Jinxed it, because after this edition of the U.S. Open, the furriners would more or less take over, with the exception of 1993-1996 on the men's side and 1998-2002 on the women's side.
The U.S. Open: Does Wimbledon really compare with this event?
San Diego, CA
Saturday, August 25, 1984
Elson Irwin, Tribune Sportswriter
REGARDLESS OF WHAT some Wimbledon loyalists steadfastly maintain, the U.S. Open tennis tournament is the toughest, most exciting of them all. While you could color the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club of Wimbledon the "granddaddy of them all," aged and vine-covered, decrepit if you will, color the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadow rigorous and vibrant and hard-rock tough -- from the prequalifying rounds to the final Center Court duel.
On Tuesday, the best players in the world will start taking forehand and backhand whacks at each other. To be sure, there will be the usual coterie of foreign players who gripe about the slick playing surface and the "Masked Marvel" who comes out of nowhere to establish himself or herself suddenly on the tennis landscape. But, in the end, it undoubtedly will be left-handed Americans wearing the men's and women's crowns.
After all, this is an American tournament (foreigners have had a tough time in the past six years), and despite the fact that our best left-handed woman is a transplant from Czechoslovakia, this event, which takes place beneath the roar of approaching airliners on their way to LaGuardia Airport, has become a virtual graveyard for players without a Yankee birth certificate.
If Ivan Lendl thinks he can steal the American crown just because he owns a house in Florida, he better think again. Yes, he did win his first "major-major" event in the French Open (on clay) this year, but that gives him no claim on the treated concrete of Flushing Meadow.
So, bet on a left-hander. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors are left-handed. Martina Navratilova is left-handed. 'Nuff said. A right-hander hasn't won the U.S. Open since John Newcombe did it back in 1973 -- when Australians were riding high.
Why is the U.S. Open a more exciting tournament than Wimbledon? Because everybody plays the U.S. Open. Wimbledon can't make that claim. Sticking to that age-worn grass surface at Wimbledon turns some people off. It even turned Lendl off a few years ago. This year, after winning the French, Lendl saluted, genuflected and bowed to the Wimbledon officials, and later bowed in the draw as well.
McEnroe is the logical favorite, although Connors usually plays like a man possessed in this tournament. Plus, consider that McEnroe may be dog tired by the time Open play begins. Sure, he plays with the elan of a runaway train, but only the other day he lost (only his second defeat this year) to India's Vijay Amritraj (of all people). The other loss came at the hands of Lendl in the French Open.
McEnroe, who said he was not right mentally for the Amritraj match, figures to have his head on straight for the Open. And though he'll hear his share of boos and catcalls in his own hometown if he decides to throw a tantrum, he's still the best player in the world today -- perhaps the best of all time. Thankfully, McEnroe has put his tirades on the backburner recently. He has discovered he can win without the outbursts.
Connors has a way of getting up for the U.S. Open. His age (he turns 32 Sept. 2) is the only factor that may bring him down. And in the opinion of many, Lendl still isn't tough enough for a tournament of this type, no matter what the computer says. But then you could say Lendl is playing under a different kind of pressure, most of it coming from political sources back home.
The Czech government lately has accused Lendl of becoming "too American." Lendl, whose tennis earnings have been in the millions, also is known to be leaning toward defection to the U.S. However, the Czech Tennis Federation recently reinstated him to that country's Davis Cup squad after he was forced to sit out a year for playing an unsanctioned exhibition in Botswana, South Africa. Lendl recently lost a charity exhibition match here in San Diego to his good buddy, Connors, and while he was playing for charity, it appeared that he lacks the skills to deal with the overall aggressiveness of the two top Americans.
Navratilova, on the other hand, has no peer. Chris Evert Lloyd, slowed by the years of competition and perhaps a lack of adrenalin, only has history on her side. Lloyd, who has won the Open six times, dearly would love to win another before she retires to the sidelines. Navratilova finally broke through for her first Open win last year, but the way she is playing, only an injury would prevent her from taking it again this year.
How dominant is Martina? Well, she not only doesn't lose any matches, she rarely loses sets. About the only player who can "buy" a set off her is Pam Shriver, the tall net-crowding fireball who also serves as Navratilova's doubles partner. For Navratilova, the U.S. Open had been sort of a jinx event until she learned to relax and play it for fun. Of course, her idea of fun is to grind an opponent into the concrete with a twist of her heel.
Surprises have happened before in U.S. Opens of the past, but they have been rare, indeed. Says Navratilova: "Now that I have done it once, I can do it again." No one doubts this. No longer does she allow her once-fiery temperament to fog her mind. Every weapon in her stockpile is primed and ready. She has turned all that emotional energy into an asset rather than a liability.
Fortunately for those San Diego tennis fans who won't be able to make the trek to Flushing Meadow next week, Navratilova will be playing an exhibition match at the Rancho Bernardo Inn next month. The U.S. Open's main draw, announced yesterday, has Lendl meeting former San Diegan Brian Teacher in the first round. A tough draw for Teacher, a fairly tough opponent for the Czech.
McEnroe, on the other hand, gets Britisher Colin Dowdeswell, not a formidable foe. Connors' path to the semifinals appears more treacherous than McEnroe's. Connors faces Matt Mitchell, the 1977 collegiate champ, in the first round, and from that point his potential opponents are France's Henri Leconte and Paul Annacone, his quarterfinal opponent at Wimbledon. In McEnroe's portion of the draw is Jimmy Arias, a feisty little baseline player, but ahead of him would be Sweden's Stefan Edberg, the 18-year-old who won all four junior grand slam championships in 1983, and either Kevin Curren or Mel Purcell, both aggressive fast-court players. Connors and McEnroe very well could meet in the semifinals, while Lendl has an easier path, despite the presence of Mats Willander and Vitas Gerulaitis in the lower draw. There also is the presence of Billy Scanlon, an upset winner over McEnroe last year.
In the women's draw, Navratilova meets Lea Antonopolis in the first round and that has to be considered akin to a "walkover." Evert Lloyd faces Sharon Walsh in first-round play, but she has to be looking ahead toward a possible semifinal go against Hana Mandlikova, the No. 3 seed. It will give Lloyd another chance to teach Mandlikova about modesty. The only player of exceptional ability in Navratilova's path is Shriver, although Kathy Jordan, a gambling net-rusher, could provide some trouble as late as the quarterfinals.
For those who like pyrotechnics, the highlight of the first round could be a match between Ilie Nastase and Pat Cash. Nastase, 38, has participated in some of the stormier matches in Open history, and Cash, 19, is the most promising Australian in years, but also one who lacks the courtly manners of his predecessors.
For the record, the last foreigner to win the U.S. crown was Guillermo Vilas, who upset Connors in 1977. Connors, the year before, had battered a beleaguered Bjorn Borg in the final, the first of many times the expressionless Swede failed to win the U.S. Open (the only major tennis title Borg hasn't won). Before that, the last foreigner to take the U.S. Open was Spain's Manolo Orantes, who triumphed in 1975.
Oddly enough, Orantes also beat a struggling young Connors, who has been in the finals a record seven times. Also for the record, Bill Tilden won the U.S. title seven times (six times in a row from 1920 to 1925). Of course, that was back before it was truly "open." Only lily-white amateurs played in those days.