Chris Lewis has this fear of flying, so profound that he flies home to New Zealand only once each year. It is a strange phobia for a man who spends so much time in the air on a tennis court. Diving, lunging, defying gravity, he beat Kevin Curren, the 12th seed, in the Wimbledon semifinals and landed in Sunday's final.
The last time anyone from New Zealand reached the final of Wimbledon was 1914. His name was Tony Wilding and he had won the title four consecutive years. But in 1914, he lost in the challenge round and soon after was lost in World War I, a battlefield casualty.
Unseeded and ranked 91st in the world, Lewis is expected to succomb to John McEnroe, who will be making his fourth consecutive appearance in the final (WRC-TV-4 at 9 a.m.). McEnroe served what he said was probably one of the best matches of his career against Ivan Lendl in their semifinal. Many regarded that match as the real final.
"I think obviously whoever won it would go into the final as a favorite," McEnroe said. "But I certainly didn't see it as a final. There's a tendency to be overconfident. I'm not going to take anything for granted."
McEnroe lost to Bjorn Borg in the glorious final of 1980, beat him in 1981, and lost to Jimmy Connors last year. "I was not as prepared as I would have liked to have been," McEnroe said. "I was not as aggressive as I need to be in my mind. I let Jimmy take it to me at the end. I need that to play well."
Lewis is zero for two against McEnroe. But he never had beaten Steve Denton, Mike Bauer or Curren, either, before this tournament began. He defeated Denton in the first round and Bauer in the fourth. In that match, he came back from a break down in the fifth set to win, just as he did against Curren.
Curren was depleted during and after the match, perhaps because of the Rocky Mountain spotted fever he had in May, perhaps because of the late doubles match he had played the day before, perhaps because of the cumulative toll that weighs on one who eliminated the defending champion in the fourth round.
Serving for the match, when he saved three break points against Curren, Lewis still was bouncing, dancing, filled with energy. Lewis, who likes to run distances and sprints, said the difference between them was their level of fitness. "I've stepped up my level of training," he said. "I've spent a lot of hours on the court training intensely, doing a lot of moving drills. I've been able to explode to shots, which is a huge factor on grass."
Curren said the thing that surprised him most was his opponent's agility. The thing that surprised everyone else the most was everything about Lewis. He is 26 and was the No. 1 junior in the world eight years ago. In 1981, when he won the only pro tournament he has ever won, in Munich, he was ranked 32nd in the world.
Since, his fortunes and his rankings have plummeted. "I don't understand it, either," he said. "I've always believed in myself. I did it in juniors. I saw no reason I couldn't do it at the senior level. This has been my week. It's sort of a feeling, 'It's about time.' "
Lewis, who grew up next door to a tennis club in Auckland, won his first tournament when he was 8. This has been a long time coming. "I reached a crossroad where I felt I saw my ranking drop and I thought I'd give it one last go, and work as hard as I can physically," he said.
He has been working with Tony Roche, the New Zealand Davis Cup coach, who should be able to offer some insight into playing McEnroe on grass, having beaten McEnroe in the final at Queens Club in 1978.
Lewis had never played a singles match on Centre Court before the semifinal. "To tell you the truth, I was a little nervous," he said. "Now I've played a good singles match there. Obviously, I will be nervous. If I wasn't . . . "
His voice trailed off. The thought was clear. If he wasn't nervous, he wouldn't be human. On Friday, it seemed as if he wasn't. Curren said Lewis got to balls "no human being can run down unless he has some idea where it's going."
McEnroe assured himself of at least one Wimbledon title this year when he and Peter Fleming defeated Tim and Tom Gullikson, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, for the men's doubles championship. McEnroe's brother Patrick lost in the boys singles semifinals.