NEW YORK — AAAAYYEEEEEE!
Welcome to the wacky world of — LOOK OUT! — Tim Wilkison, who likes to — DUCK! — try for every shot, no matter how — YAAAH! — far, no matter how — BANZAI! — impossible, no matter how — COWABUNGA! — out of reach.
AWWW . . . FIDDLESTICKS!
Well, yes. He says “fiddlesticks.” But only when he’s angry. He also waves to the crowd, blows kisses to his wife, and wears a baseball cap. Not just when he’s finished his tennis match, mind you. While he’s playing.
“How many do you have?” someone asked Wilkison on Monday, after he demolished Soviet tennis star Andrei Chesnokov, 6-0, 6-2, 6-3, advancing to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.
“Three,” he said.
“How long have you been wearing them?”
“A couple years.”
“How do you make it stay on?”
“Well, it almost fell off today,” he said. “I may need to get a new elastic.”
You want a new tennis hero, America? Here he is. He likes it rough. He likes it bloody. He wears a hat. It needs new elastic. Ladies and gentlemen, the man they call . . . Doctor Dirt.
OUTTA MY WAAAAAY! . . .
Tim Wilkison. Now, he’s America’s hope Yes, he flies through the air with the greatest of ease, this daring young man, with blood on his knees. Actually, Tim Wilkison has been playing this way for several years — thus earning his nickname — but only here at the U.S. Open have people suddenly taken notice.
Why? Because the two biggest American men in tennis — John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors — were knocked out quicker than one of Mike Tyson’s made-for-HBO opponents. That left the stage door unlocked for any dashing U.S. hero — since, as any U.S. fan can tell you, the U.S. Open should be won by a U.S. player, if at all possible.
And suddenly, in the case of Wilkison, anything seems possible.
It is true, he is 26 and has never won a major tournament in this country. But it also is true that on Saturday he knocked off France’s Yannick Noah by outdiving and outreaching him for the points that mattered. And on Monday, Wilkison eclipsed Chesnokov with barely a gash. And if there’s no blood, there’s no sweat for Wilkison.
He is Tarzan with a racket. A chest-beater. If he could serve from a tree, he’d be all set.
His overhand smashes live up to their name. His diving drop shots are bubbles that pop on contact. He plays a fast brand of muscle tennis that you don’t often see short of Boris Becker — and Becker doesn’t say things like
Or other things . . .
“Would you like to see more Russians playing on the pro tennis circuit?” Wilkison was asked, after beating Chesnokov.
“Well, I wouldn’t be too keen on going over there to play,” he said.
“Somebody would probably slip me a cache of funny newspapers and I’d be stuck over there for three years. . . . “Oops. I probably shouldn’t have said that.” One in every crowd Au contraire, Doctor Dirt.
The networks are eating him up. The crowds are eating him up. Every year, it seems — maybe even every major tournament — there is an underdog who captures the tennis imagination, and the public rides his horse until it stumbles. Wilkison appears to be This Year’s Model. And after slaving away on the circuit for some eight years, the sudden turn in fortunes is welcome.
“How have you kept your enthusiasm for the game?” he was asked.
“It’s just my basic makeup,” he said. “When I was a kid, I’d get up at 6 o’clock and hit balls against this wooden backboard my dad built. It was so loud — bang, bang — my neighbors didn’t even set their alarm clocks. They just used me. Then whenever it rained they would oversleep and be late for work because I wasn’t out there.”
ARF, ARF, ARF — they overslept! Fun-ny. This kid is fun- NEEE! Sid. Morty. Get out one of those contracts. . . .
Today, Wilkison will play Stefan Edberg from Sweden — a country he has not yet destroyed in this tournament. The cameras will be on him. The hat will be on him. Who knows?
“How far do you think you can go on emotion?” he was asked.
“I was just thinking about that this morning,” he said. “You know, it only goes so far. These guys are too good. You can’t beat an Ivan Lendl just because you’re keyed up.”
He is correct. He is accurate.
Then again . . .
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! . . .
. . . a little spirit never hurt.