WIMBLEDON, England — Well, I got here and Jimmy Connors immediately lost. Was it something I said?
Nah. Couldn’t be. The plane had just landed, the cab had just dashed me out to the courts, I had just dipped into my first cup of strawberries and cream, I had been in the country all of five hours — and boom! Out goes Jimmy. Before I even said hello. Or told him to make sure he won, because I had 50 British pounds on it.
Oh yes. You can bet in England. Just hunker down a few of those funny bills with the pictures of the Queen on them. Legalized gambling. Tennis by the bookie. And Connors was my choice. The old American. The veteran. The guy who once made some unseemly suggestions with his racket to the ever-so-proper English audience. My kind of guy. Besides, he was 16-to-1 to win it all.
Ouch. Out he went Tuesday — 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 — to little- known Robert Seguso. It was a rude awakening for a man who had flown through the night to get here. And imagine how Connors felt.
Never before had he been handed his walking papers so early. In 1972, barely old enough to vote, he made Wimbledon’s quarterfinals. Since then he has been here every year. Twice he won the whole thing. He always at least made the final 16.
But now he can go home without changing his socks — thanks to the blistering serve of Seguso, who rifled the 33-year-old Connors off the board Tuesday in three hours and 21 minutes.
“Bomb after bomb after bomb,” said Connors afterward, shaking his head. “He
(Seguso) served unbelievable. He was unconscious. What could I do? He got away with it.”
Yeah. Not to mention my 50 pounds. No red and white — just blue So one day here and it’s already ugly for the red, white and blue. The Connors news was bad in a lot of ways. With John McEnroe at home taking pouting lessons from his newborn son, Jimbo was the top-seeded American.
Now he’s out. And so is the best angle for the Old-Man-Makes- Good-in-American-Sports Story.
Jack Nicklaus. Willie Shoemaker. Ray Floyd. A Connors win would have been perfect. Thirty-three is going on eternity in men’s tennis, and the word was that Connors was hungry for one last hurrah — and that this, the 100th Wimbledon tournament, would be the perfect setting.
Seguso took care of that. He rattled Connors with a speeding serve that skipped off the grass courts like a water bug across a lake. Connors had a chance, leading, 4-2, in the third set and tied one set apiece. But Seguso came back to win in a tiebreaker — the equivalant of sudden-death overtime — and take the fourth set the same way.
Bye bye, Jimmy.
Bye bye, 50 pounds.
And afterward, Connors heard the very questions he was hoping to dispel when this tournament began: When are you going to retire? Is this it? Can you not play the big ones anymore?
“Don’t rush me out of the game,” Connors responded. “People don’t realize what they have until it’s gone. People here miss McEnroe now that he’s not playing. They would miss me, too.”
We’ll get a chance to test that theory now. After all, this thing is only in its third day. Usually, the first week of a tennis tournament is there only to prove that the Swiss and the Austrians should stick to skiing.
But this year is different. Connors is out. Kevin Curren, seeded 11th, is out. Maryland’s Pam Shriver, born on the Fourth of July, was knocked out Tuesday as well. And she was seeded fifth.
Red, white, and black and blue. First one is toughest Now, to be fair to Connors, sometimes the first matches are the toughest. You’re nervous. Not yet in a groove. Vulnerable to a monster server — Seguso even hit some second-serve aces, which is like throwing a touchdown from punt formation.
But still. Come on. The only people in the last decade to beat Connors here
are McEnroe, Curren and Bjorn Borg.
Now he falls to Seguso, a 23-year-old Floridian whose biggest claim to fame is that his brother used to be Bruce Springsteen’s road manager.
So what can you say? This is shaping up to be a hell of a tournament. At this rate, we might have Boris Becker playing Boris Badanoff in the finals.
Maybe it will look better with a little sleep, something I haven’t seen much of in the last 48 hours. And we still have Chris Evert Lloyd, who advanced Tuesday in her first-round match.
But you’ve got to wonder about her husband, John Lloyd, the British tennis star. The day before this tournament started, he had some advice for the betting public in a London tabloid.
“Anyone with any sense,” he said, “should get their money on Jimmy Connors straight away.”
What does Lloyd know? He lost Tuesday, too.