Wimbledon, England — The final week of the All-England Club's Lawn Tennis Championships offers a combination of pageantry, high drama, and potentially explosive competition. To celebrate the centenary of the women's singles championship there will be a parade of past champions on Centre Court led by Kitty McKane Godfree, who won the first of her two singles titles here 60 years ago.
Each champion will be presented with a unique piece of specially designed Waterford cyrstal by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent.
Before this ceremony has even finished, however, No. 1 Court next door will have been turned into the tennis version of the Wild West's OK Corral for a shootout between American foes John McEnroe and Bill Scanlon.
Never before has there been so well-advertised a grudge fight as this. McEnroe went so far as to tell the world's press: ''Scanlon is like someone who is a friend on the outside but stabs you in the back.''
Now these and all the rest of the verbal faults John McEnroe sent down are ominous words. In this observer's opinion they could be ominous for McEnroe himself.
The defending champion's play, like the man, has recently been a strange mixture of unsurpassable brilliance and unexpected weakness. He lost to Ivan Lendl in Paris after being in total command for 21/2 sets. And here on Saturday , while playing Wally Masur of Australia and barely allowing him to win a point, he suddenly took it all too easily, lost his way, dropped nine points in a row, and had to claw his way back into a winning position.
Many observers here felt that on Monday he would have to win his continuous battle against himself if he hopes to defeat Scanlon, who, it will be remembered , upset him in last fall's US Open.
The following match, Jimmy Connors vs. Tim Mayotte, looked equally gruelling although not nearly so rancorous. Connors has yet to find top form, while Mayotte has been both powerful and steady on the way to the last 16.
The parade of past women's champions, meanwhile, will open the eyes of the Centre Court crowd - as well as all those who see it on television around the world - to a very different aspect.
It seems to have been assumed by many that women have only recently become true atheletes, which is nonsense. Kitty Godfree 60 years ago not only won tennis tournaments here and in the United States but was British badminton champion four times and won gold, silver and bronze medals in two Olympic Games.
Thirty years and more before Kitty, Lottie Dod won Wimbledon when only 15 years and 285 days old, and from 1887 through 1893 was never beaten. In 1904 Lottie Dod won the British women's golf championship. And just for good measure she shot at archery for England and did the famed Cresta run at St. Moritz.
With sports professionalized, however, the days of such ''all-arounders'' are probably over - and indeed most modern champions confine themselves to their own specialty as far as top-level competition is concerned. Among such recent stars in tennis, Billie Jean King's record of 20 Wimbledon championships (including singles, doubles, and mixed doubles) is rightly called ''awesome'' in the official ''Centenary Record'' published here. The great Australian Margaret Court won 10 titles, while current defending champion Martina Navratilova had nine entering this tournament.
Most observers feel sure Martina will add to her total this year and for several years to come. She has her eyes on Billie Jean's record. There seems no girl among the very young to challenge either her, or Chris Evert Lloyd, or Hana Mandlikova at present. But this tournament has already uncovered some remarkable talent.
Carina Karlsson of Sweden had to qualify, then reached the last 16 by beating Virginia Wade. Carina was called ''elfin'' by one correspondent - but she hit the ball a great deal harder than any elf most folk will have imagined.
Also enhancing their reputations were two young British players - Annbal Croft, who gave Evert Lloyd a very hard match, and 18-year-old Julie Salmon, who made Kathy Jordan bring out her best tennis to beat her.