This is the fifth and final installment in a series written by Karthika and myself. If you have missed some of the action, click on Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and/or Part 4. Otherwise, this installment will make little sense. Enjoy the finale!
Pete Sampras was still stunned.
He had laid it all on the line in his doubles’ match, and so had his partner. This day, however, Connors and Sampras simply could not beat McEnroe and Federer, and there was no shame in that.
He congratulated the still-jigging McEnroe—whose fluidity on the court was belied by his indescribably stiff, impromptu “gloat dance”—and headed toward the sideline, shoulder-to-shoulder with a still-beaming Fed.
Jimmy Connors, on the other hand, was visibly upset. His face was beet-red, and suddenly he was leaning over, one hand on his knee, the other on his racket. He was puffing incessantly, as if he couldn’t get enough oxygen into his hungry lungs.
Sampras gave him some room; Connors appeared to be ready to blow a gasket. He had yet to say a word after the remarkable way Federer had ended the match.
Sampras gave Roger the “one second” finger gesture, and walked over to his crestfallen teammate. He put his arm around Jimmy’s shoulders and said calmly:
“We did our best, Jimmy. Don’t you think you should acknowledge that so we can move on? It’s just a match.”
No audible response from Connors.
Connors lifted his head and gurgled something unintelligible to Sampras. There were traces of blue in his face now; and his eyes seemed to roll back into the recesses of his orbital sockets as he heaved up an acrid mix of bile and leftover Gatorade.
“OH MY GOD! SOMEBODY GET A TRAINER! GET ME A F*CKIN’ TRAINER RIGHT NOW!” Sampras bellowed frantically as Connors fell limp in his arms. Pete gently laid Jimmy on the court and put the towel from around his neck under Connors’ head.
The crowd gasped and murmured as the critical nature of what was happening on the court gradually became apparent.
Trainers and then EMTs rushed to the tennis icon’s aid as Sampras stood with his hands clutching his thick, curly locks. Federer was whispering excitedly to McEnroe, who in turn stood with his hands on his hips, a look of utter exasperation on his face.
“He’s not breathing!” one of the medics cried. “We’ve got to do emergency CPR and perform artificial respiration!”
As a trainer kept a finger on Connors’ wrist, one EMT carefully tilted Jimmy’s head up and began to blow air into his lungs. Yet another slit Jimmy’s t-shirt apart in a clean, swift motion, and expertly began to perform CPR.
Almost 24,000 people had unwittingly watched tennis legend James Scott Connors suffer from cardiac arrest at Center Court of the reproduced Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Oh my God, this is not happening!” McEnroe repeatedly said in utter disbelief.
“What should we do, John?” Federer asked.
“Stay the f*ck out of the way of the medical staff, that’s what we should do!”
Sampras was in tears as Wa’Carthikos personnel hustled him out of the way and into the dressing room. He was soon joined there by Mac and Fed.
Not a word was spoken for nearly an hour.
When Jimmy Connors opened his eyes, there were five people in his hospital room: his wife of 31 years, Patti; his two children, Brett and Aubree; Sampras; and McEnroe. Federer had flown back home due to scheduling conflicts; he had not planned on a hospital stay for one of his idols.
Johnny Mac was the first person to notice that Connors was awake and immediately summoned the Wa’Carthikos medical staff.
“If we could have everyone leave the room for a few minutes, please,” the doctor asked gently. “We’ll call you back in shortly.”
McEnroe paced the hall like a nervous, expectant father as Sampras sat, head in hands, staring stoically at the door to Connors’ private room. Patti and the kids stood by the window, peering out at the parking lot.
After their extensive examinations, the doctors were extremely encouraged by Jimmy’s condition, and informed the relieved entourage of this out in the hallway.
“Jimmy will be perfectly fine,” he began. “The quick attention he received not only prevented the heart tissue from suffering permanent damage, but it also resumed cardiac function before oxygen deprivation set in to vital organs, especially the brain.”
McEnroe, in particular, was relieved.
“Patti, why don’t you and the kids go in first, it’s only appropriate,” John said.
“Thanks, John. Something tells me you want to speak with Jimmy in private?” Patti Connors asked.
“Yes, whenever it is that you’re finished. Don’t feel rushed on my account.”
“Pete, would you like to come in with us?”
Pete looked over to John Patrick McEnroe, who nodded in approval.
“Sure thing, Patti.”
As he waited for Sampras and the Connors’ to come out, McEnroe had another conversation with the legendary Rod Laver.
“Rod,” John asked, “is any of this my fault?”
“John, how am I supposed to answer that question? With my head or with my heart, mate?”
“How about with the truth, Rod?”
“John,” Laver began carefully, “it’s not your fault, per se. The problem is that Jimmy was so consumed with beating you that he simply pushed his body too far.
“You remember when I told you that the founders of Wa’Carthikos would brook no long-term rivalries?”
“Yeah, Rod, I remember. Is that somehow related to what’s happened to Jim?”
“Yes, it is! The processes at the spa and treatment centers work wonders on the body—the limbs, the torso, the immune system, even promoting weight loss and fitness—but there is very little that can be done to invigorate and protect the internal organs.
“Let me give you an illustration. Imagine having a car sitting in your driveway for years. You never drive it and it begins to deteriorate.
“So after 20 years, you get a hankering to drive that car again. It’s a classic now, and more popular than it had ever been before. You re-do the interior, put new tires on it, replace all the seals on the windows and doors, and you get a fancy new paint job.
“You tune up the engine, boost the power in it. Then you fill it up and take it out to the German Autobahn, so you can drive it as fast as you like.
“What do you think would happen, mate?”
McEnroe looked down at the floor and thought for a minute.
“I’m no mechanic, Laver,” he said impatiently. “Tell me what would happen.”
“Don’t you think that something could break down on the drive shaft, or perhaps in the transmission? Wouldn’t that seem highly probable?”
McEnroe slumped against the wall behind him and nodded his head.
“Yeah, I could see that happening.”
“Well that’s exactly what happened to Connors. He pushed his heart much too far. He’s been here every single day for five whole weeks now. And we told him several times to dial it back, but he didn’t.
“Now, you can sulk out here all day if you like. I know you must be pretty broken up over this. Or you can get in there and console your friend, and end this petty squabble for good.”
McEnroe walked to the snack machines in silence.
Wa'Carthikos was finished. The board immediately voted to cease all operations until further notice. Their worst fears had been realized—that someone could get hurt after undergoing the restorative processes and playing in matches.
McEnroe, meanwhile, doubled back to Connors’ room and peeked in to see if Patti and the kids were there. They were not.
“How you doin’, you big lug?” he said nervously. “You had us all worried sh*tless there for a minute.”
“You guys might have beat us on the court,” Connors rasped weakly through a thin smile. “But even after a coronary, I’ve still got more heart than you, McEnroe.”
McEnroe bit his lip and turned his head slightly, in an attempt to choke back a tear.
“Look, Jim, I just want you to know—“
“Don’t do this John,” Connors interrupted. “You and me, we’re okay.”
“You sure about that?” Mac asked.
“Of course I am. This whole thing was my fault. I was plotting against you for almost a month, and when you met me for dinner at Nobu, I sprung my trap.
“When I first brought you here, I was starting to have complications. Chest pains, dizziness, mini-blackouts and the like. I should have stopped then, but I didn’t. I was being petty, John, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I wanted to beat you.
“Guess I still have some growing up to do, huh?”
McEnroe laughed at Connors’ stab at himself.
“No more feuding between us, man. Okay Jimbo?”
“I still owe you an ass kicking on the court, Mac, and I’m gonna deliver it as soon as I’m outta here!”