Guillermo Vilas overwhelmed Harold Solomon with power and Jimmy Connors had time for some foolishness while putting away little known Corrado Barazzutti in today's men's semifinals of the U.S. Open tennis championships.
Connors, a two-time winner here, provoked a flip in the first set of his 7-5, 6-3, 7-5 victory. When Barazzutti disputed a lineman's call on a shot that could have given him a service break, Connors ran the length of the court and literally put a foot in the argument.
To the amazement of the 12,587 customers at the West Side Tennis Club's stadium - and to his own surprize, Connors admitted later - the millionaire appeared to rub out the mark left by his shot. Then, his misbehavior done. Connors strutted back to his end of the court.
And Barazzuttti complained to umpire Jack Stahr. "I said, "He can do that?" the Italian said later. "Connors came around the net like a crazy. It was just crazy."
Umpire Stahr reprimanded Connors on the public address system. "You really had no right to do that," Stahr said, "even though you did it in fun."
Connors said, "I can't believe I did that. I bet you'll never see that again. It kinda surprised me, that I did it. It just happened. It was one of my off-the-cuff things."
The separators didn't like it and, for a bit, took to cheering when Connors lost a point. The umpire finally stopped that by saying, "It is contrary to the spirit of the game, even in these days, to applaud faults."
When he needed to, the second-seeded Connors played very well, always attacking from both sides, forcing the unseeded Barazzutti - an early winner over Ilie Nastase and conqueror of Brian Gottfried in the quarters - into errors at critical moments.
Vilas, in contrast, seemed dead set on leaving no trace of Solomon. The 25-year-old Argentine, who is winning almost every tournament in sight, forced No. 12 Solomon into weak returns and then buried the little man's mistakes with sharply angled volleys and killing overheads to win, 6-2, 7-6, 6-2.
If Solomon earned anything today beyond the semifinalist's prize of $8,200, it was the honor of being the first player in the tournament to win more than three games in a set against Vilas.
And that was small honor, indeed, for when Solomon threatened to win the second set - neither Connors nor Vilas has lost a set here in six matches - Vilas quickly demonstrated his clear superiority.
Needing to hold serve to go into a tiebreaker, Vilas forced Solomon into a backhand error, drove a roaring forehead past him and went ahead, 40-love, on another Solomon mistake, this one a simple backhand that landed in the net. Vilas lost the next point, but won the game with a strong serve that left Solomon helpless.
Then in the best 7-of-12 points tiebreaker, Vilas followed a powerful forehand with a backhand volley down the line for the first point (on Solomon's serve). He made it 3-0 with an ace and another too-hot-to-handle serve that Solomon returned long. Two Solomon mistakes put Vilas ahead, 5-0, and he won, 7-3.
Vilas' convincing victory was another link in an ever-growing chain of successes. He has won 38 straight matches in six tournaments. He has won 45 straight on clay. Should he with Sunday, it would be his eighth straight tournament: title, his 11th of the year (in 21 starts) and his second in one of tennis' major championships (winning the French Open, he lost one set in seven matches).
Vilas needed no magic today, no genius. When artists of the baseline meet - and few men are the match of Vilas and Solomon at the test of will and ground strokes - the physically stronger normally wins. At 5-foot-11 and 165, Vilas may be the strongest man playing tennis today.
At least one man believes Vilas' strength may decide Sunday's championship match. Barazzutti said, "Connors, he plays very, very fast. If he plays well enough for an hour, maybe he can win. But if the match goes longer, then he may get tired and Vilas can win."
Vilas would like that. A year ago, suffering through a mediocre season after a wonderful 1975, Vilas came to life at Forest Hills and won his way to the semifinals.
Connors embarrassed him, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.
"I have a very bad feeling from that match," Vilas said today.
Was he thinking about it?
"If I think about it, I better pack my bags and go home."
"New time," Connors said when asked if that [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of Vilas means anything now. "New match. Same tournament, but another time and match. I don't know what'll happen. Why don't you come out and see?"
Connors' mentor, Pancho Segura, said, "If Jimbo and Vilas play 10 times. Jimbo wins seven."
Connors is 2-0 against Vilas lifetime.as lifetime.