This Time, McEnroe Takes the Cake and a Wimbledon Break

I have come to good Britain--it will not get any better until the sun comes out--to see who will win the Wimbledon singles championships, operating under the assumption that at least one of these individuals has a birth certificate on file in Czechoslovakia.

Martina Navratilova is overdue to lose here, and Ivan Lendl is overdue to win here. Navratilova's main challenge in winning her fifth straight championship should come from a certain 31-year-old woman from Florida who defeated her two weeks ago at the French Open. Lendl's main rival should be a certain 18-year-old tenni-bopper from West Germany who already owns one more Wimbledon singles championship than Lendl does.

Mr. Boris (no middle name) Becker and Mrs. J.M. Lloyd, as they are regarded here.

Yet, competition certainly will come from individuals other than Boom Boom Becker and Pitter Patter Lloyd. During the last three Wimbledons, the singles championships have involved such hardly anticipated finalists as Chris Lewis (1983), Kevin Curren (1985) and Andrea Jaeger (1983)--Chris Lewis was in the men's division, for those who have forgotten--and it was in this very decade, not in the ancient past, that Bjorn Borg and Evonne Goolagong Cawley captured singles titles, both in 1980. Old Man Borg turned 30 earlier this month, and is little more than a fuzzy memory to players such as Mary Joe Fernandez, who will be Chris Evert Lloyd's first opponent here. Fernandez is 14.

Perhaps this year's singles wars will introduce to the world a new star. My hunch bet in the men's division is Slobodan (Bobo) Zivojinovic of Yugoslavia, whose name has been recognized publicly not so much in newspapers as on eyecharts. In the women's bracket, I am partial to Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of West Germany, who is still enough of an unknown that many tennis followers remain unaware of the fact that she is not married to anyone named Kohde and not married to anyone named Kilsch.

I also will be rooting for Vijay Amritraj of India, who is mounting a comeback in men's tennis. Before his triumph in a pre-Wimbledon event in England on Saturday, Amritraj had not shown much of a stroke since whomping James Bond's pursuers over the head with his tennis racket in the movie "Octopussy."

There will be doubles and mixed doubles championships contested here as well, but betting on these events in Las Vegas is what could be described as minimal. That does not preclude the reporting of these matches as they occur, but be advised that the televising of such action will be brief, and is not expected to cause serious ratings anxiety to Bill Cosby.

I do not know who the singles champions will be, but as a public service, even before play begins today, I am prepared to tell you who they will not be.

John McEnroe is sitting this one out, as is 17-year-old Steffi Graf--who beat Navratilova in West Berlin recently--and Yannick Noah. Six-time Wimbledon finalist Jimmy Connors, who pulled a groin muscle while stretching for a volley against Robert Seguso on June 17, is scheduled to play Seguso in the opening round today. His condition remains uncertain.

Papa John McEnroe is taking a break this summer, baby-sitting. I spotted him recently on, of all things, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," talking about mixing marriage and fatherhood with the demands of competition and notoriety, about existing in an age in which the attendance of Tatum O'Neal at a tennis match became more noteworthy than McEnroe's having won the match.

"I just got tired of dealing with it all the time," McEnroe said. "It's tough enough being No. 1 or No. 2 in the world in tennis, but to have all that other stuff. . . . I think what I found out this year, what I knew, but was reinforced, is that you can't have your cake and eat it, too."

"John McEnroe! Everything's coming up aces!" said Robin Leach.

I suppose the men's singles championship figures to be between Becker and Lendl, the young and the restless. Becker won here last July at age 17, then returned home to become the Elvis of Deutschland, suffocating from the crush of too much love. In public, he is mobbed. When one of his rackets was auctioned for charity, it went for $14,000. When a groupie gave a West German tabloid the details of "My First Night With Boris," the paper paid her $2,000.

Becker can no longer go anywhere unnoticed, including at Wimbledon, where opponents will be awaiting him hungrily this time. Lendl, meantime, is eager to win the big one that has gotten away from him--he has never even been to the finals--and to pose for photographers alongside Navratilova with championship trophies, Czech and Czechmate.

Upset possibilities? There is Mikael Pernfors, the Swede and University of Georgia NCAA singles champion who battled Lendl so fiercely in the French Open final. There is "Bobo" Zivojinovic, the Yugoslav giant who upset McEnroe at the Australian Open and upset Mats Wilander in the 1985 Wimbledon first round. Bobo is Becker's doubles partner, by the way.

Then there is Henri Leconte, who is carrying France's banner with Noah out, and could win this thing if you ask anyone but the French. "He has the game to be a surprise champion," Britain's Virginia Wade was quoted in the London Daily Mail, "although the French say he's a choker."

On the women's side, Wade, the 1977 singles queen, is stepping aside this year to play nothing but doubles. At 40, she feels like a grandmum around top players like Gabriela Sabatini, who is 16; Graf, 17; Fernandez, 14; Carling Bassett, 18; Kathy Rinaldi, 19, and other members of the Brat Pack.

An old standby such as Pam Shriver could win this year, although tennis writers are getting tired of writing that, and two Czechs will challenge Navratilova, as they always do, they being Hana Mandlikova and Helena Sukova. In Saturday's Wimbledon rehearsal tournament at Eastbourne, Navratilova dropped the first set to Sukova before taking the match. Sukova has come a long way since being a ball girl for Martina a decade ago in Prague.

I cannot see Navratilova falling before the final here, although Kohde-Kilsch is in her bracket and could give her trouble. Lloyd has Shriver and both of the Czechs in her division, and would be a considerably safer bet to beat all of these people and Martina if the regents of the All England Club would be kind enough to dig up all the wet grass and replace it with clay.

Wimbledon Notes

The strictly legit Mecca bookmaking service here has made Martina Navratilova a prohibitive 1-3 favorite to win, with Chris Evert Lloyd 7-2 and Hana Mandlikova 12-1. The men: Ivan Lendl 13-8, Boris Becker 5-1, Mats Wilander 11-1, Jimmy Connors and Stefan Edberg 12-1, Anders Jarryd 14-1, Henri Leconte 16-1 and Joakim Nystrom 20-1. . . . Hungary's Andrea Temesvari took a spill at last week's Eastbourne tournament, landed on her wrist "and is now in plaster," a Wimbledon spokesperson said, in announcing her withdrawal. Rebecca Bryant of Australia will take her place. . . . Virginia Wade in a London paper: "Over the past few years, I've been disappointed by the attitude of many players. They don't smile much on court or appear to enjoy themselves, and John McEnroe must take some of the blame. The way players at the top behave is infectious. Others copied him and it became accepted to be neurotic."

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