Sometime tonight, when he reaches his home in Greenwich, Conn., Ivan Lendl might be tempted to dig out a tape of "Casablanca." He will plug the tape into a machine and hit the fast-forward button until he gets to the line where Bogart looks at Bergman and says, "We'll always have Paris."
After today's Volvo Masters Tennis Tournament final, that might be Lendl's lament for a long time to come. Just as he did in this tournament a year ago; just as he did in the U.S. Open final in September; just as he has done in seven of their last eight matches, John McEnroe destroyed Lendl today before 17,955 in Madison Square Garden.
The scores were 7-5, 6-0, 6-4, but the match was over after the first set. For the second straight time in a major final, Lendl played three sets without breaking McEnroe's serve. If not for the French Open final in Paris last June, when McEnroe lost his temper and a two-set lead, Lendl would still be without a major title and McEnroe's record of the last 12 months would be even more astonishing.
"I just can't break his serve, it seems," Lendl assessed correctly. "Whenever I had chances, he came up with something. Once he gets ahead on you, he rides the wave and he's very tough to beat."
McEnroe, who won $100,000 today (Lendl won $60,000), knows that. He knows, that with 82 victories in his last 85 matches, he is riding a crest that, one month short of his 26th birthday, might not end for quite a while.
"If I'm out there playing well, I feel like I can beat anybody," McEnroe understated. "Today, for about 10 games there in the middle, I played about as well as I ever have. I was confident and I felt good. Once I figured his serve out and started timing it, I felt like I was in control."
Lendl, who had won a gritty three-set victory from Jimmy Connors in Saturday's semifinals, was sharp in the early going today. He was mixing up his first serves, trying to keep McEnroe off balance. More important, he was trying to avoid hitting second serves because McEnroe attacks so voraciously off them.
For most of the first set, the match was even. Lendl, who always whips his forehand, was even hitting winners down the line with his backhand. He had served only 41 percent against Connors; in the first set today, he was at 71 percent.
But he just couldn't break McEnroe. At 3-4, McEnroe fell behind by 0-30. Lendl's return on the next point was at McEnroe's feet. He got down to it, scooped it and hit a winner.
"That's the kind of thing that makes him so tough," Lendl said. "I have him 0-30, I hit a good low return and he volleys the ball on the line. He's so tough on the big points."
The next big point came at 5-5, Lendl serving. At 30-all, McEnroe punched a hard backhand into the corner and came in. Lendl, just a little too fine, pushed his backhand wide. "Good, good," McEnroe huffed, having reached break point. A moment later, he had the break, on a forehand return of a first serve past his stunned opponent.
Serving for the set, though, McEnroe almost self-destructed. He had a set point at 40-30, but Lendl got lucky with a let-cord return that McEnroe couldn't handle.
McEnroe walked to the base line to serve at deuce. As he had done earlier, he glared at photographers. He waited and waited. Finally, he screamed something incomprehensible. Then, bouncing the ball softly off his racket while still waiting, he lost control of the ball. It whacked off his right eye.
"I've done it before," McEnroe said. "I knew I needed a break because I couldn't see." McEnroe half-walked, half-stumbled to his chair. He was given a three-minute injury timeout as some in the crowd hooted and Lendl sat and waited. Water on the eye and several attending doctors seemed to solve the problem.
The break could not have come at a more dramatic time: 6-5, deuce. When McEnroe served, Lendl hit a backhand pass down the line. Suddenly, it was break point and it looked as if McEnroe might have poked himself from a first-set victory into a tie breaker.
"I think stopping affected him," Lendl said. "He hit some short balls I had a chance for. But I couldn't make the big shot."
The big shot could have come on the next point. Lendl got a second serve, a high-kicking twister to his backhand. He netted it. "I just had trouble seeing it," he said, ironically. "It seemed to kick right into me and I mistimed it."
Lendl got one more chance when McEnroe scooped a volley wide. Break point again. This time, Lendl had no chance, though: McEnroe put one of his 11 aces down the middle.
That was all the impetus McEnroe needed. He got to set point again with an overhead and then Lendl pushed another backhand return deep. McEnroe had the set, 7-5, and Lendl, for all intents and purposes, was finished.
"When he won that set and got the break right away in the second, it hurt me," Lendl said. "When he is serving well, he does anything he wants to on your serve."
McEnroe broke Lendl in that first game and swept through the second set, 6-0. It was the first time in 21 matches (65 sets), that either man has won a love set from the other. That done, McEnroe broke Lendl to start the third set, again attacking the first serve. By the time Lendl won the third game of the set, McEnroe had won 11 straight games. He easily served out the match.
And so, McEnroe has won this title three times (two in a row); he has won Wimbledon three times, and the U.S. Open four times. Two years ago, when Lendl beat him in this final in straight sets, Lendl appeared ready to become the dominant player in the game.
But now, McEnroe is being asked about new challengers. He has beaten Lendl and Connors 16 of the last 17 combined. "If I can improve as much this year as I did last year, I'll be very happy," McEnroe said.