Jimmy Connors' toe, you will be glad to know, is in fine shape for Friday's match with John McEnroe in a big-deal-for-TV special here, also starring Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas. Connors' toe, you remember, produced a big blister the last time it ran after McEnroe's shots. The toe was losing, 7-5, 3-0, when Connors' mouth said, hey, let's get outta here. So the toe and the mouth and the rest of Connors quit right there.
In defeat that January night in New York, Connors was as gracious and selfless as always. He said McEnroe won because the gol-darned toe chose that night to cause a fuss. He refused to say McEnroe was the better player that night. All it proved, Connors would have us believe, is that a McEnroe with 10 toes is better than a Connors with nine.
So here we are in a spiffy resort called Boca West for the $300,000 Pepsi-Cola Grand Slam of Tennis. It's a three-day event that annually matches the winners of tennis' four major championships. Connors won the U.S. Open last year, Vilas the Australian Open and Borg the French Open and Wimbledon. McEnroe filled out the draw by winning the Masters (with, of course, the pedidigital help of Jimbo).
Connors and McEnroe go Friday afternoon, with Borg-Vilas Saturday and the winners meeting Sunday. The first two matches will be televised at 3 p.m. Saturday via tape (WDVM-TV-9), with the championship live at 4 p.m. Sunday.
The winner this weekend will be paid $150,000, the runner-up $75,000. Third place is worth $45,000 and the fellow who loses twice will have $30,000 to press against his tender pride.
At various times, McEnroe has cast his struggle with Connors in epic form.McEnroe, at 19, seems incalculably talented, his gifts even now transforming his character from pubescent punk to maturing brat. He wants to be No. 1, a station in life familiar to Connors, who at 26 has successfully resisted any transformation from punkdom.
"I will follow him to the ends of the earth," McEnroe said of Connors, who, come to think of it, once said the same thing about Borg. The Pequod's captain, Ahab, also said it about a big fish, but nobody remembers that today because Ahab's forehand was undependable.
If McEnroe is on a consuming mission, you couldn't tell it today.
"John, after beating Jimmy the way you did, what does this match in this tournament mean to you?" someone asked.
"It means I'm playing Jimmy," McEnroe said, and heads bobbed up and down in agreement, for the kid had hit the nail on the head and no one could argue.
"That's all?" a head-bobber asked.
"This is a tournament for the winners of the major championships and I have something to gain by winning. It would help my reputation."
"Did it bother you that Connors gave you no credit after the Masters match?"
"Didn't he?" McEnroe said. "He just quit, that's all. I still consider it a win for me."
After four losses to Connors, it was McEnroe's first victory in the meetings of mercurial lefthanders. It will not be the last, of that tennis experts are certain, but not many believe McEnroe can handle Connors here on the clay court at Boca West resort.
They remember vividly Connors' demolition of McEnroe on the medium-speed court at Flushing Meadows last fall, when Connors, at the top of his game, sent McEnroe diving from line to line in futile pursuit of roaring blurs.
The Friday match here promises much. McEnroe is on the rise. He may own more shots than any player today, and to execute them he has astonishing quickness and strength. His serve is better than Connors' by far and will be a significant factor (though, to be sure, Connors' greatness rests on return of serve).
Borg figures to defeat Vilas, as he has in 14 of 18 tries, including a 6-3, 6-1 conquest at Richmond last weekend.
That would set up a Connors-Borg final here. Connors beat Borg (and the Swede's injured thumb) in the U.S. final last fall, then whipped him again in Buenos Aires and leads their lifetime series, 10-6.
We could go on with this tennis talk all day, except that a minute ago a beautiful blond stopped by an itinerant typist with a weather report.
"We had our winter," she said, rubbing her hands briskly up and down her sweatered arms.
"Really?" said the typist, who only four or five hours earlier had driven through eight inches of snow to make good his escape to the sun.
"Yes, it was this morning," the weather girl said.
"And how cold was it here in beautiful Boca Raton?"
"Fifty-damn-eight," she said.
"Don't worry, it's supposed to warm up tomorrow."