Lendl, Navratilova cemented No. 1 rankings with Open wins. Tennis finale was no day for the underdogs

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Besides being superlative tennis players, Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova are genuine dog lovers. In the finals of the US Open, however, they barely tossed out a bone to their underdog opponents.

Martina, who flew here from Texas with her five dogs, all Japanese pure-breds, muzzled Helena Sukova 6-3, 6-2, to win her third Open singles crown. Ivan, who owns and trains German shepherds as a hobby, made sure Miloslav Mecir knew who was the boss, beating the surprise finalist handily, 6-4, 6-2, 6-0.

Thus ended one of the most peculiar chapters in the history of this event, which seemed more like the ``Czechoslovak Closed National Championships'' than the ``US Open.''

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The presence of four Czech-born finalists marked the first time a foreign country had achieved such a sweep.

Navratilova, of course, gave up her Czech citizenship long ago and considers herself every bit as American as John McEnroe, who was actually born in West Germany. She realizes, though, that in many eyes she may always be an American with an asterisk beside her name.

``It amazes me that every single article that is written about me, even if it's just four sentences, says `Navratilova, originally from Czechoslovakia but now living in the United States' . . . ,'' she said after her victory. ``I'm just Martina, period. I'm an American; you don't have to remind everyone where I came from.''

The reminders are difficult to ignore, however, given the situation at this year's Open. In fact, many feel her defection may have led to Czechoslovakia's rise to tennis power, prompting officials in that country to give players more freedom.

Asked if this were so, Sukova, whose mother had been Navratilova's coach, replied, ``I know it was different when she [Martina] was back home. . . . I don't really know how it was in that time. I just know how it is in this time. But I heard that she has something to do with it.''

There's little question, for example, that Lendl and Hana Mandlikova, the '85 women's champion here, have been allowed to become unofficial Czech-Americans. Lendl has lived in Greenwich, Conn., for five years, and hasn't returned home since 1984. Mandlikova, meanwhile, now calls Florida her home away from home.

Lendl, in fact, seems to have become as Americanized as Martina, who lives in Fort Worth, roots for the Dallas Cowboys, uses a full array of American idioms, and took time to phone her favorite actress, Katharine Hepburn, while in New York.

Even so, she doesn't necessarily get the American crowds in her corner, maybe partly because they love to root for the underdog. Whatever the reason, she remains curious about this situation.

``I would love to go out there [in the stands] and say, `What do you think? Tell me what you feel.' . . . They may have the craziest reason for liking me or not liking me. . . . I don't know. You never know.''

What seems a virtual certainty is that she has wrapped up the No. 1 women's ranking. Chris Evert Lloyd, who beat her at the French Open but lost in the semis here (to Sukova) and at Wimbledon (to Mandlikova) looks to be a clear-cut No. 2.

Martina has staked her claim with what she calls ``a summer to remember.'' Winning the US and Wimbledon crowns together for a third time was thrill enough, but her warmly received return to Czechoslovakia for July's Federation Cup matches was a rich icing on the cake.

At nearly 30, she has an incredible number of accomplishments to her name, but retirement isn't contemplated. She still has not pulled off a triple victory here -- in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, although she keeps trying. (Martina and Pam Shriver secured the women's doubles crown this year, but she and Peter Fleming lost in the finals of the mixed event to Raffaella Reggi and Sergio Casal. Andres Gomez and Slobodan Zivojinovic won the men's doubles.)

Martina also has her sights on being the first woman to win nine Wimbledon singles titles. She has seven so far.

She also feels stimulated by the younger players knocking on the door. ``Before, it was really Chris and me, and now I feel a lot more push by other players. Hana, Helena, Claudia [Kohde-Kilsch], and Steffi [Graf] are presenting new challenges.''

Graf, in particular, appears capable. Only 17, she has perhaps the most potent forehand in women's tennis. Two of her matches already qualify as US Open classics -- last year's quarterfinal win over Shriver, which was decided in three tiebreaker sets, and this year's 6-1, 6-7, 7-6 semifinal loss to Navratilova, which was probably the most exciting, emotion-charged match of the entire two weeks.

Sukova, a 6 ft. 2 in. serve and volleyer, is also a comer, a fact Martina didn't need to be reminded of before the final. It was Helena who snapped Navratilova's 74-match winning streak and Grand Slam bid at the 1984 Australian Open, and here this year she experienced another big breakthrough by beating Evert Lloyd in the semifinals -- her first victory over Chris after 14 losses.

Navratilova's wealth of experience in major finals was the difference this time, though, as was Lendl's championship-match toughness against Mecir.

After Lendl won a hard-fought opening set, the confidence visibly began to drain from the 16th-seeded challenger, a real mystery guest in the final.

No one paid much attention to him until he started picking off some of the field's top names -- defeating, in order, Mats Wilander (No. 2), Joakim Nystrom (No. 7), and Boris Becker (No. 3). The shocking win over a confused-looking Becker made him the first player seeded lower than fourth to advance to the men's championship since 1974.

Suddenly people were taking notice and learning to pronounce his name (``m'cheer''). But did this quiet 22-year-old with the deceptive speed and shots really stand a chance against tennis's $9 million man for all surfaces?

Maybe for a while, but Lendl, a five-time Open finalist, is mentally very tenacious these days and seldom fails to assert his mastery little by little.

``Once I had a set,'' he explained, ``I started to loosen up and move again like I did last year [in beating McEnroe]. I felt so comfortable and so excited that I figured I could get to any ball and hit any shot.''

Miloslav seemed to sense this, and midway through the second set began to look like a man tired and ready to go home.

And that's exactly what he will do, only when he arrives back in Czechoslovakia, he will immediately begin competing for the Army in a club match -- this being part of his two-year military duty.

Lendl has already served his time in the Army, and had simply to hop in his Mercedes and floor it back to Greenwich. The French Open champion now had the US Open's $210,000 winner's check in tow and, like Navratilova, was virtually assured of being No. 1 for the year.

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