NEW YORK — Fifteen of the world's top male tennis players were stuffed into double-breasted blue blazers and made to endure the probing questions of the world tennis press here Monday. Which is to say that people with pens lined up to ask Boris Becker how his life has changed since he won at Wimbledon.
The occasion was the jammed press conference to kick off the $500,000 Nabisco Masters, one of the most prestigious tournaments in tennis. The Masters is the culmination of a 71-tournament tour during which players earn circuit points. At the end of the season, the 16 players who have accumulated the most points play in the Masters.
The winner here gets $100,000 and a good shot at boosting his end-of-the-year ranking.
This tournament has all the elements: free blazers with real brass buttons, and lots of money. Besides the prize money, every player here has earned a substantial amount in the bonus pool, which is divided among the top 64 players. Ivan Lendl, who won the bonus pool, will get $800,000, to give you an idea how deep a pool it is. So everybody's happy, right?
Forget it. Put enough tennis players in one room and in a short while you can bet somebody will be steamed about something.
Lendl, the No. 1 player in the world, is pretty bugged about the decision on the part of the tournament organizers to expand the draw to 16 from the previous eight.
"I don't think it's special to get in here," the No. 1-seeded Lendl said. "So what, you play 25 tournaments and make it to the third round. I think eight is a good number.
"I feel funny about this tournament. It's not in 1985 and it's not in 1986. Two weeks later, no one is going to remember who won this."
Last point first. Lendl is reacting to the Masters being held between seasons. Even though it is being played in 1986, the tournament affects 1985 rankings. So, Lendl says, am I to treat this as the first major tournament of this year or the last major of last year?
It's a fair complaint but a moot point. This year, for the first time, men's and women's professional tennis will recognize the calender year as the season. Thus, the Masters will be held twice this year, this week and again in December to mark the end of the 1986 season.
Lendl's point about the draw was echoed by other players but for different reason. The low-level players like the 16-player field because, at last, they are included in the elite tournament. They have nothing to lose and can gain immensely in media exposure. The mid-level players generally like the expanded draw because there is a greater likelihood that in the early rounds they will meet players they can beat and thus play themselves into the tournament.
Lendl objects, saying that they are letting anybody in these days. His belief is that the top eight players make for an elite, one-of-a-kind event, but that the top 16 "is nothing special."
Those bottom eight feel pretty special, they said Monday. And they are feeling pretty upwardly mobile. If a player of Lendl's caliber takes a match lightly, it may prove disastrous, they suggest. "Here, every match is like a final," Becker said.
The tournament will begin today. The only question mark at the moment is the status of Jimmy Connors, who is seeded No. 4. Connors is said to have the flu and was the only player not at the press conference.
If Connors defaults, Henri Leconte of France will advance automatically.
In other matches today, Lendl will play fellow Czech Tomas Smid, No. 2-seeded John McEnroe will play Brad Gilbert, No. 3 Mats Wilander will play Scott Davis, No. 5 Stefan Edberg will play Johan Kriek, No. 6 Becker will play Paul Annacone, No. 7 Yannick Noah will play Tim Mayotte and No. 8 Anders Jarryd will play Joakim Nystrom.