A tournament, but no winner. This is what happened at the Monte-Carlo tournament in 1981. The reason ? A pouring rain, and the two finalists’, Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Vilas, lack of will.
On this Monday, April 20th, the Monte-Carlo Country Club is shining with glamour. Parasols, hats, petit fours, and refreshments, nothing is left to chance. But if the sun usually appears to cheer up the Monegasque elite, this time, it is no where to be seen. Which is a shame, considering the cast of the match about to be played. A true opposition of style between « Jimbo » Connors and Guillermo Vilas. The first with his two-handed backhand, and his insolence. The second with a splendid topspin, and an iron will, which he boasted himself by assuring he could « stay on the courts for 7 hours without feeling tired. » A true shame as well, considering the stakes. As it is a final in which the two men are about to take part.
If he isn’t a clay specialist - he then had never won a tournament on this surface in Europe - Jimmy Connors has had a smooth run : not conceding a single set, whether it be against Noah, or even in his semi-final against Taroczy. On his side, Vilas’ run hasn’t proved itself to be that easy. During a tight match against the Czech giant Tomas Smid in the quarter-final, the Argentine could nevertheless count on his experience on clay and in this tournament, as he already counts 5 wins at Monte-Carlo. Moreover, the two players have seen the table ease up with Bjorn Borg’s surprise defeat in the first round. If Vilas comes across as the favorite on clay, Connors can count on his positive record against his opponent (4 wins in 7 matches). And foresee an intense fight in the final. A final which will finally only last 55 minutes, before disappearing with the hazards of the weather.
A 75 seconds rally
Before facing Vilas, Jimbo knows that he’ll have to raise his game. Because if the statistics are in his favor, he then believes he’s « only playing well in the important moments. » As soon as the match starts, Connors is already battling. As a result, the audience sees endless rallies, one of which lasts 75 seconds : « We have had a lot of long rallies, and have both played very well. » Until the score is 5-4, and Villas choses to deal the final blow. 0-15, and then 0-30 after Jimbo’s double fault. However, Connors manages to come back. 5-5, the first set lives up to the expectations. But meanwhile, the pouring rain has turned the clay court into an orange muddy pond. Vilas and Connors are forced to get back to the dressing room. Without knowing that the match will never be resumed.
Because Connors has already planned on attending the north-american tournaments, and can’t afford to stay longer on the Côte d’Azur. With the organizer’s approval, the two men decide to resume the match on June 7th, the day after the Roland-Garros final. It won’t be the case. The one to blame is Connors who will argue that he needs to prepare for the grass season before Wimbledon, to escape playing a rematch. A final without a winner ? The regulations are quite obscure on that matter, as no rule obliges to finish the match in case of an interruption. As a result, the two players will have to content themselves with a void. But an empty spot in their history books is not too positive for the tournament’s organizers, who decide to name, without us really knowing why, Vilas as the winner, before rectifying the result once some fans have discovered the trick. If Vilas doesn’t seem to really mind that forgotten title, the consequences are more prejudicial for Jimbo. Beyond his lack of wins on clay in Europe, Connors has missed the chance to satisfy his ego. As he is remembered saying, before the start of the tournament, that he wanted to « write his name alongside the biggest » while looking at the plaque dedicated to the Monte-Carlo champions…
By Raphaël Gaftarnik
Sources : Archives from the Mundo Deportivo and Carnets de balle by Julien Pichené