For five straight days here at the venerable Queens Club, the venerable Jimmy Connors stirred memories. Rested after a 10-week suspension from Grand Prix tennis, comfortable after a week of practice on the grass, he played the kind of tennis that raised eyebrows and the inevitable question: could Connors, at 33, win Wimbledon one more time?
But today, on a hot breezy afternoon, Connors' chances for one last great moment took a decided turn for the worse. Trailing Tim Mayotte in the final of the Stella Artois Championships, 6-4, 2-1, Connors defaulted because of a severe groin pull.
"I don't want to go to Wimbledon if I'm not 100 percent," Connors said after the match. "I'm going to see a doctor Tuesday and he may tell me to take a long rest. Or he may tell me I can play Wednesday."
Connors said he expects to play Wimbledon -- "I do have a week to rest" -- but the injury is certainly a major setback. His tennis this week after a suspension for refusing to continue play during the Lipton International Players Championships, Feb. 21, had been superb. He was thought to be in excellent condition and a victory today would have ended a 20-month tournament victory drought and sent him into Wimbledon with a major confidence boost.
Instead, Mayotte will go to Wimbledon thinking he has a chance to win. This was only Mayotte's second tournament title, but he beat Becker, Stefan Edberg and Connors to win the championship. Those three and Ivan Lendl probably would have been the top four picks for Wimbledon before this week.
"It's the best tennis I've ever played," said Mayotte, who has reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and came within two points of beating Becker there last year. "It makes me think that perhaps I have a chance to win Wimbledon. I don't feel as happy as I would if I had won a match point. It's definitely a letdown. But this has been one of the best weeks of my life."
It had been a great week for Connors until late in his semifinal victory against Robert Seguso when he stretched to hit a lob, slid on his right leg and felt something pop. "I got treatment for it Saturday night, put some ice on it and felt better," Connors said. "I thought I could play on it today."
It was apparent early that Connors could not play today. He had two break points in Mayotte's first two service games, but the more he had to run to get to balls, the more he struggled. By the fifth game, he was hobbling noticeably and called for the trainer after that game.
Mayotte had to remember Wimbledon a year ago when Becker hurt his ankle, had it taped and came back to win a fifth set. Mayotte said he tried to pretend he couldn't see Connors' problem. "It's one of the hardest things to do in tennis," he said. "But I remembered the Becker match and just tried to concentrate on my own game."
If Mayotte hit a ball at Connors, the old street fighter slammed it with authority. But he couldn't run and he couldn't pull up short without wincing. Mayotte finished the first set by serving it out at love, broke Connors at love to start the second set and held at 15 to lead, 2-0. He had won 12 of the last 13 points.
Connors won one more game, smacking a forehand winner on what proved to be the last point of the match, then hobbled to his chair and called for the trainer again. After a three-minute delay, Connors walked to the net, shook hands with Mayotte and left to warm applause.
Connors would have liked a fourth title here. More important, he would have liked the momentum a victory would have given him seven days before Wimbledon.
Now, he joins the growing list of question marks. The list of top men players at Wimbledon looks more like a hospital report than anything else right now.
Becker left here suffering from painful throbbing in his right palm and middle finger. Johan Kriek withdrew here because of an injured wrist. Yannick Noah already has withdrawn from Wimbledon because of an Achilles' tendon injury. Anders Jarryd defaulted in the doubles here because of an ankle injury. And Paul Annacone left complaining of a sore back. John McEnroe, a new father, formally withdrew from Wimbledon last week.
Clearly, this is the year for Lendl -- grass problems or no -- or someone such as Mayotte, who loves grass, to be given serious consideration at Wimbledon.
Ironically, Mayotte's latest hot streak began after an injury. He sat out five weeks after a pulled stomach muscle forced him to default the final of the U.S. Pro Indoor to Lendl in February. After the injury, he began a rigorous training regimen.
"I always thought I was in very good shape," Mayotte said. "But I found out that I wasn't. I think I'm moving much better now. I've always hit the ball well enough to win but I haven't moved well enough. Now, I think I am."
Mayotte leaves here to begin a week of practice at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club as confident as he ever has been. Connors leaves as a question mark to himself and to everyone else. Saturday, after rolling into a fence in pursuit of a Seguso shot, Connors stood up and said jokingly, "I'm 34. I should know better."
The comment drew a big laugh. Today, as Connors hobbled to the dressing room, looking every second of his age, no one was laughing. Shriver Takes Title From News Services
EDGBASTON, England, June 15 -- Pam Shriver of Lutherville, Md., won her third straight Edgbaston title today, defeating Manuela Maleeva, 6-2, 7-6 (7-0). In the doubles, Elise Burgin of Baltimore and Rosalyn Fairbank defeated top-seeded Elizabeth Smylie and Wendy Turnbull, 6-2, 6-4.
"I'm feeling optomistic about Wimbledon," said Shriver, who returned from a two-month layoff to win last week at Beckenham, England. "This year I'm in great shape and, if the right Pam Shriver is playing, then it just comes down to the big points."