Larcenous linesmen and hometown flim-flammery, not unknown in the colorful 77-year history of the Davis Cup, did not figure into Argentina's 3.2 victory over the United States in the American Zone final last weekend.
The factors that did were the continuing inability of the U.S. to field its strongest team for the premier international team event in tennis, and the noisy fervor of a nationalistic crowd inspiring a player of modest ability to a heroic performance.
The player in this instance was Ricardo Cano, 23, who is ranked 61st internationally in the latest computer ratings of the Association of Tennis Professionals.
But elevated by the spirit and rhythmic chanting of a sellout crowd of 5,500 at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club, he upset Dick Stockton - an ailing last-minute replacement for day court specialist Eddie Dibbs - in the critical opening match of the best-of-five series.
Cano's 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, triumph gave Argentina the pivotal point it needed . Guillermo Vilas, the 25-yer-old lefthander who is one of the world's best players on clay courts, whipped Brian Gottfried, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2, in Friday's second match and Stockton, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, in the clincher Sunday.
Stockton, whose chronic bad back has been acting up recently, was a reluctant reinforcement after Harold Solomon came up sick (weakness, fever and swollen glands, as yet undiagnosed) and Dibbs begged off, thus becoming the villain of the piece in the eyes of U.S. captain Tony Trabert.
Trabert says Dibbs told him on short notice that he was pulling out because he was tired and wanted to rest for the World Championship Tennis (WCT) doubles championship at Kansas City this week and the WCT singles finals at Dallas next week.
"That is the one thing that really frosts me." said Trabert, who had only praise for Stockton, Gottfried, Frede McNair IV of Chevy Chase and Sherwood Stewart. McNair and Steward kept the U.S. alive Saturday by beating Cano and Lito Alvarez in the doubles, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
"I had a commitment from Dibbs, and he had assurance he wouldn't have to play in Kansas City until Thursday," Trabert seethed to reporters in Buenos Aires. "I guess playing for his country just isn't important to him, and I can't understand a guy like that."
"I don't want to point a wary finger at Dibbs," said McNair, who returned to Washington yesterday, "but all the team members are quite upset that he didn't choose to go down there. Everybody else made sacrifices and Eddie decided to go for the money.
"There are 51 other weeks in the year that you can play for money, but the one week really needed him he didn't show, and that's why the U.S. lost. There's no way Dibbs would have lost to Cano, no matter how much above his head the guy played, but Stockton hurt his back and we didn't have any insurance.
When Solomon and Dibbs dropped out, Gottfried - one of the hottest players this year and winner of both his singles in a 4-1 U.S. victory over South Africa two weeks ago - quickly volunteered for duty on the soft, slow red clay at Buenos Aires.
Trabert tried to recruit Jimmy Connors, the world No. 1, who declined because he was contractually committed a play a tournament at Las Vegas, which he won Sunday, collecting a $50,000) check.
Vitas Gerulaitis said he was committed to play for the World Team Tennis Indiana Loves, and Stan Smith could not be reached.
Finally, Trabert got back to Stockton, winner of three WCT tournament and $132,345 this year, who said he would go if necessary, even though he was worried about the back that caused him to miss a recent tournament in Monte Carlo and the Davis Cup series against South Africa.
"Connors is making eight million bucks, Dibbs is making a ton, but they could't give up a week to play for their country." McNair continued, "to do something that would be worth more than money 10 years from now - to be part of a winning effort we haven't had since 1972."
The U.S. which has won the Davis Cup 23 times more than any other nation, won five consecutive years, 1968-72, but lost the final to Australia in 1973. It hasn't gotten through the American Zone sine - losing at Colombia in 1974 and to Mexico in 1975-76. This year the U.S. beat Venezuela, Mexico and South Africa before losing.
Argentina, which had not won a match in three previous series with the U.S. won the American Zone for the first time and will meet Eastern Zone champion Australia (winner of the cup 22 times) in the semifinals. The winner plays the European champion for possession of the sterling punchbowl currently held by Italy.
Stockton played superbly in the first set against Cano, but suffered a spasm in the lower right side of his back in the third game of the second set. It inhibited his serve-and-volley game and left him less than limber.
Meanwhile, Cano gained some confidence and, buoyed by the screaming, flag-waving crowd, started playing above himself.
The stands of the ivy-covered, 50-year-old concrete stadium were packed to capacity, even though tickets were expensive by Argentine standards. A cheering section with placards and musical instruments was orchestrated by a 31-year-old self-described "playboy" named Hugo Bimboni.
Between games spectators played drums, maracas, accordion and horns and tooted whistles as Bimboni waved his arms and led chant sof "Ca-no, Ca-no" and "Ar-gen-ti-na."
"That guy was a real card," said McNair who judged the crowd to be "incredibly loud, vociferous, partisan, but polite and fair." When the umpire shouted "Silencio, por favor!" they quieted down and did not interfere with play.
The one time that a spectator whistled as Stockton served, the umpire had the point replayed, Cano concurring with the decision. The line-calling, McNair said, "was excellent, unbelievably good for a big Davis Cup match."
McNair's only complaint was with Vilas who played as well as he ever has under big-match pressure and was eventually carried on the shoulders of his countrymen around the arena and up into the crowd, which included Argentinian President Jorge Rafael Videla.
"Vilas was kind of a turkey on the court," said McNair. "He was more disruptive than the crowd, stalling and trying to break up Stockton's rhythm in the last match.
"The rumor was that he had personally arranged for the section of students in the crowd that was noisier than anybody else. He wanted to be like (Raul) Ramirez in Mexico, to have a really incisive crowd to help him."
It certainlh helped Cano.
"He really played great against Stockton," said McNair. "Dickie seemed to have the match under control when he had him, 6-3, 4-2, 40-0. Dickie hit a good first serve, came in and drilled a forehand volley two inches from the baseline. Cano sort of hit a quick half-volley without thinking and it whistled by for a winner to make it 40-15.
"Somehow Cano hung in there and won the game, then the set, and Dickie's back started hurting him. Up till then he had been winning his serve easily, but he stopped hitting out on his first serve and didn't come in behind it the rest of the match.
"He didn't complain about it to anyone, but we could all see that it bothered him significantly. He was just shoving the ball back, he couldn't hit an overhead and had trouble stretching on the backhand.
"Then Cano started coming into the net on him, attacking. He got fired up by the crowd and when hegot the second set under the belt, he just played great."