In last year's U.S. Open final, Ivan Lendl refused to change his losing tactics against Jimmy Connors and lost in four sets. This year, Lendl just gave up.
In winning his fifth Open, 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 7-5, 6-0, and $120,000, Connors became the only male player to surpass $5 million in career earnings. (On Saturday, Martina Navratilova surpassed $6 million.)
As in the 1982 final, the match began immediately after the semifinals Saturday. Connors' and Lendl's lockers in the dressing room were 10 feet apart and their seconds went at each other in a semiserious battle of wits.
"Turn out the lights, the party's ooo-ver," crooned Doug Henderson, Connors' 6-foot-3, 215-pound bodyguard-valet, smiling at Lendl. Lendl, a Czechoslovakian whose English is now peppered with Americanisms, grinned at his Slavic-American pals and joked animatedly in his native tongue.
In the first set, both players were cautious. There were uncharacteristically numerous unforced errors on both sides, such was the level of nervousness. There were six aces (five by Lendl, one by Connors) and four double faults (two each) in the first seven games. Once, at break point, Connors hit his first approach shot to Lendl's backhand. Lendl mis-hit a passing shot; it sailed 20 feet out.
Lendl's feet refused to move on crucial points. He had two set points in the second set, at 5-3, 40-15, and another with Connors serving at 5-6, ad-out. Each time, Connors recovered because Lendl didn't take that extra step to get into position. Connors, who depends on balanced body positioning to operate well, stutter-stepped in spite of an injured toe (aggravated during his semifinal match Saturday).
Although Lendl possesses a lethal forehand, that stroke is the first to break in a tight match. He began hitting his favorite shot with an open stance, virtually assuring a weaker result. His lack of fight became an embarrassment. If substitutes were allowed, he'd have been yanked off court in the middle of the third set.
Connors' major drawback is that he can play only in fourth gear. As he is fond of saying, "I go for the lines; that's what they are for--to be hit." Sometimes this stubborn arrogance has been a severe hindrance. Tense situations call for temporizing. His go-for-broke philosophy cost him the second set.
At 4-3 in the third set, Connors began limping from a bruised bone spur on his right little toe. He was unable to pivot as well. Body torque on the follow-through is essential to the speed of his shot. Standing 5 feet 10 1/2 inches, Connors weighs only 155 pounds.
Connors is the one non-topspin artist who can open up the court on Lendl. Although Lendl's forehand is the hardest-hit ground stroke anywhere, Connors controlled most of the points because he struck the ball on the rise. Consequently, Lendl hit a higher-than-normal percentage of off-balance shots. Against nearly all other players, Lendl is in control.
But Lendl doggedly refused to give a 100-percent effort, even against an injured Connors. Leading, 5-4, 40-30, in the third set, he double-faulted. He didn't win another game.
The fourth set was a farce. It is astounding that any professional athlete could reach the championship round of a major event and not give a supreme effort.
Lendl and Connors have met 14 times, with Connors holding a decisive 11-3 edge. They last met in the semifinals of the Canadian Open a month ago, with Lendl winning, 6-2, 6-1.
Connors had not won a major title since last year's Open. At 31, he doesn't have many good years left. Three years ago he could, in his words, "run as long as it takes." Today, he let go a few of Lendl's wide returns. It's not that he's not as fast. He's just not as fast for as long. But it didn't matter here.
There were fans with "No Guts--No Glory!" T-shirts. Connors had guts. Lendl didn't--again.