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Simply Alarming : In Sleepy Indian Wells, Jensens Are Keeping Fans Awake

March 12, 1995|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

INDIAN WELLS — The Jensen Brothers are alive and well and played the late show at the Newsweek Champions Cup tennis tournament.

They are so alive and so well that they made their way into the men's doubles semifinals with a stirring victory in the wee hours Saturday morning over the hottest men's doubles team in the world.

In fact, the incredible run didn't end until they lost a Saturday night semifinal to New Zealander Brett Steven and Tommy Ho, 6-3, 6-2, before an ever-present screaming, clapping, delighted crowd of Jensen worshipers.

Before the Friday night/Saturday morning encounter with the Jensens, Grant Connell of Canada and Patrick Galbraith, a former UCLA All-American from Tacoma, Wash., were figuratively--if not literally--on top of the world. They were ranked No. 2 on the ATP Tour and seeded No. 1 here, and that was on the strength of a 16-2 early season run that had brought them three titles.

After their Friday night/Saturday morning match, which ended at 12:25 a.m. with the Jensens winning, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-2), Connell and Galbraith were at rock bottom. Losing is one thing, losing to the Jensens altogether another.

"I woke up this morning with a pounding headache," Connell said Saturday. "I felt like I'd just lost a Davis Cup match in South America. Playing the Jensens in Indian Wells was worse than playing the Haitians in the Davis Cup in Haiti."

Indian Wells is one of the places the post-60 set goes to escape the fast pace of Palm Springs. Indian Wells is the flip side of Las Vegas. It is the city that always sleeps, and so, when the Jensens and their rock-and-roll tennis routine hit town this week, there was speculation that they would be arrested for disturbing the peace.

And that would be simply for how they dressed.

They have, for obvious reasons, been scheduled to go out last each night. And they have done the unimaginable: kept a sizable group of the local populace up past 9 p.m. They even have a small contingent of elderly females who follow them everywhere, carrying signs that read: "Old Jensen Groupies."

The issue with the Jensens is not talent. In the minds of most of their peers, they have none. Yes, they won the 1993 French Open, a result that at first shocked others on the tour and then quickly was dismissed as a quirk.

Supporting the Jensen cynics are this year's tour doubles rankings. Luke is No. 83, Murphy No. 106.

Connell is No. 5, Galbraith No. 6.

To others on the tour it's clear: The Jensens can't play.

But play they have this week, all the way into their fourth consecutive Late Night With Luke and Murphy--"Midnight Madness" Luke calls it--in which Steven and Ho finally pulled the curtain down on the Jensen act.

"You go out, kind of knowing what you are going to face," Connell said, "but once you let their crowd get into the match, and let the match go to emotions rather than skill, you are in trouble."

The Jensen's crowd crosses all boundaries of age, gender and race. The only common denominator is a distaste for the white-shirt, tea-and-crumpet, whispers-and-polite-applause imagery of accepted tennis deportment.

Against Connell and Galbraith, they wore black and white vertically striped shirts and bicycle hats turned backward. They high-fived each other, the fans and vendors walking by. They celebrated points won with clenched fists and chest butts. Luke served both right-handed and left-handed. Murphy, 6 feet 4 and 185, wailed at service returns like a baseball cleanup hitter who tries to pull everything and flies out a lot. Connell, quick to say it is not malicious, calls it a "carnival show." Most of the fans call it fun.

Connell, who also said what so many other on the tour tend to say, that the Jensens "are good for tennis," and that Friday night's crowd was "bigger than my two French Open semifinal appearances put together," gave the brothers an uncommon compliment when he said, "They are actually playing decent ball this week."

He also said, "I really don't think the guys on the tour care all that much about the Jensens. . . . I don't think the guys want to see them go away. They just don't want to have to play them."

So how did Connell and Galbraith, in the immediate aftermath of their embarrassment, deal with their loss to the Jensens?

"We didn't talk," Connell said.

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