Always before when they played, Kevin Curren didn't really look across the net at Jimmy Connors. He looked up at him.
"Jimmy Connors was on a pedestal," Curren said today. Connors--fists pumping, hips wiggling, fingers pointing, hair flying--daring you to beat him.
Curren, seeded 12th, took the dare today and won. He beat the defending champion, who had reached the quarterfinals every year since 1972, 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). Curren, who is ranked 15th in the world and has yet to lose his serve here, beat him with 33 aces. And he beat him on Court 2, Wimbledon's notorious site of upsets.
When it was over, Curren was cool--almost too cool, perhaps numb. It took a little prodding, but, finally, he said, "It feels great. Jimmy Connors is human. If it's the finals, there's champagne everywhere."
Connors walked off the court, sipping a cola. There would be no champagne this year. It was just another day at Wimbledon. One defending champion out of the running and the other, Martina Navratilova, needing only 39 minutes to beat Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, 6-1, 6-2. It has taken Navratilova exactly 3 hours and 13 minutes to reach the quarterfinals, 20 minutes more than it took Connors to lose today.
"We kid her and say if her match goes 45 minutes, she may go into cramps," said Billie Jean King, who, at 39, may yet get a chance to extend her appearance time here. King beat Wendy Turnbull, 7-5, 6-3, today on Court 14, virtually ignored, while Andrea Jaeger, the No. 3 seed, ended Carling Bassett's first Wimbledon, 6-4, 6-3. Bassett promptly announced she was going dancing.
Jennifer Mundel, who is ranked 76th, beat the ever-erratic Hana Mandlikova, the No. 8 seed, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. Yvonne Vermaak defeated Virginia Ruzici, seeded 12th, 6-3, 6-2, which leaves Navratilova the only seeded woman in the top half of the draw.
At age 37, Virginia Wade is having a lark. Today, she beat Eva Pfaff, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, after trailing, 4-2, in the tie breaker, and saving a match point at 4-5 in the third set.
John McEnroe, the No. 2 men's seed, survived a tight match with Bill Scanlon, 7-5, 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (9-7), which would have been more appreciated if it had not come on a day the defending champion was handed his lumps.
Ivan Lendl, No. 3, looking increasingly dangerous on grass--at least according to McEnroe--defeated Pat Cash, the 1982 Wimbledon and U.S. Open junior champion, 6-4, 7-6, 6-1. Lendl will have to face Roscoe Tanner in the quarterfinals. Tanner won most easily of all, beating Robert Van't Hof, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.
Wade, who played on Court 2 after Connors, understood "the way Jimmy was feeling. It was playing so fast. The serves were just whistling through. I think it got faster over the weekend. The green got a little greener."
For Connors, Court 2 was a sickly green, as it has been for so many others. Ilie Nastase lost there in the fourth round as the No. 1 seed in 1973, to Alex Mayer in the fourth round. Arthur Ashe, top-seeded in 1976, lost there to Vitas Gerulaitis in an early round.
McEnroe, the second seed, lost to Tim Gullikson on Court 2 in 1979.
Connors last played there in the second round last year and won easily over Chris Lewis. There was much talk today about the logic of scheduling the Connors match outside the stadium and Jaeger and Bassett inside.
"I can understand people asking," said Alan Mills, the referee. "But we do have to be fair to the sexes, don't we?"
"I think maybe it hurts him a little bit having to go outside," Curren said. Curren inflicted the damage today with his serve. Connors, who has the best return of serve in the business, had trouble anticipating where the ball was going.
"At one point, I heard him comment that I didn't know where they were going, either," Curren said.
An ace on the last point of the 11th game of the second set forced the match to a tie breaker. Another ace gave Curren a set point at 6-5 in the tie breaker, but Connors won the next three points for a temporary reprieve. Curren won the third set, although Connors was returning better.
Curren, a South African who spent 3 1/2 years at the University of Texas, did not want to go to a fifth set with Connors, not having great confidence in his endurance.
Curren served at 4-5 in the fourth set, the tightest game of the match. Spectators waited for Connors to do what he usually does: take advantage of every opportunity. But he didn't. The game went to six deuces and three set points for Connors, but he managed to make the least of them.
Connors held and Curren served, trying to force a second tie breaker. Immediately, Curren fell behind, 0-30, netting a forehand volley and then a backhand volley off a Connors backhand down the line. A service winner wide to Connor's backhand made it 15-30.
Then came the point of the match. Curren found himself at the net, a ball coming to his right. He dove and, in full flight, got his racket on the ball for an unintentional drop volley. Instead of 15-40, it was 30-30.
An ace and a service winner followed. "There was a little disappointment in his face," Curren said.
They went to the tie breaker and Curren may have thought about the match this spring when he beat Connors for the first time, in Brussels.
The score went to 2-2, but then Connors lost the next three points. A backhand cross-court volley made it 5-3 and a forehand return long by Curren made it 5-4 (his returns were not nearly as admirable as his serve). Curren served and his volley skimmed across the net. Connors netted a forehand passing attempt and Curren had match point.
Another serve, hard to read and harder to return, hooked into Connors' backhand. The man with the best return in tennis left it in the net.
"He just said, 'We did it,' " said Warren Jacques, Curren's coach. "It totally wiped out any doubt that he was able to beat Connors, Lendl or McEnore on any given day."
Connors disappeared into the locker room, gathered his things and, still sweaty, made his escape in a burgundy Mercedes.