Ken Rosewall, the seemingly ageless 42-year-old Australian, finally ran out of time, Harold Solomon ran into, was staggered by, and then overcame a formidable forehand, and Guillermo Vilas added another match to his incredible winning streak this afternoon in the U.S. Open tennis championships.
Rosewall, who played here 25 years ago and was seeded No. 14 this year, a testament to his enduring skills, wilted in the muggy 90-degree heat at the West Side Tennis Club and was eliminated in a third-round match by 24-year-old Jose Higueras, 6-4, 6-4.
Solomon, 24, the No. 12 seed from Silver Spring, Md., was stung by a first-set barrage of high-velocity forehands off the racket of Columbia College grad Rick Pagel, but dug in and won, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Vilas, the Argentinian lefthander who is seeded No. 4 but is rated by most insiders as an even-money favorite with ailing Wimbledon champion Bjorn Borg (strained shoulder) and defender Jimmy Connors (sore back), whittled down 6-foot-6 Victor Amaya, a former All-American at the University of Michigan, 6-3, 6-3.
Vilas, regarded as the fittest and physically strongest of the pros at the moment, has won 35 consecutive matches over seven tournaments, and 42 in a row on clay, dating back to the French Open. He has lost only four sets since Wimbledon, five since the first round in Paris.
All the other seeds who played on this rather lazy, hazy afternoon advanced without undue stress.
No. 5 Manuel Orantes, the 1975 champion who has recovered from elbow surgery to win 23 of his last 25 matches, and the U.S. Clay Court and U.S. Pro titles, brushed aside Texan Sherwood Stewart, 6-2, 6-3.
No. 8 Vitas Gerulaitis, the Italian Open champ and local favorite, ousted John Yuill, 7-5, 6-1, and will play Solomon in the round of 16.
Roscoe Tanner, seeded No. 11, who had struggled in his first two matches, settled down and crunched Terry Moor, 6-3, 6-1, No. 15 Wojtek Fibak walloped Bostonian Doug Crawford, 6-1, 6-1.
In women's singles, Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade blew a 4-0 lead in the first set, but started attacking qualifier Maggie Riley's weak second serve and defensive backhand as Riley served at 4-5, 30-0. Wade won four straight points for the set and went on to bury the outclassed Texan, 6-4, 6-0.
Martina Navratilova, seeded No. 2 behind 1975-76 champ Chris Evert, moved into the third round with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Carrie Meyer.
Rosewall, the champion of 1956 and 1970, was playing here for the first time since 1973, when he was runnerup to Jimmy Connors in the last U.S. Open played on grass courts.
The 5-foot-7, 145-pound Sydneyite who answers to the nicknane "Muscles," a timeless marvel of compact, efficiently elegant, classical shotmaking, easily beat Tim Gullikson (age 25) and Phil Dent (27) in the first two rounds.
But today, under the broiling sun on the gray-green stadium court of artificial clay, he was physically and mentally worn out by Higueras, the sturdy, steady No. 2 man on the Spanish Davis Cup team.
"I think now he is not the fantastic player that he was. That's why I beat him," said Higueras, who reached the quarterfinals of this year's French Open, beating Solomon in the fourth round.
"It is a pleasure to beat such a great name as Rosewall, but I feel a little sorry for him. Because he was so great, and now he can be beaten by a player like me."
Rosewall came back from 0-4 to 4-4 in the first set, and scratched from 0-40 down back to deuce in the ninth game before losing her serve. That was probably the key game. "If I hadn't made a couple of silly errors there, you never know," mused Rosewall, who squandered a 4-1 lead in the second set. Higueras was content to camp on the baseline, sending back wave after wave of topsin loopers that ultimately engulfed Rosewall like a tiring swimmer battling an incoming tide.
"I got a little tired of chasing that heavy, topspinning ball. It's a tough shot to hit back well all the time because it takes a pretty big jump off the court," said Rosewall.
"He certainly hits it with a lot of control. I just wasn't able to force him quite enough. I had to play that high forhand, and I was a little bit afraid to try to catch it early and move into the net because he passes so well. On the other hand, I didn't want to drop the ball short because he moves forward well and could put a fair bit of pressure on me.
"After awhile, I just got tired of reaching up for that ball and trying to do something with it. His backhand came through much lower - it doesn't have nearly as much topspin - and was an easier shot for me to play back. But he didn't miss any.
"I would have liked to win another round, concluded Rosewall. Then, noting that Higueras next plays Vilas, he added: "But I've had two sets of practice with Vilas here, and I'm not so sure I'd like to meet him in a match."
Solomon weathered an early blitz from Fagel, 23, winner of this year's WATCH satellite circuit, whoes topsin frehan is a formidable weapon. "I started out going for broke, pasting everything, and I don't think Harold was prepared for that pace," Fagel said. "But that took a lot out of me. I get pretty tired."
Solomon began by trying to play to Fagel's weak backhand but was inconsistent and decided to run him around thereafter. He dominated from the start of the second set until he led, 5-0, in the third, at which point Fagel went for broke again and won three games before expiring.