The Player’s International Canadian Open Tennis Championship was a series of upsetting disappointments last week—for players, fans and promoters. As top-seeded men and women agreed to compete and advance ticket sales soared, thoughts of bitterly cold winds whipping down centre court in last year’s tournament and suspicions that this was really only a warmup exercise for the U.S. Open were replaced by fanciful visions of rematches of this year’s exciting Wimbledon. Certainly strawberries and cream would be replaced in Toronto by corned-beef sandwiches, the Royal box by cigarette banners and the lawns of Wimbledon by a space-age artificial surface, but the king and queen of tennis would be there, harried by their pretenders.
But as the tournament unfolded, the disappointments followed one another as steadily as the winds held each flag taut and billowed the tents around the courts at York University. Weekend tickets for the semifinals and finals had been sold out long before five-time Wimbledon and defending men’s singles champion Bjorn Borg of Sweden and his opponent at last month’s stirring Wimbledon final and secondranked player in the world, John McEnroe of the U.S., arrived in town. No. 3 seed Jimmy Connors wasn’t coming, but No. 5 Vitas Gerulaitis and No. 9 Ivan Lendl were. And thanks to a boost in the women’s prize morey from an embarrassing $35,000 to $150,000 (U.S.), Wimbledon champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley, second-ranked Maria Navratilova and third-ranked Chris Evert Lloyd were on their way. V. flY\ ci \ fli\ The site, bordered by a four-lane thoroughfare favored by tandem trucks just to the north, by secondary industries to the east and the bleak York campus to the south, and with its perpetual line of women awaiting access to the washroom behind centre court, gave few visitors the impression that they had arrived where something historic, or even memorable, was about to take place. Yet the potential was there. It quickly evaporated.
And nationalistic dreams died quickly too. Greg Haider and Bill Cowan, both of Toronto, started well. Haider knocked off the tournament’s 15th seed, Bruce Manson of the U.S., while Cowan defeated American Bruce Kleege, but both were eliminated in straight sets in their second matches,
Also falling in the opening round were Canadians Francois Synaeghal, Brian Millar, Stephane Bonneau, national women’s champion Wendy Barlow of Victoria, B.C., and Karen Dewis of London, Ont. It was left to Toronto’s Glenn Michibata, 18, considered the best tennis prospect produced in Canada in 20 years. Centre court was ringed with a standing-room crowd of 1,500 for his match with Sweden’s Stefan Simonsson. The crowd applauded Michibata’s every move, and in a definite breach of tennis’ morgue-like rules of decorum, cheered missed shots by the Swede. But despite breaking Simonsson’s serve three times in the first set, Michibata lost the first set in a tie breaker and the second set 6-2. And Torontonian Steve Rogul’s dream was just that. He faced Bjorn Borg in his opening match. He broke Borg’s serve in the first game and held his own in the second to lead 2-0. “He should claim an injury and walk off now,” said one of the paying customers. “He could tell his granchildren he had to quit while he was beating Borg.” Rogul stayed and lost 6-3, 6-2.
But, as the week progressed, injuries were on everyone’s mind, and customers could be forgiven for suspecting that
each jet passing overhead carried away another top player. It began after Borg’s match with Rogul. Borg explained that after Wimbledon and his marriage to Mariana Simionescu he had played no tennis. “I decided to run to stay in shape—but on concrete.” His right knee became sore then and again after practice early last week. Borg made it clear that if the injury flared again, he would withdraw. That same day, John McEnroe, in the second set of his dismissal of Martin Wostenholme of Ottawa, turned his right ankle. Midway through the first set of his secondround match, he stopped abruptly at the net after a winning volley. He then calmly walked off the court, picked up his rackets and waved goodbye to the crowd and their visions of a Wimbledon rematch. With a history of ankle injuries, McEnroe explained, “This isn’t the first time it has happened, and it’s the kind of thing that needs rest.” Putting his withdrawal into a perspective unpopular with the promoters, McEnroe added, “I wanted to do well here as a warm-up to the [U.S.] Open.” As Borg persisted and third-seed Gerulaitis was ousted by Sandy Mayer, the following day the top-seeded woman, Maria Navratilova, withdrew. Serving at 5-4 in the opening set of her third-round match, she suffered muscle spasms in her lower
back and walked off—to some booing. “What do they think—I’m joking?” she asked. “I needed these matches, but it’s my body.”
Yet, in the women’s division there was still Goolagong Cawley, Evert Lloyd and child-phenom Andrea Jaeger, 15. But Jaeger was quickly arrested by a former child-phenom, now a mature 19year-old, Pam Shriver. Shortly afterward, all vestiges of Wimbledon revisited were gone. Goolagong Cawley bowed to Kathy Jordon, 7-6 in a tie breaker and 6-0 in the second set. Her post-Wimbledon performance was reminiscent of her famous “walkabouts” early in her career. Jordon said, “Evonne never seemed into the match.” Goolagong termed it “a slump that I just never got out of. I know what people are thinking [about the withdrawals and upsets] but nobody likes to lose and I was hoping to stay around and get a few more matches under my belt [before the U.S. Open].”
Evert Lloyd marched to the final defeating an inspired Shriver in straight sets. As were all players at the tournament, Evert Lloyd was bothered by the wind swirlling down the court unhindered by barriers or enclosed grandstands. But she had more trouble with Shriver, winning 6-4, 7-5 to reach the finals against Virginia Ruzici from Romania, the sixth seed. Borg’s heartbeat remained coma-like as he advanced past Mayer (ranked 105th in the world) to his final with Czechoslovakia’s Lendl. The last day’s sellout crowd would not witness hoped-for rematches or history makers, but at least it would see the king and a former queen.
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