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Wimbledon Show Given a Big Boost by Jimmy Connors

July 03, 1987|Larry Stewart

Wimbledon television ratings have been slipping steadily since John McEnroe's four-set victory over Bjorn Borg in the 1981 men's final drew an all-time high national Nielsen of 7.9.

Prospects for changing that downward trend weren't looking good when Boris Becker, this year's No. 1-seeded men's player, lost in the second round.

With McEnroe not competing, NBC began wondering who could possibly salvage the men's division.

Up stepped Jimmy Connors.

"You just never know what story is going to develop here," NBC's Dick Enberg said from Wimbledon. "First, Connors rallies from a deep hole to beat Mikael Pernfors. Then he comes back the next day to beat Slobodan Zivojinovic.

"Try saying that name four times in a row," Enberg said, then doing it. Obviously, he's had some practice.

Added Enberg: "Connors has made this a fun championship."

The presence of Connors also makes NBC's five-hour Wimbledon show today an attractive one. He'll face Pat Cash in the second semifinal, with Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg meeting in the first.

"I think it was a break for Connors that Cash beat (Mats) Wilander," Enberg said. "Wilander would have stayed on the base line and hit with Connors.

"Connors will have a better chance against Cash's serve-and-volley game."

About the other semifinal, Enberg said: "I've been saying for several years that Edberg will eventually win at Wimbledon. Maybe this is the year. But you can't forget that Lendl is the No. 2-seeded player. People seem to be overlooking him."

Today's delayed coverage begins at 10 a.m. That's about the time those who stayed up to watch NBC's coverage of Steffi Graf's semifinal victory over Pam Shriver will be getting up, since that match was shown at 12:45 a.m.

Great scheduling, huh? At least, Graf didn't waste any time in winning, 6-0, 6-2.

Add Enberg: The hard part is over, since the last of NBC's 11:30 p.m. Wimbledon highlight shows was televised Thursday night.

"It takes about a 14-hour day to put one of those 15-minute shows together," Enberg said. "Actually, they are only eight minutes (not counting commercials).

"With live coverage, you say goodby when it's over. But to do one of those highlight shows, you watch tennis all day, then spend hours editing and taping. The day can end as late as 1 a.m."

Enberg got off a little early Tuesday night, so he took his wife to a private London disco where British royalty often can be seen.

"I had signed off the highlight show by saying, 'And now stay tuned for the Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson.'

"So, who do we run into at Annabelles? Johnny Carson."

Ah, the wonders of television.

NBC is showing "The Best of Carson" this week while Carson is on his honeymoon with new wife Alexis Maas at Wimbledon.

Add Wimbledon: NBC's coverage both Saturday and Sunday will begin at 8 a.m., a delay of two hours.

The women's final between Martina Navratilova, who is going for a record sixth-straight Wimbledon singles title and record-tying eighth overall, and Steffi Graf is Saturday.

The men's final is Sunday.

He's everywhere: Following Sunday's Wimbledon coverage, NBC will show more of Enberg on "SportsWorld" at 2 p.m. as he announces taped coverage of the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, held June 20-21 at Kansas City, Mo.

Enberg, who was already in England preparing for Wimbledon, had to take the Concorde from London to New York, then fly to Kansas City for the gymnastics meet, after which he flew back to New York to catch the Concorde back to London.

"I'd make a good poster man for jet lag," Enberg said.

Rumor Dept.: You've probably heard that Channel 2's Jim Hill might be headed for Channel 7. A new one heard this week was that San Diego's outspoken, bombastic, often arrogant and sometimes hard-to-stomach Ted Leitner might be headed for Channel 7 instead.

Said Leitner: "That's news to me. No one has called me, although John Severino (Channel 7 general manager) did talk to me about a job several years ago.

"Actually, I don't think the L.A. market is ready for me. I've been studying it for years. All they do is kiss (bleep), be nice to everyone, interview (Tom) Lasorda every day, be everybody's friend, do a commentary ripping Peter Ueberoth once a year and show taped highlights, taped highlights and more taped highlights."

Oops Dept.: Last week in this space, ABC was criticized for not fully explaining golfer Tommy Nakajima's options after he hit a shot into a tree during the third round of the U.S. Open and a youngster scampered up the tree after it.

Reader Ron Bauer of Santa Ana writes: "You must surely have been at the package store when Frank Hannigan of the U.S. Golf Assn. explained all the rules relating to the shot."

Others also pointed out that we bogeyed that one.

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