In tennis, this has been a year in which words often have been inadequate. Simple words can't fully describe the wonder of the French Open women's final between Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina Navratilova. They don't seem adequate to recount Boris Becker's stunning victory at Wimbledon.
And, most of all, they can't pin down the direction of this year in the sport. One year after Navratilova left the U.S. Open with a sixth straight Grand Slam tournament title and seemed invincible, her status as the No. 1 player in the world has been challenged not by a rising star but by Evert. One year after leaving here as the dominant men's tennis player, John McEnroe may have a half-dozen challengers.
That is why numbers may be the best way to explain what might unfold the next two weeks at the U.S. Open, which will begin Tuesday at the U.S. National Tennis Center.
McEnroe still is the No. 1 player in the world, the No. 1 seed, the defending champion and the favorite. He will be seeking his fifth Open championship in seven years when he plays his first-round match against Shlomo Glickstein, a capable player who stretched Ivan Lendl to four tough sets in the third round at Wimbledon.
Evert is the No. 1 seed in the women's draw even though Navratilova has won two straight championships here. Evert will be trying to win her seventh Open title and her 17th Grand Slam tournament. Navratilova has won 11 Grand Slams and the two of them are the only women to win Grand Slam events since the 1981 U.S. Open -- 15 straight tournaments. There is no reason to believe it won't be 16 in a row a week from Saturday.
Becker, age 17, is the No. 8 player in the world and has had an excellent summer coming off his magic fortnight at Wimbledon. He was the major reason West Germany beat a depleted U.S. Davis Cup team in the quarterfinal round. Last week, he overpowered Mats Wilander for the ATP championship, which was played on the same surface -- hard court DecoTurf II -- as the Open.
Gabriela Sabatini, 15, and Steffi Graf, 16, the babes-in-waiting of the women's tour, don't seem ready to beat Evert or Navratilova here, but then neither does anyone else. Hana Mandlikova, the only seeded player besides Navratilova and Evert to win a Grand Slam event (1981 French Open) still is too inconsistent and flaky.
The three main threats are Pam Shriver and The Twin Towers -- doubles partners Helena Sukova and Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, each over 6 feet tall and improving rapidly. Shriver, who also is 6 feet, is in Navratilova's half of the draw. Sukova and Kohde-Kilsch are in Evert's.
Lendl is the No. 2 seed and tennis' No. 1 bridesmaid. He has been runner-up here the last three years and has lost six Grand Slam finals in his career. Wilander is the No. 3 seed and, unlike Lendl, seems to rise to the occasion in majors, having won two French and two Australian opens. Wilander, just turned 21, has an interesting draw: In the second round, he is likely to face Slobodan Zivojinovic, who upset him in the first round at Wimbledon.
Last but certainly not least is the King of Numbers, Jimmy Connors. He will be 33 on Monday and is the oldest player in the world's top 50. He has won this tournament five times on three different surfaces, but hasn't won a tournament this year. He has been at least a semifinalist here 11 years in a row, but faces a tough road with rising star Stefan Edberg a likely fourth-round opponent and Kevin Curren, who routed him at Wimbledon, a probable quarterfinal opponent if Connors were to survive Curren.
Beyond the numbers, it is notable that at a time when Randy Gregson, president of the U.S. Tennis Association, is talking of the need for a national tennis academy to train young U.S. players, the products of Nick Bollettieri's Florida academy seem to be skidding.
Jimmy Arias, 21, has fallen from a world ranking of No. 6 to No. 26. Aaron Krickstein, 18, has had a terrible summer and isn't even playing here, having pulled out with a stress fracture in his ankle. Carling Bassett, 17, a semifinalist here last year, has struggled all summer, but her problems may be attributed more to personal problems -- her father is seriously ill -- than anything else.
Gregson's concern may arise from another number -- three. That's the number of majors played since McEnroe won last year's Open. The winners were Wilander, a Swede, in Australia; Wilander in Paris and Becker in London. No U.S. man reached the final in those tournaments.
That never has been the case here, though. The last non-American to win a singles title was Guillermo Vilas of Argentina in 1977, the last year the tournament was played at Forest Hills. That was on clay. On the fast hard courts of Flushing, U.S. players have dominated the finals.
But before that stage is reached, the first week should provide some upsets -- especially on the men's side of the draw. The early rounds are rife with upset possibilities. Curren, the Wimbledon finalist, who beat both McEnroe and Connors there, faces a tough second-round match against Henri Leconte, who beat Yannick Noah in Paris and Lendl at Wimbledon. Edberg plays Jose-Luis Clerc in the opening round; Joakim Nystrom, the 10th seed, plays big-serving Chip Hooper, and 12th-seeded Johan Kriek plays Paul McNamee. On the women's side, Sabatini should have a difficult time with Barbara Potter, a 1981 semifinalist here, in her opening match.
There will be other upsets, other surprises. A name to watch on the men's side: Bud Schultz, ranked No. 60 in the world, but a rapidly improving player. For the women? Zina Garrison, the No. 6 seed who reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, who has a favorable draw until a possible meeting with Navratilova in the semifinals.
One other woman who won't be around long bears watching: Pascale Paradis. She has just turned 20 and is one of the most improved players in the world this year since coming under the guidance of Virginia Wade. That's the good news. The bad news is that she drew Navratilova for her opening match.