John McEnroe's smiles (three) outnumbered his profanities (one) today as he began a new Wimbledon without causing a ruckus on the court. This time, trying to be a nice guy, he rattled their tea cups only afterward when in a plaintive sulk, he said he'd think more highly of Wimbledon if its pooh-bahs gave him the championship trophies he won last year.
It's bad enough, he said, that Wimbledon hasn't asked him to be a member of the All England club, a privilege extended to every champion since World War II.
"They'd make it clearer to me," he said of ways Wimbledon might convince him of its willingness to let bygones be bygones, "if they'd, one, ask me to be a member and, two, give me the trophies I won last year."
The consensus favorite in this summer of Bjorn Borg's abdication, McEnroe overwhelmed a first-round punching bag today, as did other contenders Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis, Sandy Mayer, Brian Gottfried, Johan Kriek, Roscoe Tanner and the 17-year-old French Open champion, Mats Wilander.
Of the 16 seeds, only No. 9 Andreas Gomez was beaten, the clay-court specialist falling to Stan Smith, 35, who after elbow surgery last winter admits he is here only as a sentimental journey on the 10th anniversary of his Wimbledon championship. Tenth-seeded Yannick Noah withdrew with a hamstring injury.
Barely had McEnroe's complaints been uttered before Wimbledon officials scrambled to please him. Within an hour, the player's father, John P. McEnroe Sr., drove away from Wimbledon's stadium with four cardboard boxes containing the three trophies his son won last summer.
The year's delay in delivery was explained by Ted Tinling, Wimbledon's liaison with the players, as a series of human mixups. The champion normally picks up his hardware at the tournament awards dinner, which McEnroe refused to attend. A deliveryman fell ill before completing his appointed rounds, Tinling said, and then no one wanted to risk putting the trophies in transatlantic mail.
"Mr. McEnroe told me this week, 'My boy feels very strongly he doesn't have his cups,' " Tinling said. "I told him we would bring them to him, and he said, 'I want to pick them up at my convenience. The ball's in my court.' "
About 4 o'clock this afternoon, Tinling said, the trophies were taken from the club safe and handed over to McEnroe the elder.
As for prospects of the young McEnroe being asked to join the All England Club, Tinling said, "I told Mr. McEnroe that it is not an automatic right because you've won the championship. A lot of people have won without being invited in. His son shouldn't consider himself aggrieved. Others have had to wait a year or two."
Tinling couldn't name any of those said to have waited. In any case, this clearly was a departure from opening day of 1981 when McEnroe raged at linesmen so offensively that most of England wanted the boorish lad taken straight away to the Tower for a good spanking, at least. Perhaps a rapprochement is at hand, in fact, for not only did Wimbledon quickly hand over the trophies, McEnroe behaved on-court as kindly as possible.
Only one detail of the play is necessary to demonstrate McEnroe's 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 superiority over an old schoolboy rival, Van Winitsky. Thinking he had struck a cross-court forehand winner, Winitsky straightened up to watch its delightful course--only to have McEnroe, flying to his left, whip back his own cross-court forehand that whistled by this awestruck old chum.
When this piece of astonishing work happened isn't important, because McEnroe did it any time he chose. Modest indeed was his judgment of being "relatively pleased" with the day's work.
More than forehands and backhands, it seemed he avoided the mine field of emotion that blew up in his face a year ago. "You don't forget what happened," he said. "I just want to ignore that. If I lose, I want to lose because the guy played better than me . . . I don't want any problems."
For linesmen who might have been the target of relentless insult last summer, today McEnroe had an indulgent smile three times. He only shook his head in wonderment at the deficiencies of the human optic system. Only on a called foot fault did McEnroe raise his voice, accounting for the day's one audible profanity.
Once he had his trophies back, McEnroe's only lasting complaint might have been over the absence of Borg, who is sitting out this year's play in protest of a rule that a player must play in a minimum number of tournaments or else go through qualifying for each. "I feel really bad all the top players are not here," McEnroe said. "Wimbledon is where Bjorn has been his best . . . I feel kind of bad he's not here because I've had some good matches with him."
With Borg absent, McEnroe's chief rival this fortnight might be Connors, the 1974 champion who has changed his serving style and last week defeated McEnroe for the championship of the Queen's Club tournament here.
Instead of the contortionist's twist that preceded Connors' serves in the past, he now tosses the ball more out in front, causing him to lean forward after it. The resulting power and movement have made Connors a new version of the old Punch-and-Judy base line player.
This fortnight he will follow in his first serve, the momentum of it giving him no choice. "It's difficult to go to the net when you're retreating sideways," Connors said of his old serving style after beating up on Mike Myburg of South Africa, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.
Bill Tilden went nine years between Wimbledon championships in 1921 and 1930. No other man in this century won so long after a victory. For Connors, this is the eighth year since his '74 championship.
"Sure, my time's running out," he said. "I'm not 22, 23. I'm 30. If I play another three, four years, I've had it."
Connors, by the way, said he had no problem getting his championship trophies.
"In fact, they sent me Nastase's, too," he said with a smile, naming his old doubles partner, Ilie Nastase. "And I kept it."