You almost could have called it a rematch of the U.S. Open championship finals. The two men's finalists, Ivan Lendl and Miloslav Mecir, played in the Tennis Challenge Series Monday night before 5,784 fans at the Forum.
And one of the women's finalists, Helena Sukova, made an appearance, too. Only the absence of Martina Navratilova prevented it from being an all-Czechoslovakian, U.S. Open rematch.
However, if Navratilova had been lured to Inglewood, the word rematch would have hardly been an appropriate billing.
They might call it a Tennis Challenge Series, but calling it an exhibition suffices.
New York is approximately 3,000 miles from Los Angeles, and the Tennis Challenge Series is about that far away from the U.S. Open.
Nevertheless, Lendl used the opportunity to see if his hip could stand the rigors of a competitive match. He had pulled out of the Volvo Tennis/Los Angeles event in September with tendinitis in both hips and was forced to miss several other tournaments.
Lendl passed the test, easily, beating Mecir, 6-0, 7-5. Sukova, who reached the semifinals of the Virginia Slims tournament at New York last weekend, defeated Carling Bassett, 7-5, 6-4, in the Forum opener.
"I had no pain at all during the first set," Lendl said. "And I was playing very well, so well I was surprised. . . I got very excited when I was playing so well without any pain. I thought I could roll over him, but that was the wrong way to play him because he can counterpunch."
Mecir did exactly that after losing the first set as Lendl broke his service three times. In all, Lendl broke Mecir six times.
But in the second set, Mecir took a 4-1 lead before Lendl started the comeback. Mecir had taken control of the second set in the fourth game when Lendl disputed two line calls.
"I wanted to do something so people could like the game," said Mecir, who has never taken a set from Lendl in the three times they have met. "He's too much, but I knew he had to miss some of the games."
Lendl quit missing in the sixth game of the second set. He held his serve and broke Mecir to make it 4-4. At 5-5, Lendl took the game at love against Mecir's serve, and he held at love to win the match as Mecir hit a forehand into the net.
Like Lendl, Bassett has been fighting nagging injuries. She hurt her hand 2 1/2 months ago during a tournament in New Orleans after dropping a weight on her hand. Then, Bassett had a problem with tendinitis in her wrist.
This year has hardly been a kind one to Bassett. She suffered another freak injury when she fell off a snowmobile. Earlier this year, her father, John, died.
"This year was my year of tragedies and it can only get better," she said. "I was so nervous before the match because I hadn't played in a long time. But I feel I can play with the better players. For a while, I stayed the same, while some of the others were getting better."
Bassett, ranked No. 15 in the world, was encouraged by her result against Sukova even though she blew a 5-2 lead in the first set. Sukova blamed her struggles on sloppy, inconsistent play.
"I felt I was making mistakes," said Sukova, who is ranked No. 6. "But I had to keep trying to get back. No matter what match it is, you don't want to lose it."
Sukova has said her life hasn't changed a great deal since the U.S. Open final--except for some added confidence.
As for Mecir, he said: "No, not much change. I get more invited to other tournaments now, and people know my name more."
Well, Miloslav Mecir isn't quite a household name yet. For the first several games, his name was misspelled on the Forum scoreboard.