Every so often some championship is handed over to a single performer after the most spectacular heroics: Brooks Robinson's Series, Magic Johnson's playoffs, Pelé's World Cup. Almost never, however, does any event absolutely belong to one athlete even before it begins. But such was the case last weekend as Davis Cup competition returned to New York, after a 22-year absence, with a quarterfinal tie between the U.S. and defending champion Czechoslovakia.
It was his to win if he possibly could. Never mind John McEnroe, Wimbledon champion. Strictly a red herring, all that hoopla. Never mind John McEnroe and the fallout from the Brits. (Why do people say Brits now instead of English?) Never mind John McEnroe and his new hairstyle. (Why do people say hairstyle instead of haircut?) Never mind John McEnroe back home before his hometown fans on his hometown courts. And never mind Jimmy Connors, Stan Smith, Bob Lutz or Captain Arthur Ashe.
Foils. Hurdles. Opponents. Incidentals. For the Czechs to prevail, Lendl, 21, 6'2", 170 pounds, inscrutable, poutymouthed, lean, with Bette Davis thighs, had to win both his singles and lead the way to a doubles triumph as well. Everybody else involved had a role; Lendl had a mission. That he failed was not his shame, for it was a tall order to expect that any one man might gun down what may well be the most formidable American team ever assembled.
Here, for example, was the unqualified view of Czech Captain Antonin Bolardt, that eternal optimist, Mister Confidence Builder: "I think we have no chance."
Not for raising expectations has Bolardt held his job 13 years. He was talking tennis, not miracles. Lendl had to whip the No. 1 and No. 3 players in the world upon their favorite surface, and then, while they enjoyed a day off, go out again in the blistering 95° sun, where only mad dogs and Chicago Cubs regularly venture, and put away fresh troops in the doubles—two fellows who together had won 12 of 13 Davis Cup matches and who hold the U.S. Open title, triumphing on this selfsame court.
Lendl did knock off McEnroe in the opening match Friday in long, straight sets, 6-4, 14-12, 7-5 (no sissy tiebreakers in the Cup), but he came a cropper in the doubles the next afternoon against Smith and Lutz. That told the tale because by the time Lendl faced Connors in the finale Sunday, the outcome had been decided. By then, both Connors and McEnroe had performed benevolent acts of euthanasia upon Lendl's lesser partner, Tomas Smid, and the Yanks, up 3-1, were already assured victory. For the record, Connors, a renascent Bill Hartack, who rode every race as if it were the Derby, went 8-0 lifetime against Lendl by winning the dead match 7-5, 6-4 and putting the victory at 4-1 in the books.
Having vanquished Lendl, Cap'n Ashe's troops now have mere countries to deal with. By the luck of the draw, these battles will take place in the States. Only our first-round match with Mexico wasn't played in the U.S., it being contested in Palm Springs, Calif. Australia, victor over Sweden (sans Bjorn Borg of Monte Carlo), will be the semifinal opponent in September in Portland, Ore. After that bit of business the Yankees must deal with either the Buster Mot-tram-led Brits or the clay-court Argentines. Don't cry for me: the finals will probably take place on a fast indoor court the first week in December, almost surely in Madison Square Garden.