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TENNIS; Longwood on the comeback trail

The US Pro Tennis Championship is holding its head high once again. This welcome turn of events comes after the embarrassment of last year, when a squabble with the players' union was only one problem confronting the host Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Mass.

Though once a battleground for such superstars as Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, and more recently Bjorn Borg, the US Pro (or just "Longwood") wound up with Spain's Jose Higueras and Chile's Hans Gildemeister coming through the no-name draw to reach the 1979 final.

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Determined to regain lost prestige, the tournament directors enlisted the services of Tennis Management Inc., which assisted in lining up a stronger field for this year's tournament. TMI's president just happens to be Gloria Connors, the mother of Jimmy, one of the first big names to announce his entry. Longwood also secured commitments from three other of the world's top 10 players -- Harold Solomon, Gene, Mayer, and Eddie Dibbs.

Beore the first ball was served on Monday, a lot had been made of Connors as Longwood's big drawing card. His name was practically penciled into the final. In light of this, one can imagine the shock that must have gripped tournament organizers when Jimmy fell behind 3-6, 1-3, 0-30 in his opening round match against unseeded Frenchman Christophe Freyss. Connors recovered, though, winning 11 straight games and the match.

For a number of years Longwood served as a convenient warmup to the US Open in New York. But when the US Pro (clay) and the Open (hard courts) wound up on different surfaces, fewer and fewer top players stopped in Brookline. This year , however, a change of date has put the tournament at the start of the summer, clay-court season, a very definite plus in luring the big hitters.

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