Jimbo's '91 totals redefine net victories

MIKE LITTWIN

September 08, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

NEW YORK -- I miss him already.

I miss that wiggle in his walk, the bluster in his talk.

I miss the bolo punch. I miss the hot-green racket salute. I even miss his haircut.

Face it, America, it's Jimbo withdrawal time. And it's gonna hurt.

Here are some of the stages we can look forward to:

* You don't refer to it as "the tennis" anymore, as in, "Honey, what time does the tennis come on?" It's just tennis.

* You don't find yourself looking down to see if any of Jimmy's blood and guts have spilled onto the living room floor.

* You're no longer tempted to turn to the boss to say, "Hey, I'm 39 years old and I'm working my butt off here . . ."

* You don't wake up in the middle of the night, screaming, "I'm doing it for you, Vitas. I'm doing it for you."

* Finally, and here's how you know you're getting well: You seriously regret buying that fluorescent, lime-green racket.

The stages may last for weeks. They will last at least as long as this U.S. Open did. The Open officially ended yesterday, of course. Jimbo won. Oh, you can look at the score, and if you want to go by that, he went down in the semis in straight sets. But we know better. Who keeps score on legends?

Jimbo heads directly to Mount Olympus. Jim Courier goes to the finals. You tell me who won.

Jimbo won the whole summer. He's the official boy of summer. Or maybe it was a tie between him and Bo Yeltsin, who made a pretty good comeback himself.

Now you can say that when Jimbo walked off the court yesterday he looked as if somebody ought to hand him an AARP card and the keys to a Miami Beach condo. You can say it was a bad day all around for all the old-timers here -- Jimbo, Martina and Ivan -- and just thank God that Claude Pepper didn't live to see them lose on the same day. You can say that, if nothing else, the kids proved that it's actually not enough to be young at heart. But you'd be missing the point.

Did you see Jimbo? Did you watch him? Of course you did.

Did you see the crowd? The standing O's? You get standing ovations from tennis crowds about as often as you get them at the supermarket. You want to hear crazy. When Jimbo played at Wimbledon, they actually did the wave. This is a guy who gets cheers for grabbing his crotch. He's Roseanne Barr in tennis shoes, and that's that.

It used to be he was just vulgar, profane Jimbo, who lost his only shot at something classy when he and Chris and split up. You knew her dad had to be happy. He was probably the kind of kid who drove up in a van with a bumper sticker that read: "Do you know where your daughter is?"

But that's all changed now. He's 39. He's like us, except he can play world-class tennis against kids and people say it's a miracle.

First, he won the French Open. No, you can't look it up. He won it this way: He hadn't played in about a year, he was 38 years old and he got to the third round where there was this kid named Chang, a clay-court monster who eats up old guys like Jimbo. And there's Jimbo playing him even into the fifth set until he has to limp off and the crowd goes nuts. Yeah, he won.

Then he won Wimbledon. No, you can't look that one up either. But he made it to the third round, which was played on the middle Sunday of Wimbledon. Except there'd never been a middle Sunday of Wimbledon before, because that's always a day off. But the rain changed the schedule, and since there were no tickets prepared, they let regular folk in off the streets, and they rushed to see Jimbo at Centre Court. And the crowd went nuts. It was like a soccer match, except no one got hurt. Did Jimbo win the match? Who remembers? Who cares?

That's the point. We'll remember the French for Jimbo, Wimbledon for Jimbo and the U.S Open for Jimbo, unless you think he'll be eclipsed somehow by Edberg-Courier. He's 39, and the rest of the tennis world didn't have a chance against him.

Martina went down meekly before Monica Seles yesterday. Ivan had no chance against Edberg. But Jimbo, whatever the score says, was fighting until the end against Courier, a tough, young player who has a chance to be quite good. He broke Courier in the second to last game of the match, and the crowd was looking for another comeback. Even though Jimbo didn't have ** one left in him, he appreciated the thought, and he loved it when the fans were yelling, "We love you, Jimmy."

He would say later that the crowd likes the "blood dripping . . . the falling and the stumbling." He said they loved the way he's not afraid to show how he feels.

And they like the fact that he's the oldest guy on the tour by it seems like 20 years and he somehow got to the semis of the U.S. Open, and you can look that up.

It happened. And now it's over. It's going to take a little getting used to.

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