NEW YORK — The newest rivalry in tennis, the return of a "new" John McEnroe and a challenge to the women's controlling triumvirate make the 1986 U.S. Open intriguing for its uncertainties both on and off the court.
McEnroe's struggles with his temper, whether successful or not, will assuredly rate as many headlines as his play at the Open, which begins Aug. 26. The possibility of a rematch with Boris Becker, to whom he lost a brilliant match in August on a Vermont mountaintop, is made more tantalizing by the players' growing animosity.
And the women's troika of Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert Lloyd and Hana Mandlikova, winners of every Grand Slam singles title since the 1981 Australian Open, will have to withstand the challenge of West Germany's fast-improving Steffi Graf.
McEnroe, a four-time winner of the Open but seeded ninth for this championship, ended his 6 1/2-month layoff designed "to get my head together," by returning at August's Volvo International in Stratton, Vt. His play improved with every match, through his semifinal confrontation with Becker, the 18-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion.
McEnroe held triple-match point in the third-set tiebreaker but could not finish off the West German, who also saved a fourth match point before winning the tiebreaker 10-8.
McEnroe shouted taunts at Becker during the match and afterwards claimed the teenager didn't show him any respect. Becker countered that McEnroe emerged from his layoff as "the same guy, which is too bad."
At several extraordinary press conferences, McEnroe said he may retire from the game if he cannot control his temper and wants to feel "the warmth" of a crowd, as his opponents often do. But he believes "it's all for the taking now," if he can avoid "the same path I was going down before."
Becker, whose experience on hardcourt is limited, enjoys the excitement of the U.S. Open.
"I like the tournament very much. It's so aggressive, so noisy, you can't hear your own voice. It's really something special."
Among the big three in men's tennis, Ivan Lendl, the No. 1 ranked player and the Open's defending champion, is the odd man out of the rivalry. But he must be rated the favorite going into the tournament.
After winning in Vermont, Lendl said he was "scared" his game was peaking too soon for the Open. His fears were fulfilled as he lost a quarterfinal match at the following week's Canadian Open, succumbing to Kevin Curren.