U.S. OPEN BOASTS SYSTEM OF CZECHS AND BALANCES

NEW YORK — He had just beaten Kid Magnificent, knocked him out cold, and now the foreigner was standing with his towel in his hands and his face stretched in glee, and what the hell should he do, here in America? How do they celebrate?

Throw the towel?

Yeah. Throw the towel. Why not? He wound up and threw it, like Elvis used to throw his scarves, and somebody caught it, and Miloslav Mecir shook his fists and yelled across the cool night air. Throw the towel. Yeah. People had expected to see young Boris Becker celebrating when this match ended. But noooo. Becker was packing up his rackets on the other side of the net, and all he felt like doing was getting off the court, as far away from this bearded maniac as possible.

Who? Mecir? What is that? Pastry?

“What did you expect to do in this tournament?” someone asked, after he upset Becker in five sets, reaching the U.S. Open final against Ivan Lendl.
“How far did you expect to go?”

“I was happy not to lose in the first round,” he said.

First round? No way. Not the first, second, third, fourth, quarters or semis. The 16th seed in the tournament stepped all over Sweden — beating Joakim Nystrom and Mats Wilander — and then, tired of those meatballs, he took care of Becker, everybody’s favorite to make the final.

“What was your game plan against Becker?” he was asked.

“I was trying not to lose,” he said.

Yeah. OK. Good plan. Like liquid grace on cement

And Czech it out. This is a Slovak All-Star Game now. Mecir vs. Lendl in the men’s final. Martina Navratilova vs. Helena Sukova in the women’s. Yes, Martina is a naturalized American now. But all four players walked the streets of Prague long before they ever saw Broadway.

Today, the Big Apple spotlights their quartet. The Czech answer to the Mamas and the Papas.

Navratilova, Sukova, Lendl. . . .

Mecir.

Who?

“Did you try to hide where your shots were going against Becker?” he was asked.

“I hit the ball where I think is best,” he said. “I don’t mind if he knows or not.”

That’s because Saturday, Becker couldn’t do anything about it. His manager, Ion Tiriac, said Becker “did everything wrong from A to Z.”

Becker saw it another way. “Even my best serves,” he said, “Milo would hit for winners.” Mecir was liquid grace out there, sliding across the cement court like a greased skateboard, getting to every important point, drop-shotting across the net, slamming passing shots past Becker’s racket.

He held off Becker after the Wimbledon champ won the first set, and he won the next two, and in the final set, when challengers are supposed to crack from nerves, Mecir played hard and tough, and put the ball where his opponent couldn’t get it.

“Game, set, match, Mecir!” said the announcer.

Who? Follow the bouncing Czechs

And why? Why so many Czechs?

“I think it’s because we have many competitions for youngsters in our country,” Mecir said. “And when they are good, they are sponsored by the Federation.

“For beginners, it’s quite easy. You don’t have to be rich people. You can play tennis.”

That may be the difference between there and here. Then again, as Becker says, “Ivan and Martina don’t practice much in Czechoslovakia.”

Which brings up an interesting contrast. Today’s match between Mecir and Lendl is a Czechered affair, so to speak. Both are officially Czech citizens. But Lendl hasn’t been home in nearly two years. He’ll drive his Mercedes to New York this morning from his mansion in Greenwich, Conn. Mecir will keep his plane ticket to Prague within reaching distance.

“We are different,” Lendl admitted. “Miloslav likes to go fishing in Czechoslovakia. I like to play golf in Greenwich.”

Whatever. They go for the big stuff this afternoon, right after Navratilova

and Sukova. Americans who are looking for homegrown heroes can only be thankful that football season begins today.

Then again, they’re not alone. As Becker put it, after he walked off the court where Mecir tossed his victory towel to the screaming crowd, “It was not a good day for Germany, either.”

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