John McEnroe's outspokenness seems to be rubbing off on his doubles partner, Peter Fleming.
"I just can't imagine Czechoslovakia winning one match from the United States," said Fleming, sitting at courtside in Louis Armstrong Stadium today watching Czechs Ivan Lendl and Tomas Smid practice for this weekend's best-of-five Davis Cup quarterfinal series.
"There's no way Tomas Smid is going to win a match," said Fleming, Wimbledon doubles champion with McEnroe. "It should be 5-zip. I don't see John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors choking. I don't see Stan Smith and Bob Lutz choking in the doubles either."
Czechoslovakia will send its best players, Lendl, ranked No. 4 in the world, against McEnroe, No. 2, Friday at 1 p.m. The second singles will feature Connors, ranked third in the world, against Smid.
Saturday at 1 p.m., Smith and Lutz will meet Lendl and Smid. Sunday's competition, also at 1 o'clock, will have Connors playing Lendl and McEnroe facing Smid.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club announced this morning that McEnroe, this year's Wimbledon champion, will not be invited to join the exclusive club because of his behavior at the recently concluded tournament. It is the first time the club has withheld membership from a Wimbledon singles champion. MdEnroe politely declined to discuss the snub today before practicing with Connors.
But not Fleming. He called the Wimbledon committee "a bunch of stuffy old guys who blew up when Junior (McEnroe) questioned their almightiness." Fleming acknowledged that McEnroe did behave poorly the first day of the tournament, but said, "Junior was provoked 90 percent of the time after the first day."
Many people here feel that Sunday's matches will be a moot point. McEnroe is 13-2 in Davis Cup play and Connors 3-1, although he hasn't played in the Davis Cup since 1976.
McEnroe lost to Lendl recently in the French Open, but that match was played on the slow clay that Europeans thrive on. McEnroe is at his best on faster surfaces -- such as the asphalt here at the National Tennis Center -- and in the chaos that disrupts this facility near LaGuardia Airport.
"There's no way Junior will lose to Lendl," Fleming said. "New York is his home and he's won the U.S. Open on this court the last two years. If the match was being played in Omaha, maybe Lendl would have a chance. But here . . . "
Connors, who is playing his best tennis in two or three years, has beaten Lendl seven of seven times and Smid three of three. Even Miles Hamza, a Czech and a close friend of Lendl and Smid, said his countrymen have little chance in singles.
"It'll be an uphill battle anyway you look at it for us," Hamza said. "And Lendl and Smid know it. They won it (the Davis Cup) last year because they beat Italy and Argentina on clay. But on this asphalt, in this heat?"
Hamza didn't mention, however, that Lendl, since losing in the first round at Wimbledon, had been practicing in Boca West, Fla. "The temperature was between 100 and 110 and it was very humid," said Lendl.
In doubles, Lendl and Smid will face a Smith-Lutz team that has won 12 of 13 Davis Cup matches and pressed Fleming and McEnroe in the Wimbledon final. The possibility of Lendl and Smid having to play 15 sets each in the oppressive heat here is mind-boggling.
U.S. Davis Cup Captain Arthur Ashe wouldn't allow McEnroe, considered the world's best doubles player, to play doubles with Fleming this weekend for fear of tiring him for the Sunday singles. Czech Captain Antonin Bolardt, on the other hand, decided to go with his top singles men in doubles, hoping they can hold up in the heat, rather than play the team of Pavel Slozil and Stanislav Birner.
"Lendl and Smid serve well and return serve well," said Fleming. "But neither can volley that great. Smith and Lutz are just playing too well to lose to them right now."
Smid said, "McEnroe and Connors are playing better than anybody in the world. I'll fight every point until I fall. But if I lose, I lose. I can't change any strategy. These are just great players we are up against."
Ashe said he is "cautiously optimistic."
"Some truly nutty things happen in Davis Cup," Ashe said. "The results don't always go according to current world rank. I think the doubles competition on Saturday is pivotal."
Ashe watched as Connors and McEnroe practiced on an outside court after rain delayed their afternoon practice schedule. McEnroe was at his flamboyant best after Connors passed him twice during a warmup set. McEnroe smashed a ball high in the air after losing the game as about 200 onlookers cheered.
"He'd have been fined twice by now if he did that in Britain," one fan said.