"Jimbo is the type of player (we join Pancho Segura in mid-analysis of Jimmy Connors) who suddenly, if he gets on this game, will blitzkrieg you. He hits so hard."
"Aye," said Lew Hoad, "and that is his trouble against Bjorn Borg."
Segura fell silent. When Connors chooses to listen to advice, it is Segura's he likes. Next to Gloria Connors, the player's mother, no one has influenced Connors more than the happy Ecuadorian.
And here was Hoad saying Segura praised precisely that element of Connors' game that gets him beat by Borg. In 1956, when Connors was 4 years old, Hoad ruled the tennis world; while winning the French, Wimbledon and Australian championships, he missed the Grand Slam only by losing the Forest Hills final.
"Hitting so hard works against someone else, but not against Borg," Hoad said.
He rose unsteadily from a chair in the players' locker room. The bad back that made competition painful is no better at age 43, when an expanding stomach has increased its work load.
But once on his feet, Hoad was young again.
"Jimmy has to be loose against Borg," Hoad said, and the old Aussie stepped smoothly into a backhand, his feet moving as if he were an ice skater.
"Loose," Hoad said again. "Not this." And he jerked an imaginary racket in impression of the ferocious Connors style.
"He gives Borg too much speed," Hoad said. "Other players can't handle it. But Borg can. The ball comes back to Jimmy before he can get halfway to the net. And Jimmy has no idea where it will be going."
"At Wimbledon," Hoad said, speaking of Borg's spectacular victory over Connors in this year's final, "Borg passed Connors up the line, cross the court, every way. All because Connors didn't do this."
And Hoad, still hefting his imaginary racket, bounced to a stop, balanced nicely.
"Connors must ease off the pace against Borg and give himself time to get stopped, to plant one foot so that he can go either way on Borg's shots," Hoad said. "Don't you think, Panch?"
Segura didn't answer, changing the subject instead, probably because he, better than anyone, knows it would be foolish to ask Connors to ease off. Connors plays tennis with the gentility of a bomb in mid-expansion. His relentless assaults have made the Connors-Borg rivalry one tennis will never forget, for both are gifted players, each marked by strong personalities, one all fire, one ice.
At Wimbledon, Borg left Connors in ashes, beaten, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. The championship was Borg's third straight there, an accomplishment that moved some people to say Borg is the best player ever. If anything disturbs Connors more than losing, it is the suggestion he was beaten by a superior player. In Connors' mind, no one is his better.
As Ali wanted Frazier, Connors wants Borg-Jimbo is Ahab with a racket, crossing oceans in his obsessive desire to right a perceived injustice. Connors has explained his punk-cocky behavior on court by saying it is a proper reflection of the manufactured hate he holds for his opponent. Only by such meanness, he said, can be be at his best. Today, one supposes, Jimbo's hate-meter will blow a fuse.
In yesterday's semifinal against the teenager John McEnroe, Connors was at his mean best in the third set of a 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 victory. Down 5-1 in the third set, Connors went on an astonishing run that, at least twice, had McEnroe flat on the court after futile efforts to catch Connors' speeding shots.
The second of those collapses came in the ninth game of the set, when McEnroe needed only a point to end it. As a Connors backhand eluded him, McEnroe went sprawling, his racket falling loose, clattering across the hard surface. McEnroe rose slowly, as if extracating himself from a car wreck.
At the other end of the court, Connors was dancing in glee at his work. And when he won the next point with a missile of a forehand that left McEnroe slack-jawed, Connors thrust both arms high and, with his feet spread wide, leaned backward to shout his joy at the sky.
He won the game a minute later, and after the rest period, walked past the still-seated McEnroe. Connors spit water at McEnroe's feet.
Admirers of socially proper behavior may not take Connors as their hero, but his boorish act is seen by tennis connosseurs as sign certain he is mentally ready for this latest go at Borg. The more Connors struts and poses, the better he feels about himself.
He need feel wonderful today. Five years ago, the first time they met, Borg beat Connors. For the next three years, he could not win, losing seven straight times to Connors. But Borg, now on the rise at age 22, has won the last three confrontations and five of the last six. Connors has won only 11 games in the last six sets, so dominant has Borg become.
Of all players, perhaps Borg is least affected by Connors' barbed-wire personality. Two reasons: first, nothing disturbs Borg, who is concentration incarnate; second, he is a consummate craftsman quick enough to handle Connors' missiles.
"Jimbo is playing very confidently and I think he will win," Segura said. "He wants it very badly."
Hoad heard that. "Jimmy wanted it very much so at Wimbledon, too. And he won only seven games, remember."