenwich, Conn., where, Fibak has reported, "Ivan has his own room, to keep his tennis shoes and fur coats."
Lendl has now beaten McEnroe six straight sets—three on the red clay at Paris, where he figured to win, and the three more at Flushing, where McEnroe is lord and master. In fairness to the No. 1, though, after getting bounced out of Wimbledon in the first round by a qualifier, Lendl repaired to the heat and hard courts of Boca Raton, Fla. for 10 days. McEnroe, meanwhile, continued to fight demons on the cool London greensward.