The stadium crowd at the U.S. Open tennis championships had already seen Wimbledon champ Virginia Wade overcome determined Fiorella Bonicelli, prodigy Tracy Austin beat Virginia Ruzici, and Harold Solomon shovel out Italian Open champ Vitas Gerulaitis, but they wanted the rest of the program they had paid for.
When tournament officials tried to postpone the schedule last match of today's matinee session - Guillermo Vilas vs. Jose Higueras - the spectators would not stand for it. In an extraordinary fan revolt that resembled a scene from the movie "Network," they joined voices and delivered the message:
"We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anyone."
The paying customers rebelled shortly after 4:40 p.m., when Solomon, the No. 12 seed from Silver Spring, Md., completed an impressive 7-6, 6-3 victory over Gerulaitis, the flamboyant No. 8 seed and local favorite.
An announcement was made over the public address system in the 14,000-seat stadium of the West Side Tennis Club that the Vilas-Higueras match had been postponed so that the stands could be cleared for the evening session, scheduled to begin to 7:30 p.m.
In fact, tournament officials had an ulterior motive. Nancy Richey, who was slated to play defending women's champ Chris Evert in the evening opener, had come down with a 101-degree fever and was granted a stay of her anticipated execution until Tuesday.
That left only one doubles match for the evening session, so referee Mike Blanchard decided to replace Evert-Richey with Vilas-Higueras.
"Besides, we have a directive not to start any afternoon matches after 7:30, because if they go three sets it doesn't leave time for the maintenance people to get in and clean out the stadium before the evening crowd comes in," said Blanchard. "So we decided to move the Vilas match to the night but the public wouldn't let us."
What the public did was stand up and chant "We won't go . . . We want Vilas . . ." and other slogans, slowhandclap the officials, and refuse to vacate the 54-year-old concrete stadium.
In a mass act of civil disobedience that briefly threatened to turn into an ugly mob scence - oranges, cups and other debris were thrown onto the court in what used to be a bastion of sporting gentility - they demanded and got their consumer rights.
After the crowd had agrily shouted down further announcements - "Ladies and gentlemen, you've hed wonderful tennis since 11 a.m., there is a crowd lining up outside, it is physically impossible to put on another match" . . . "Ladies and gentlemen, the tournament committee is attempting to put on another match, but not the Vilas match" - Blanchard contacted Vilas and Higueras and decided to put the match on.
That announcement made, and the crowd finally satisfied, that its rights had not been violated, nature intervened. A heavy shower inundated the court, spading fans scurring for shelter and delaying the start of the evening session until past 7:30.
Once the evening session began, Vilas had little trouble in defeating Higueras, 6-3, 6-1.
Blanchard explained that a decision was made to allow afternoon spectators to stay because there was a light advance sale of "less than 5,000 tickets for the evening session."
"I've never seen anything like this, but I guess the people have spoken," said Blanchard, who has been a tennis official for more than 50 years. "Fortunately, tonight we had the seats to accommodate this. There will be two people holding tickets for some seats, but there will be enough room for them all to fit."
An announcement was made inviting the afternoon spectators to stay for the evening session but asking them, as a courtesy, to take available seats as people arrived with evening tickets for the seats they were in.
The spectator insurrection was the latest episode in a wild Open that had a phoned bomb threat on opening day, several minor demonstrations protesting the presence of South African players, and a spectator shot in the thigh Sunday night, either accidentally or by a sniper."
New York City police were still uncertain today where the 38-caliber bullet that hit James Reilly, 33, of Manhattan, came from.
Reilly was seated in the ninth row at the north end of the stadium watching the start of the match that John McEnroe eventually won over No. 9 seed Eddie Dibbs, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, when he was hit by a bullet from low-velocity target gun. He was treated for a flesh wound at a Queens hospital and released. Police continued their investigation and extra plainclothesmen were in the stands today.
Solomon, 24, moved into the quarterfinals along with Ray Moore, a 5-7, 6-5, 6-2 victor over John Feaver, and Corrado Barazzutti, the Italian Davis Cupper who eliminated Ilie Nastase in the second round. Barazzutti clobbered Butch Walts, 6-2, 6-0, today.
In the women's singles, Austin, the 14-year-old sensation, eliminated Ruzici, 6-3, 7-5, and advanced to the quarterfinals. She will play No. 5 seed Betty Stove, a 6-3, 6-0 winner over Kathy Kuykendall.
Wade, who is seeded No. 3 in the bottom half of the draw, which is a round behind, settled down after an erratic first set and beat Boincelli, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
Solomon kept pounding his ground strokes deep, hit some exceptional passing shots, and discouraged Gerulaitis by reaching drop shots and drop volleys time and again, scooping them for forcing shots.
"Going into the match, I thought the key was to get a lot of first serves in, so that he couldn't attack my second serve in, and get into the net," said Solomon. "I was able to do that, especially in the tie breaker." Solomon didn't miss a first serve in winning the best-of-12-point tie breaker that decided the first set, 7-3.
Solomon had been broken when he served for the set at 5-4, but the tie breaker seemed to give him a boost and he jumped to a 4-1 lead in the second set. He then held from 15-40 in the seventh game, and held on - passing Gerulaitis repeatedly to climax flashing exchanges after Gerulaitis chipped backhand returns and came in.