Consider this scenario for the 1984 Colgate Masters, the final playoff for the top finishers in the worldwide Grand Prix of tennis.
Despite being the world's richest tournament -- a $4 million purse for eight players, including $2.5 million and the World Trade Center to the winner -- the Masters again had difficulty attracting a field to justify its billing as "the Super Bowl of tennis."
The top eight men in cumulative point standings for the previous year's 236 Grand Prix tournaments qualified, but only three wanted to play.The promoters had to dig down to No. 27 on their list to find cight willing bodies.
Jimmy Connors was the favorite.He had not planned to defend his title, but finally agreed two hours before the tournament began after being begged by the chairman of the board of the sponsoring Colgate-Palmolive Co., who promised him the toothpast concession in Red China as an under-the-table appearance fee.
Connors saw this as an opportunity to upstage his great rivals, Bjorn Borg, who said he needed time off to patch the roof of his tax shelter, and Guillermo Vilas, who was at home in Argentina revising his volume of poems, "Life Could Be Verse."
Besides, Connors had a score to settle with John McEnroe, whom he had pledged to "follow to the ends of the earth" after being out-pouted in the U.S. Open final. McEnroe had decided to play the Masters because it was in his hometown -- unlike fellow New Yorker Vitas Gerulaitis, who did not want to take a chance driving his Rolls-Royce through Times Square at night.
The three-day round-robin portion of the tournament was uneventful.
Connors finished with a 3-0 record. First he beat Raul Ramirez -- who showed up wearing a wet suit and fins -- 6-0, 6-0, in 13 minutes. He then won his next two matches by default.
Eddie Dibbs -- who had earned $3,186,743 in 51 tournaments during the gruelling season -- and Corrado Barazzutti -- who won important clay court events at Sodom and Gomorrah -- assessed their chances against Connors and went home.
McEnroe had a tougher time. He had to play two sets in each of his first two matches, then was extended to three by the earnest but overmatched Brian Gottfried.
But finally, it was time for the final that everyone was panting to see: Connors vs. McEnroe in a rematch of their $8 million, winner-take-half challenge match in Kuwait.
The No. 1 world ranking clearly hung in the balance. After all, Connors had won Wimbledon (Borg and Vilas had defaulted in the semifinals, Borg with a sore thigh, Vilas with a sensitive spirit), and McEnroe had reversed the result in the U.S. Open final. Those were the only two tournaments either played, and they were 16-16 in their round-the-world series of exhibition matches.
The final began with a gripping 20-stroke rally, Connors blasting a backhand passing shot down the line to trump a devilish McEnroe approach. The crowd of 19,000 at Madison Square Garden was enthralled by the torrid shotmaking and competitiveness of these giants of the modern game.
But at 3-3 in the first set of this match of dreams, both players simultaneously decided to default.
Connors had a deep, painful blood blister under his money belt. McEnroe said he aggravated the chronic chip on his shoulder. They agree to split the $2.5 million first prize and settle No. 1 in the Exhibition to End Them All at Boca Raton, Fla., sponsored by the World Bank.
The remaining 2 1/2 hours of the scheduled three-hour national telecast edition of CBS Sports Spectacular, featuring the World Indoor Mountain Climbing Championships and the first installment of a new series called "The World's Weakest Man Competition," in which contestants were asked to carry a cotton swab up a skyscraper using only an elevator.
You say this little futuristic fable is farfetched? Perhaps, but, sadly, professional tennis sometimes seems to be moving inexorably into a never-never land of colossal greed and total disorder.
The public, the great middle class which made tennis the glamor sport of the 70s, might not put up indefinitely with the high-priced defaults, indifferent performances and noshows that have become such a recurring and disturbing part of the modern pro game.
When the real Jimmy Connors defaulted Thursday night while trailing the real John McEnroe, 5-7, 0-3, in a round-robin match in the $400,000 Colgate Masters, there were real boos and catcalls from the 16,100 patrons at Madison Square Garden.
When the public address announcer immediately started shilling tickets to "all remaining sessions of the world's richest tournament," his ill-timed sales pitch also was greeted with the derision it deserved.
Connors' default because of a blistered foot further undermined a tournament already diminished by Borg and Vilas, who qualified but stayed away from what should be a show case event.
Borg unpardonably said he needed time off after an exhausting schedule of money-grabbing exhibitions. Vilas reportedly thinks Connors was paid under the table for the privilege of coming and playing for a $100,000 first prize, and wanted an appearance fee.
The Grand Prix itself -- a series of 93 tournaments this year, including a bunch of minor league ones -- is ridiculously cumbersome and difficult to understand. The qualification rules have been changed for next year, but not improved, and so a boycott by Connors, Borg, Vilas, McEnroe, Gerulaitis and several other top players now seems possible.
Defaults and injury alibis have become a way of life, even in major tournaments.
How will we remember the stars of this tennis generation
Sadly it could be as players of extraordinary, sometimes breathtaking skill who didn't give much of a damn about anybody abut themselves. And by 1984, if they are not careful, the golden age of wealth and popularity they are now enjoying could be over, a casualty of their short-sightedness.