Jimmy Connors basks in fifth US title, 100th overall victory
If Jimmy Connors ever decides to mat and frame his most eye-compelling tennis matches, he certainly won't start with his 6-3, 6-7, 7-5, 6-0 victory over Ivan Lendl in the '83 US Open championship. Function far outstripped form in this one , but Jimmy was hardly disappointed, not after beating the powerful Czech for the second straight year to nail down his fifth US title.
''It wasn't quite as beautiful as some other finals I have played, and maybe wasn't the best match to look at, but it got the job done,'' Connors said. The triumph also enabled him to reach a pair of personal milestones, marking the first time he had been able to successfully defend a US Open championship and his 100th tournament victory overall.
Sunday's match was played in suffocating 100 degree heat. It turned Louis Armstrong Stadium into a turkish bath with quadra-phonic sound, most of which was supplied by the many pro-Connors backers in attendance.
The crowd of 20,000 savored the opportunity to watch Lendl, a super server, duel Connors, the premier return-of-serve man.
Lendl produced 16 aces, but just as often found his laser-beam serves rocketing back across the net with equal velocity.
''Nobody returns my first serve better,'' said Lendl, who admitted that this fact had something to do with his decision to slug it out from the baseline rather than follow his serves to the net.
Connors broke Lendl's serve 11 times, but ironically, Jimmy didn't have to lift his antiquated, small-headed steel racket to win the most telling point of the three-hour, five-minute match.
If Lendl had won it, the pivotal third set would have been his 6-4. Instead, a slight breeze sent his high toss off course, causing him to dump his second serve in the net. ''I should have caught the ball and tried again,'' he said regretfully. ''If you make a mistake like that you don't deserve to win.''
Sensing Lendl's dejection over the double fault, Connors broke serve, eventually won the set, then poured it on against a demoralized opponent to end matters in the fourth set.
Lendl, who earned $60,000 in his losing effort, had reached the final without dropping a set. If he had maintained his momentum, he would have become the first player since Neale Fraser in 1960 to win the title without the loss of a set. That, however, was hardly a major, or perhaps realistic, consideration against Connors, who plays with enough pride to fill the borough of Queens, and who wound up in the final after losing just one set himself, to first-round opponent Ramesh Krishnan.
Jimmy has said he likes any title with the letters ''US'' in front of it, and the Open obviously tops the list, which is why he always comes here primed for battle. He's a roll-up-your-sleeves type of player who loves to grunt and strain and rev himself up for the sports fans of this city.
A year ago after winning Wimbledon he entered the Open on a roll, eager to underline again that Jimmy Connors, a young-old master at 30, still had a lot of good tennis in him.
This year, after winnng the US Indoor, he was eliminated early at both the French Open and Wimbledon. But he came to the National Tennis Center convinced that he could find a fair measure of satisfaction.
''I've told people all along that I'd be happy with half the year I had in 1982. This was that half,'' Connors said after polishing off Lendl, who was seeking to win an elusive first Grand Slam title.
Lendl was also aiming to become the first right-hander to win the men's crown since Australia's John Newcombe in 1973, the year Czechoslovakia's Jan Kodes was runner up.
Connors has played a significant role in this southpaw domination, displaying unequaled versatility by winning on three different surfaces - grass in 1974; clay in 1976; and asphalt in 1978, '82, and '83 - and rare longevity by winning the title nearly a decade apart.
In his first Open final, he lost just two games in blitzing 39-year-old Ken Rosewall. The slaughter that the brash youngster administered to the venerable Aussie didn't exactly endear him to tennis fans, who cheered heartily when he lost in the finals to foreigners Manuel Orantes and Guillermo Vilas in 1975 and 1977, respectively.
Gradually, however, Open-goers came to respect Connors for what he is - the Pete Rose of tennis. Cocky or not, Connors puts everything he has into the game, attacking balls with the ferocity of a Kung Fu star. When he unleashes his double-fisted backhand, both feet fly off the court and his mop of hair stands momentarily on end - a picture every tennis photographer loves to snap.
In an informal poll of men players, Connors has been cited as the toughest to play on the tour. John McEnroe, who was upset here by Bill Scanlon, can be frustrating because of his vast repertoire of shots, and facing Lendl, with his crunching serve and forehand, tends to be intimidating. But Jimmy gets the highest marks for sheer competitiveness. ''You earn every point against him,'' one player observed. ''You hit the ball as hard as you can, and it comes back even faster.''
In winning here, Connors became the first male to exceed $5 million in career prize money, but the back-to-back championships and 100th title were the more significant achievements in his own book. ''I was thinking about the 100th this summer,'' he said. ''I lost in the semifinals to Lendl in Montreal and to McEnroe in Cincinnati, but I wasn't doing it just so I could reach 100 here.''
Just chalk it up to good timing and his penchant for playing like a man possessed. Jimmy's not making any promises about next year, other than to say he'll be back, trying to knock the fuzz off the ball as usual.
McEnroe and Peter Fleming won the men's doubles, Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver the women's, and Australians Elizabeth Sayers and John Fitzgerald the mixed.