The young Swede lunges for the volley and goes into a painful roll across the clay. Jimmy Connors hits a winner and then walks to the net as his opponent tries to brush the dirt from his back.
"Are you all right?" Connors says, apparently concerned.
The Swede nods his head, and as Connors turns back to the line, he jokingly snaps his fingers in regret. It's not that Connors wishes him harm, it's just that at 32, he can use all the short matches he can get. Or so he would have you believe.
Connors, the No. 1 seed this week in the D.C. National Bank Classic at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium, went on to win the match yesterday against the Swede, one Stefan Eriksson, 6-3, 6-4. The victory, a fairly routine one, was indicative of just how ill-fitting the tag of venerated old man may be for Connors.
Connors still is seeking to add to his all-time record of 105 singles titles, and the 106th probably will come in this tournament. And for anybody who suspects he might be near retirement, he already is scheduled to play through 1986.
"Every time somebody plays Jimmy they're shooting at him," said Ivan Blumberg, Connors' representative at ProServ. "I think he loves the fact that he's 32, and he keeps beating the crap out of the young sensations."
Increasingly, though, there are those who suggest that Connors' game is not what it once was. But the brawler and walking corporation who has been dogging men's tennis since 1972 quite simply wants more.
"Don't rush me out of the game," he said. "I'm not worrying about it, why should you? It pays me a good living, keeps me healthy, gives me business. I'm not in any hurry."
The fact is, being the wise old man of tennis is an act that is selling well for Connors. According to Blumberg, he makes five times as much money off the court as he does on, and he won $974,400 in prize money last year. He has 12 different endorsement deals, including microwave ovens, car-care products, Seiko watches and his own line of sunglasses.
He has also become a favorite of major corporations. He has endorsement agreements with Paine Webber, McDonald's and even Robert Bruce, the clothing wear line.
"He has the fighter instincts off the court, too," Blumberg said. "Interestingly enough, the same qualities that keep him on the court make him very attractive corporately. Companies love to be associated with that never give up, fight on to the last image."
But what also keeps him in the game, while many factors seem to be urging him out of it, is the increasingly improbable prospect of winning another Grand Slam title.
"He'd give his right hand to win another Open," said Davis Cup captain Arthur Ashe.
Connors' recent loss to Kevin Curren in the semifinals at Wimbledon, however, was greeted as a sign that his time for winning Grand Slam events may be over. He did not win one in 1984, and in three of his last four he has been badly beaten.
He won just four games in a three-set loss to John McEnroe in the 1984 Wimbledon, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2. He won just six games in losing to Ivan Lendl in the French Open semifinals this year. Two weeks ago at Wimbledon, he lost to Curren in the semifinals, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
There have been other, less explicable losses. He was a quarterfinal loser to Greg Holmes at La Quinta, a first-round loser to Vijay Amritraj at Las Vegas. One of his more surprising losses was to Miroslav Mecir in January, in the semifinals of the U.S. Pro Indoors, a tournament he has won five times.
Connors doesn't address his recent lack of success in the majors, however. The prospect of facing increasingly talented young players such as Mecir and Wimbledon winner Boris Becker doesn't make a dent in his storied determination.
"I still enjoy grinding out the matches," he said. "I still enjoy playing with the under-35 group and giving them a hard time . . . When I can't grind out the matches anymore, I'll be off. I'm not going to be one of those first-round casualties."
In fact, it still is a risky proposition to say Connors won't win another Grand Slam event, if history is any indication. Until recently, he had been ranked in the top three in the world on the Association of Tennis Professionals computer since 1974; he now is ranked fourth. For five straight years, from 1974 to 1978, he was No. 1 in the world. He has eight Grand Slam singles titles, including five U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons and one Australian Open.
He is the only man to have won the U.S. Open on all three surfaces -- grass, hardcourt and clay. His titles came in 1974 on grass, 1976 on clay, and 1978, 1982 and 1983 on hard courts. Although he didn't win a Grand Slam title in 1984, he won five other tournaments.
Some of the recent losses are perhaps not as significant as they seem. Czechoslovakia's Mecir, an unknown at the time, now is ranked 11th in the world.
"He's still playing with the best in the world," Blumberg said. "I think he's going to keep playing as long as he's satisfied with the level he's at, and only he knows what he's satisfied with. To be honest, he's getting sick of the issue. He made the semis of the French and the semis at Wimbledon. He's capable of playing with anybody."
The loss to Curren, who is generally regarded as the best server in the game, was perhaps not the upset it seemed to be either. McEnroe, after all, suffered the same fate in the tournament, losing to Curren in the quarterfinals two days earlier. Curren had defeated Connors once before at Wimbledon, in the 1983 round of 16, when Connors supposedly was at his best.
"There wasn't much talk about it in the locker room," Ashe said. "I don't think the other players were all that surprised. Curren has a big serve, and it was on grass."
It also should be noted that Connors has been written off prematurely before. He came back to defeat McEnroe in the 1982 Wimbledon final in five sets when it was said he couldn't do it. Later that year, he defeated Ivan Lendl in four sets for the U.S. Open title. He won the 1983 Open over Lendl again in four sets.
It seems obvious, then, that Connors is not going to go away. Ashe won his Wimbledon title at Connors' age. Pancho Gonzalez played successfully into his 40s, as did Ken Rosewall.
"I think he can play in the top five for two or three more years," Ashe said. "To stay in the top three would be a little more difficult. Difficult because he doesn't get any cheap points."
As Connors goes on, a change in his game probably will become evident, however. The older players tend to become more attacking in an effort to shorten the points.
"That's the standard ploy," Ashe said. "He's working like hell to stay in shape."