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Martina, McEnroe Unanimous Choices of Past Champions

Amid strawberries and cream, pastries and pasta salad, seven former Wimbledon champions convened at a press gathering at the UCLA Tennis Center the other day to preview this year’s crown jewel of the tennis Grand Slam.

One by one, the likes of Jack Kramer and Bobby Riggs and Louise Brough Clapp stepped up to proclaim their favorites in the 1985 Wimbledon tournament.

All together now: Martina and McEnroe.

So much for news value. There wasn’t a dissenter in the group and hardly anyone could even come up with the name of a plausible dark-horse.

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Ted Schroeder tried--"Maybe a big server, like Tim Mayotte or Kevin Curtis.

He meant Curren.

Of course, what could one expect? You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind . . . and you don’t bet against McEnroe and Navratilova on grass.

Of much more interest was when the old champions digressed from their predictions and began to serve up random opinions and observations on their sport, past and present.

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Clapp, who won the Wimbledon women’s singles title four times (1948-50, 1955), talked about a dream match: Navratilova versus Maureen Connolly.

“Is Navratilova the best ever? I think so,” Clapp said. “But Mo Connolly would have been very competitive with her. It would be one of the greatest matches ever.

“Mo had the best ground strokes I’ve ever seen--better than Chris Evert Lloyd. She moved a little faster. It was like she owned the court; nobody was going to win except her.”

Schroeder, a winner at Wimbledon in 1949, wanted to talk about what he considers the biggest difference between his era of tennis and the current scene--court conduct.

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What set Schroeder off was a question about the code-of-conduct letter sent to U.S. Davis Cup members by the United States Tennis Assn., a behavior contract McEnroe and Jimmy Connors refused to sign.

“All the letters in the world aren’t going to do anything,” Schroeder said. “You have to hit them (the players) in the tenderest of spots--the wallet. Fine them a couple hundred thousand dollars.

“Or just throw them out. McEnroe should have been thrown out of Wimbledon four times in 1980. All it’s going to take is some tournament to throw out the first player.

“Of course, then you’ll be getting into things like ‘depriving a player of his livelihood’ and lawsuits will be filed.”

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Schroeder said he has a solution for that, too.

“Once the lawsuits are filed,” he said, “you tell them, ‘We’re going to close up shop and won’t open back up until the suits are settled--and we’re not going to settle’ . . . You can see I don’t feel too strongly about this.”

Riggs, who’s still making headlines with his upcoming “Battle of the Sexes” doubles match with Navratilova, Pam Shriver and Vitas Gerulaitis, recalled when he knew his days were numbered as the top-ranked player in the United States.

“I fought (Don) Budge for 4-5 years and kept him from making money,” Riggs said. “Then, Kramer comes along. He has the best forehand of all time, the best 1-2 serve, he never misses a backhand. I said, ‘What the hell.’ ”

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Riggs also managed to sneak in a few words--about 20 minutes’ worth--regarding his Aug. 23 date in Atlantic City against Navratilova and Shriver. Still hyping after all these years, Riggs called it “a fantastic challenge match . . . it’s going to be a smash.”

A total of $500,000 in prize money is at stake.

“I’m 67,” Riggs said. “I can’t believe I’m playing for $500,000.”

Said Kramer, seated to Riggs’ left: “Neither can I.”

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Riggs slipped into his hustler routine, saying that “there’s no chance at all for Martina to lose,” decrying himself as “an old guy who can’t get out of his own way, who wears Coke bottle glasses and a hearing aid. . . . It’ll be up to Vitas to carry me.”

But then, Kramer put the question to Riggs: “Who should I bet on?”

Riggs: “Who should you always bet on?”

Kramer: “You.”

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Riggs: “All right then.”

And as for Wimbledon ’85, well, keep your money on the two serve-and-volley types from America. The oldtimers probably had it right about this one.

Add Wimbledon picks: Billie Jean King, serving as a commentator at Wimbledon for HBO, also falls into the Navratilova/McEnroe consensus.

King believes Navratilova’s biggest advantage in this tournament is not the fast grass surface, but the revenge factor.

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“Chris beat her at the French when Martina let her back into the match,” King said. “It was 5-5, 0-40 on Chris’ serve, and Martina could not finish it out. Chris couldn’t believe it.

“Martina is thinking about what she wants to do with the rest of her life at this point in her career while Chris is burning her body, deciding she has nothing to lose. Chris beat her on clay, which is her domain, but I think Martina is all up for Wimbledon.”

King likes McEnroe in the men’s division for two reasons--McEnroe’s sheer ability and Ivan Lendl’s fallibility in pressure matches.

“Mac’s conditioning is suspect. He says, ‘I’m in great shape,’ but I don’t think he knows what that means,” King said. “But he may be the best ever in tennis. He should be No. 1.”

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