CONNORS WINS AFTER FACING 2 TIEBREAKERS
The Miami Herald
Friday, February 14, 1986
The Lipton International Players Championships began Monday with Jimmy Connors in search of talented singles partner Jimbo. It ended second-round play Thursday with Jimbo still missing and Connors still stuck playing with plain ol' Jimmy at Boca West.
Connors, Lipton's No. 3 seed, struggled throughout a three- hour tennis marathon with unheralded Claudio Panatta of Italy. He had to rally from a 2-5 deficit in the third set to win, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 7-6 (7-3).
In the end, when Connors needed him most, there were flashes of Jimbo, Connors' temperamental but talented side who achieved five consecutive No. 1 rankings in the mid-1970s. Mostly, however, there was only Jimmy playing what Connors classified as "wimp tennis."
Connors said he was upset with the way he played.
"I went for my shots more when I was down than when the match first started," he said. "Which is wrong. It's wrong for me. It's not my kind of tennis, and I'm not a happy guy when I play like that.
"Maybe next time, I'll come out and play the way I should play, which would be nice for a change."
But Connors wasn't the only high seed in trouble Thursday.
Top women's seed Chris Evert Lloyd suffered two service breaks in the first set against France's Marie Christine Calleja and trailed, 3-4, before rebounding for a 6-4, 6-0 victory. She will play France's Catherine Suire Saturday.
Men's No. 2 seed Mats Wilander of Sweden struggled with his serve in handling Australian Broderick Dyke, 6-4, 6-2. He has a rematch Saturday against American Mike Leach, who upset him in Lipton's fourth round last year.
In the only upset of the day, South Australian Open winner Eddie Edwards stunned No. 9 seed Kevin Curren, 6-4, 6-2.
No. 1 seed Ivan Lendl, playing in warmups because of 50-degree weather, overcame Christo van Rensburg, 6-4, 6-1. He will play American Greg Holmes Saturday.
Men's No. 5 seed Stefan Edberg and 13th-seeded Brad Gilbert won in the minimum two sets. No. 8 women's seed Gabriela Sabatini, ninth-seeded Kathy Rinaldi and 12th-seeded Carling Bassett also won.
But Connors, 33, and Panatta, 26, were the talk of Lipton Thursday.
Panatta is ranked 95th in the world and never was rated higher than 71st, which was in 1983. He is perhaps most famous for being the brother of 1976 Italian Open winner Adriano, now retired.
It was the memory of a duel with Adriano that helped Connors against Claudio. That and leg cramps suffered by his opponent.
"I was in terrible pain in both legs from the middle of the second set on," Panatta said. "I took a salt tablet before the third set, but he had me running like a rabbit, and I couldn't do it."
Connors needed something to slow Panatta down. He appeared to have little of the Jimbo fire in him. No kicking balls. No harassing linesmen. Merely pointing with his racket to show where a ball really hit.
"The big thing was that he didn't put the ball in the court the first few games," Panatta said. "I laid back and let him make mistakes."
Panatta took a 5-1 lead in the first set. Connors rallied and broke service twice, the second time to take a 6-5 lead. Panatta then broke Connors' service to force the first-set tiebreaker.
"I should've won the set serving 6-5," Connors said. "If I had won that, it could've been over long before it was."
Connors appeared on track in the second set. But in the third, Panatta broke Connors' first serve and took a 3-0 lead.
Both players held service until 5-3, when Connors broke Panatta and the match went into the tiebreaker.
"I remember the match I had with his brother about six or seven years ago," Connors said. "I did the same things as I did now -- I just put the ball in play.
"I played well in the end," he added. "From 5-2 on, I played the best tennis. Before, I was playing wimp tennis."
In the tiebreaker, Panatta was pained by the leg cramps, stretching out after each point and receiving warnings for stalling. Connors took the first six points and held on for the victory.
"Every time you play Connors, you think he's going to come back even when you're ahead," Panatta said. "But I'm happy. At least I was lucky that I got to play him because, you know, this may be his last year."
But Connors wasn't thinking about retirement. As his post-match conference ended, 6-year-old son Brett shouted, "Dad, somebody wants your autograph."
"Don't worry about it," Connors answered, picking up his bag.
He has more important things to ponder. And finding Jimbo is at the top of the list.
Evert, who beat Susan Sloane, 6-4, 6-4, in the first round, said she was not playing up to the form she showed in winning the Virginia Slims of Florida at Key Biscayne earlier this month.
"These two matches haven't been my best two matches, but like I said before, you don't want to peak too early in a two- week tournament," she said. "I just hope I can get gradually better with each match."
Wilander said he was not pleased with his play.
"In the past two or three years, I've always played my worst tennis at the beginning of the year, so I don't expect much here," he said.
Perhaps the happiest player Thursday was Jimmy Arias, who said he discovered what was ailing his forehand before he breezed past Jimmy Brown, 6-0, 6-2.
"I was practicing my forehand in front of the mirror Tuesday night and saw what the problem was," he said. "My father taught me how to hit a forehand when I was 5 years old, and I wasn't doing it that way.
"Now, I'm ready to move into the Top 10," he joked.
The attendance for Thursday's sessions was 7,141 in the morning and 7,787 in the evening. The four-day totals are about 69,000, or about 15,000 ahead of last year.
About 4,000 tickets are left for the women's final Saturday, Feb. 22, and 2,600 remain for the men's final Sunday, Feb. 23.