LONDON, JULY 4 -- Boris Becker is long gone. Jimmy Connors is recently gone. The Swedes, who may all be the same person, have all gone. So, Sunday's Wimbledon final (WRC-TV-4, 9 a.m.) comes down to a driven man facing a gifted one.
Ivan Lendl wants to win Wimbledon almost more than he wants to breathe. Pat Cash will almost certainly win Wimbledon before he is through playing. Sunday, one of them will win it for the first time.
Their final is marked by contrasts: in personalities, in playing styles and in ambitions. Lendl, at 27, is going for a sixth Grand Slam title in his 13th final. Cash, 22, has never won a Grand Slam event and played his first final last January in Australia.
The man Cash beat in the semifinals in Australia was Lendl. On grass, Cash can compete with Lendl and, as Lendl will tell you at great length, they play Wimbledon on grass. "I had a lot of chances in that match," Lendl said, referring to Australia. "It was a very disappointing loss because I had worked very hard to prepare to play there. But maybe that helped me here."
Maybe, maybe not. Both players come into the final at the top of their games.
Lendl had an awful first week, struggling with players such as Christian Saceanu, Paulo Cane and Richey Reneberg. But in his last three matches, all against good grass court players -- Johan Kriek, Henri Leconte and Stefan Edberg -- he has looked stronger and stronger.
Cash has been outstanding since the first day. He has dropped only one set in the tournament and has made three good players look helpless in his last three matches -- Guy Forget, Mats Wilander and Jimmy Connors.
Lendl's presence in the final, in spite of all his griping about not liking grass, is not a surprise. He has worked and worked and worked (and talked and talked and talked about all his work) to become a good grass court player. His serve is now a major weapon and his volleying is sharper and sharper. Driven men often get what they are driving for and Lendl is no exception.Growing Pains
Three years ago, Cash burst onto the tennis scene when he made it to the semifinals here as a 19-year-old. The teen-age girls squealed every time he moved but others were not so thrilled by him. He often was rude and obscene.
Given the gentlemanly nature of past Australian greats Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle and John Newcombe, Cash's brashness was not met favorably in his country or here.
"Australia was desperately looking for a tennis hero and when I came along the pressure on me was unbelievable," Cash said once when analyzing that year. "I just couldn't handle it. I wasn't mature about it and I was only 19 anyway. It just all crashed on me."
He reached the U.S. Open semifinal that year and had a match point on Lendl in the fifth set tie breaker. Lendl came up with a great topspin lob that hit the line to save that point, and he won the match. Cash threw his racket into the stands, then claimed he was tossing it to a fan. Tennis seemed to have found its new bad boy.
The next 18 months were a nightmare for Cash. He began to have back problems but kept playing. Doctors gave him different diagnoses and possible solutions but the pain persisted. He began losing in the early rounds and finally, after a second-round loss here in 1985 to qualifier Ricardo Acuna, dropped off the tour to rest his back.
It got worse before it got better. Just when Cash seemed to have the back problems licked, he had an appendectomy three weeks before Wimbledon began last year. He was prepared to turn down the wild card he had been offered -- his ranking was down to No. 413 at that stage -- but his doctor told him he would be able to play.
He not only played, he reached the quarterfinals, beating Wilander along the way. That week was a joy ride for Cash. He was funny and outgoing, talking at length about what a jerk he had been in the past, tossing wristbands to the teeny-boppers after matches and clearly having a great time.
By then, he was a father. He and girlfriend Anne-Britt Christiansen had a son on May 27 (Cash's 21st birthday) and he bought a flat in London to escape the pressures of Australia. After Wimbledon he struggled through the summer but really came on in the fall and winter, leading Australia to the Davis Cup championship and then making the Australian Open final in January. That put him back in the top 10 and he began to feel the pressure again.
"I know I have the ability to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and if I don't win them it will be my fault," Cash said. "I never knew until I had the back problems how important conditioning your body was. I took it for granted. But I learned -- the hard way."
For a little more than a year, Cash has worked with a trainer, Ann Quinn. She convinced him to work on strengthening his stomach muscles to take pressure off his back. Now, Cash's body is rock hard and unlikely to tire in a long match.
He hasn't had any of those here so far. Cash has come through the draw very quietly, which is exactly what he wanted. Last month, just after a French Open noteworthy for the dullness of the men's tennis, Cash was quoted in an English magazine as saying that women's tennis was "rubbish," adding the women were overpaid and that he couldn't understand why anyone would bother to watch.
There was, of course, a furor. Since then, Cash has put his personality in cold storage. When Gerald Williams of the BBC offered to give him a chance to clear the air in a postmatch interview Friday, Cash told him he would leave the studio if Williams asked the question on the air and then claimed he had been misquoted. He has, however, apologized to Martina Navratilova.
In his postmatch news conferences, Cash has refused to be drawn into conversation on any subject. When Becker lost, Cash claimed he didn't even know he was in Becker's half of the draw. He has refused to speculate on his chances. "I know what you guys want me to say," he said one night. "Well, forget it. I'm not going to say it."
Earlier this week, Cash told a friend: "I've learned my lesson by raising expectations. I've had enough aggravation with that in my life."