There is something anti-thetical about nostaglia and Jimmy Connors. There is no sentiment in his uncompromising game. But at 30, Connors, is older, wiser, perhaps a bit more susceptible to sentiment than the last time he won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open Tennis Championship in one sweet summer, eight years aOo.
After he beat Ivan Lendl, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, for his fourth U.S. Open championship today, Connors threw his arms up to the crowd of 20,532, a man in possession of himself, them, and his moment. He had repossessed the tennis world. "When I won before, everybody thought I would," he said. "When I won now, everybody thought I wouldn't. That's pretty satisfying."
Lendl sat off to the side, alone in the crowd at the National Tennis Center. For once, you could understand him looking so dour.
Connors won $90,000 for the victory, putting him over $4 million in career earnings, the first player ever to win that much. He had assured himself of the No. 1 ranking for 1982, which he has not held since 1978, the last time he won the Open.
In some ways, Connors, the emotive American, and Lendl, the stolid Czech, are alike -- arrogant in the strength of their base line games, unwilling to accommodate an opponent's strength or strategy. Each waits for the other to make mistakes, to miss. Lendl waited in vain.
Playing in his first Open final, Lendl seemed more tightly strung than his racket. Though he had 14 aces, his first-serve percentage was only 52, below 50 percent for each of the first three sets. It was telling that he double faulted on the first point he served. His forehand, his best strength, was also his greatest weakness; a few sailed into the stands, betraying anxiety. He had 29 forehand and 20 backhand errors.
Lendl broke in the first game of the match but Connors, who says, "I'm still a stubborn s.o.b." broke right back, when Lendl fell behind 0-40 on his serve, and, later on the second break point, sent an errant forehand long and wide. Connors, who made 65 percent of his first serves, held at love the next two games he served. He said he won because he served so well.
As usual, he returned even better. In the sixth game, trailing 3-2, Lendl double faulted to give Connors a break point. They stook their ground (at the base line) trading ground strokes. Finally, Connors pulled him wide with a cross-court backhand, then broke him with a backhand down the line. Connors leaped toward the net, his fists clenched.
Connors is always ready to fight, as he did serving for the first set, when he fell behind 0-30, then won the next four points.
Connors broke at love in the first game of the second set when a net cord so discombobulated Lendl that he completely missed his shot. When Connors broke again in the seventh game, Lendl must have realized that New York is not Cincinnati, not the ATP championships where he beat Connors for the first time, 6-1, 6-1, two weeks ago.
"I was tiring in the second set," Connors said. "But after I won it, I got a new burst of energy."
In the third set, Connors said, he was "a little tennis weary from so many balls going by me."
Lendl seemed more resolute, more like a man who had a 44-match winning streak earlier this year. He didn't do anything different. Connors did: he made 16 unforced errors, the kind of errors Lendl had been making earlier. Connors double faulted (one of two in the match) to give Lendl a break point in the sixth game, and netted a backhand to give him the break and tie it at 3.
With Lendl serving at 4-4, Connors failed on two break points. Lendl saved the first when Connors netted a backhand, and the second with an ace down the middle to Connor's backhand. At 4-5, Connors fell behind on his serve 30-40, netting another backhand. He saved one set point with a backhand cross-court volley and temporarily regained the advantage when another Lendl forehand sailed long. But Lendl summoned up a backhand winner down the line to take it to deuce. Connors played a forehand long and loose and Lendl had a second set point. This time, Connors netted a backhand approach shot and Lendl finally was in the match.
Now it was Connors' turn to summon what was within him. He has done it many times before -- this was his 95th tournament victory, by far the most of any player. He broke in the first game of the fourth set, a love game, with a forehand winner. Lendl evened the set, breaking back to tie at 2, with a backhand passing shot.
As the match wore on (it took 3 hours 9 minutes) and Lendl's forehand began to land shorter than his backhand, Connors began to attack it. "I would hit it down the line and come in," he said.
At 30-30 in the fifth game, Connors came in behind a forehand return and stretched, reached way back, for a forehand cross-court volley that gave him a break point. As the ball died at Lendl's feet, so did his chances. Again, at break point, Connors came in behind a forehand return and put away a backhand volley down the line. He led 3-2.
Now he was dancing, pumping, counting down the games for the crowd. When he held at love to go up 5-3, he yelled, "One more."
Serving for the match at 5-4, 30-15, he counted down the points, holding up two fingers to show all that remained. On match point, he came in behind his second serve. He was stationed at center court, ready to fight, when Lendl netted a backhand to end Connor's sweetest victory.
It called for the driest champagne. His wife Patti told him, "The D.P. (Dom Perignon) is up in the refrigerator. So get my butt outta here, and up ther." He was still standing, dancing in place, as he had when he came out to serve for the match. The old man wouldn't sit down. He was afraid he would get cramps in his legs.