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Despite Recent Losses, McEnroe Is Wimbledon Favorite

Associated Press

John McEnroe, despite four losses already this year, is the one British bookmakers say will be unbeatable at the 1985 All England Tennis Championships, which begin Monday.

Among the women, the choice is not so clear.

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd were both seeded No. 1, the first time the seeding committee was unable to announce a pre-tournament favorite.

The top-seeded McEnroe, bidding for his fourth Wimbledon singles crown in five years, will be the odds-on favorite at 4-9 when he steps onto Centre Court to face Australia’s Peter McNamara in the first round.

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The talented, but tempestuous left-hander was beaten this year at the Tournament of Champions in New York, the WCT finals in Dallas, the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf and, most recently, in Paris, where he failed in his bid to become the first American to win back-to-back French Opens since 1955.

The 25-year-old resident of New York lost only three times all last year. His record so far this season still is impressive, 40-4, and bookies believe McEnroe will easily win on the famed grass courts of the world’s most coveted Grand Slam tournament and claim the $163,800 first prize.

No. 2-seeded Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia, yet to show a champion’s touch on grass, is next in the betting at 5-to-1, followed by Sweden’s Mats Wilander, who earlier this month beat Lendl on slow clay in the finals of the French Open.

West German Boris Becker, 17, already being hailed as the best prospect since McEnroe, is fourth in the betting at 12-to-1, even though he does not figure among the top 16 seeded players.

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Last week, Becker won his first Grand Prix title at the pre-Wimbledon Queens Club event in West London, picked up $32,000 and moved up to No. 20 in world rankings.

Becker’s big serve and all-court game had his opponents reeling on the low-cut grass and Johan Kriek, whom he beat in straight sets in the final, said afterward: “If he plays like that every day at Wimbledon, he can win the tournament.

“He has one of the best serves I have ever seen, but on top of his serve, he hits some incredible shots,” Kriek said.

Becker plays American Hank Pfister in the opening round and the first seed he could meet is Sweden’s Joakim Nystrom, a clay court specialist with no proven record at Wimbledon.

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It’s not so unusual for an unseeded player to do well at the All England Championships, where the fast grass has been the downfall of many a star.

Pat Cash of Australia reached the semifinals last year, unseeded at age 19, and put on a good show before falling to McEnroe.

Cash is one of six newcomers among the men’s seeds this year and could be just as hard to beat as he was last time, despite being plagued by a back injury.

Neither McEnroe nor Lendl played Queens Club this year, preferring instead to practice quietly elsewhere in the big build-up to Wimbledon.

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Jimmy Connors did, however, and was knocked out in the first round in straight sets by fellow American Mike DePalmer.

Speculation that Wilander would overtake Connors in the Wimbledon seedings proved groundless as officials stuck closely to world rankings and named the American the No. 3- seeded player.

Bookies, however, were unimpressed and Connors, runner-up to McEnroe last year, is rated only a 14-to-1 shot to capture his third Wimbledon crown at the age of 32.

Among the women, Navratilova was slightly favored by bookmakers and given a 2-to-7 shot to win her sixth title and the $147,720 top prize, with Lloyd 7-to-2 against.

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Lloyd has just regained the world’s No. 1 spot at age 30 from her rival and is halfway to achieving a Grand Slam--consecutive victories at the world’s four major tournaments--and a special $1 million bonus put up by the International Tennis Federation.

Navratilova achieved the feat at last year’s French Open; Lloyd has won the Australian and French titles, and still needs to capture Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

While Becker is the youngster to watch in the men’s event, the women’s competition has two 15-year-olds among the seeds--Steffi Graf of West Germany, No. 11, and Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, No. 15.

Sabatini, the world junior champion, took the French Championships by storm, becoming the youngest-ever semifinalist.

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She has no qualms about playing on the hallowed grass at Wimbledon: “I am very excited and not worried about how I do because I am going to be there for many years to come.”

But her coach, Patricio Apey, did not have high hopes especially since this was only Sabatini’s second tournament on grass.

“In Argentina, grass is a dirty word,” he said.


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