For two weeks, it’s the best New York theater

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

It’s the greatest two weeks of the sports year – easily. It’s the U.S. Open, stupid.

That’s what I did all day Monday, and that’s what I will do all day, every day for the next two weeks. Baseball gets a break – a much needed break, given the sorry state of the Baltimore Orioles. But that’s the key: Tennis is such a great game because it’s so much like baseball, as long as that weasel Rob Manfred doesn’t get his way, anyway.

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock,” Hall of Fame Orioles manager Earl Weaver once said moments after losing the deciding game of a World Series. “You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance.

“That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

As he usually was, despite what many an umpire might have thought, The Earl of Baltimore was spot on. Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan said, “There’s no crying in baseball;” which is vastly incorrect. Earl Weaver said, “There is no clock in baseball.” Which is the way it’s supposed to be.

That is why baseball is the greatest game of them all. It is why tennis is one of the greatest games of them all; as well as golf.

There is no clock in baseball – the winner is the team that is first to get all 27 outs with a lead.

There is no clock in tennis – you have to play every point, and you have to win by two.

Golf? You play all 18 holes. It’s that simple. Don’t ask questions.

Life’s a grind. So, too, are baseball, tennis and golf. But, oh, what a joy life, baseball, tennis and golf sincerely are.

“I see great things in baseball,” Walt Whitman was said to have written. “It’s our game, the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

Tennis is much the same way. Sure, it’s been known as a country-club sport, but it really isn’t – it’s an everyman sport. Which is why I love tennis, the U.S. Open and Jimmy Connors.

Jimmy Connors, the brash, filthy-mouthed left-hander from Belleville, Illinois, grew up in the city parks and courts of St. Louis, where he was taught the game by his mother, Gloria Connors.

Jimmy Connors, who played collegiately at UCLA, raised eyebrows once he reached the professional tour because he was brash, crass, vulgar and tougher than any tennis player who ever lived. He took tennis out of the country clubs and brought it to the streets, and to places like South Cumberland where regular blokes like me learned to love it, play it (though not very well) and learn to appreciate it for my entire life.

Connors at one point (1974) was the most dominant tennis player in the world, winning every Grand Slam title but the French (he and Evonne Goolagong were banned from playing by Philippe Chatrier, president of the French Tennis Federation (FTF), because both had signed contracts to play in the World Team Tennis league in the United States, which Chatrier claimed conflicted with the European spring schedule).

Connors finished his career with eight Grand Slams – two Wimbledons, one Australian and five U.S. Opens, despite hitting a hard flat ball and bringing little else but guts, guile, a refusal to die and the best return of serve in history.

Connors is the only player in tennis history to win the U.S. Open on three surfaces – grass, clay and hardcourts. And though he was Illinois and St. Louis, New Yorkers, after a rocky start to the relationship, embraced the foul-mouthed Jimbo as one of their own. And he rewarded them to the very end, playing his best and most inspired tennis for them, in New York City.

Even when he was unranked, unseeded and 39 years of age, fueled by the energy of the New York crowd, he still managed to fight his way to the U.S. Open semifinals, where he fell to 21 year-old Jim Courier.

The electricity that exists at the U.S. Open does not exist at any other major sporting event in the world, basically because it’s played in the heart of New York in Flushing Meadow.

New Yorkers embraced Connors and loved Connors, and pushed him to heights that even he had no idea he could approach, much less reach. This after they tried to run him out of town because he was too combative, brash and foul. But Jimbo won them over and rode the wave of their love and appreciation for the rest of his career, because he was just like them. He was just like all of us – not country club – and New Yorkers saw it and embraced it.

Which is exactly how it has played out for Novak Djokovic through the years, and is likely to come to a crescendo this fortnight.

It is New York – the best and brightest sports fans anywhere, in any sport, and in any circumstance. There is no energy in the world like the energy of New York. Most of the best players in the world are there. It begins every morning at 11 o’clock and lasts all day long, through late evening and into early morning.

After all, there is no clock in tennis.

Start watching if you don’t believe me. You won’t be able to stop.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@wvradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT