Saturday, June 13, 2015

The iconic non-winners

This is a nostalgic trip, to the 1970s to 1990s.
For a tennis aficionado when a tournament is mentioned, his memory is taken to a particular year when his favorite player won or lost under some special circumstance. For example, for me the 1984 Wimbledon men’s singles final snaps into picture purely automatically. McEnroe had only two – count two – unforced errors in a three setter final, beating Connors 1, 1 and 2. Connors was no patsy but he was made to look so, on this special occasion.
Well, that was not the trip of nostalgia I was alluding to at the beginning. I look back at the era and note that there were a number of all time greats – Borg, Connors, Lendl, and of course, McEnroe. What is common to all of them?
Each one of them failed to win at least one of the four major titles – Australian, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open. They are the “iconic non-winners”. No one dare call them losers!
The losses were under unique, or almost unique, circumstances. Connors was denied French Open because the tiff he had with the powers that be of that year, his golden year – 1974. To my mind, he was denied a shot at the true and only Grand Slam, the type Don Budge, Rod Laver, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf won, as he ended up winning the other three that year. (When people say that so-and-so won a dozen Grand Slam Titles, I gag on a fork).
Borg won everything under the sun except the US Open. He had reasons lined up for every one of his ten failed attempts. Yes, these reasons, ranging from playing under the lights to noise from flights to fever, grated me as these were cop outs unbecoming of the great champion that he was. Yet, he was one of the greatest players of all time. He and his heavy top-spin became tennis folklore.
Ivan Lendl. He famously called the lawns at Wimbledon cow pasture. But he never let up trying to win the title there. He lost three consecutive finals at the US Open and came back to win three consecutive. He tried similar magic at Wimbledon but failed. If you wanted to cite one player who one almost everything worth winning despite having no innate talents, it must be Lendl. But, it was not for his lack of trying at Wimbledon.
Now, John McEnroe. This guy never won the Australian Open. He played there only once when he had a realistic chance of winning; in 1983. But, he blew his chances at the French in his golden year, 1984. For God’ sake, he was leading with a break in the fourth set after leading two games to one against Lendl and he conspired against himself to lose that final! Did he choke? I hate to admit, but yes he did.
Wimbledon story will be told many times over but Lendl will be a part of that. It is indelible. Likewise for Connors and McEnroe at the French Open and Borg at the US Open. These are my iconic non-winners of that era.
Raghuram Ekambaram

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