Noah Catches a Cold in a Mountain Torrent That is Lendl

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Ivan Lendl beat Yannick Noah, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 yesterday in a men’s singles quarter-final of the CBS championships. Sorry, I meant the United States championships – but the people behind those little boxes have been allowed to buy themselves so much power over the way the tournament is conducted that one thinks of this event as a live TV game show.

Lendl has been runner-up here for three consecutive years. The only other man to do that was William Johnston (‘Little Bill’), who lost four consecutive finals to William Tilden (‘Big Bill’) from 1922 to 1925. When Lendl came off court yesterday the men’s singles was down to John McEnroe v Mats Wilander, and Heinz Gunthardt or Jimmy Connors v Lendl.

The women’s singles semi-finals, Chris Lloyd v Hana Mandlikova and Steffi Graff v Martina Navratilova, will be played today. The men’s doubles final, which is being heavily promoted, will be the first between US and European teams since 1964 when Chuck McKinley and Dennis Ralston beat Mike Sangster and Graham Stilwell, of Britain. Ken Flach and Robert Seguso will represent the US (McEnroe and Peter Fleming have divorced). As I write, we have yet to learn whether their opponents will be French or Swedish.

While Lendl and Noah were on court, the peripheral temperature hovered between 95F and 97F. Down in that vast airless amphitheater it often exceeded 110F. The day was awfully humid, too. Around the outside courts the grass was worn and burnt brown, plants were yellowing at the edges, and brave little flowers doubtless regretted the lost protection of discarded buds.

It was a day to make us think of roaring torrents and the cool strengths of mountains powdered with snow. Lendl was like that, too: his tennis had a cool, irresistibly torrential power about it. He served and volleyed so well that Noah had only one break point. He also hit better ground strokes than Noah. Noah had no shot that could really hurt Lendl, no way of breaking his remorseless, pounding rhythm. Lendl moved better, too. Noah did not bounce around with his usual energy.

The previous evening, McEnroe played two sets of dazzling, almost breathtaking tennis, but then ran into trouble before beating Joakim Nystrom 6-1, 6-0, 7-5. Maybe McEnroe became bored. The public wound him up, too. They wanted more than tennis genius. McEnroe behaved in an intimidating way towards court officials. He referred to ‘bonehead decisions’ and he was rude to a chap who has the strange job of waving a court-side microphone about so that television viewers will miss none of the on-court noises.

McEnroe had been fined dollars 1,500 (about pounds 1,100). His accumulated fines mean that he is now flirting with suspension – which would free him from commitments at a time of year when he would probably welcome a break anyway.

Before the men’s singles quarter-finals recede into the memory, we should note that, for the first time since 1969, they included only two Americans. The chief difference is that whereas Arthur Ashe and Butch Buchholz shared the 1969 last eight with six Australians, Connors and McEnroe shared this year’s quarter-finals with six Europeans. The implications are bad news for Australia but good news for Europe.

The speculators at yesterday’s tennis sauna included a pretty and vivacious young lady whose home address is rumored to be Kensington Palace. The gardens there are presumably greener than those at Flushing Meadow.

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