The spirit of Leon Spinks is alive, well and living at the convention center of this Eastern Shore community, where the $100,000 Ocean City International Tennis Championships turned into underdog heaven yesterday.
Ray Moore of South Africa and Balazs Taroczy of Hungary -- both unseeded, unheralded, and underestimated -- advanced to an unlikely singles final this afternoon by uprooting Vitas Gerulaitis and Ilie Nastase, the top seeds in this rich little 12-man clambake close by the Chesapeake Bay. The final will be televised at 12:30 p.m. on WETA-TV-26.
Moore, a bright and personable journeyman who has been working hard lately to climb out of a career-long out of mediocrity at age 31, toppled. Cerulaitis, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2, thereby giving U.S. Davis Cup Captain Tony Trabert some cause for apprehension going into next month's U.S. South Africa matches in Nashville.
Taroczy, a sturdy 23-year-old who has long shown signs of rich talent but often has choked when important victories seemed within his grasp, held firm to beat a sluggish and erring Nastase, 6-4, 6-3, before an appreciative crowd of 2,050 who cheered loudly for the day's unlikely heroes.
Moore and Taroczy have never played each other before. The winner is assured of his biggest payday, $36,000, while the runner-up will receive $18,000.
Moore, who reached his first tournament final since the Stockholm open last fall (which he lost to Sandy Mayer), was surprisingly confident going into his match with the quick, flamboyant Gerulaitis. He had beaten the 22-year-old New Yorker in their last meeting, in Birmingham, Ala., 13 months ago, and felt at the top of his game after a productive series of practice sessions last week in Palm Springs, Calif.
"I've never played better than I am now. A lot of people have been helping me, especially Roscoe Tanner (now his doubles partner) and Charlie Pasarell," said Moore, the erstwhile hippy of pro tennis who has always had a formidable return of serve and has shored up his forehand and service.
"Pasarell has worked a lot on my serve, and that's the main thing. I have never served consistently, and Charlie explained, technically, why my serve came and went.
"It's the first time I've ever really understood the mechanics of it. He broke it down into very simple components. Basically, I had been standing open towards the net, with no shoulder rotation and no hip movement," Moore continued.
"I had never realized how important those things are, but I started watching Roscoe, who serves so well, and saw what he does every time. Then I started to do the same thing."
Moore served well through the final set, after stopping a seven-game slide during which his backhand volley and concentration deserted him. He broke Gerulaitis, whom he perceived as "nervous and kind of uptight today," in the fifth and seventh games.
They had exchanged breaks in the first two games of the close first set, which Moore seized by breaking again for 5-4. Then the amiable South African played a terribly loose game to lose his serve at 15 in the second game of the second set.
"You never let Gerulaitis get ahead, because he's a very good frontrunner," Moore said afterward. "He plays a great game to break me again for 4-0, and then I kind of let the set go, experimenting with a few shots the last two games.
"I don't mind losing a set 6-0, actually. I remember Pancho Segura telling Jimmy Connors once, 'Never beat a good player 6-0 unless it's the last set, because it puts too much pressure on you.' I think that's a pretty good rule.
Moore halted his tailespin by holding at love in the second game of the final set, the crowd applauding as if awakening from a deep slumer. But it was Gerulaitis who seemed to go to sleep, and Moore started punishing his weak second serves and taking command of the net.
He got the crucial break when Gerulaitis netted a low forehand volley off a dipping backhand return, after Moore had gotten to his third break point with a superb backhand passing shot down the line. He sealed the match with his second break, forcing Gerulaitis to punch an awkward low forehand volley long by beautifully returning a smash off the backhand.
Umpire Jack Wright announced Nastase, a native of Bucharest, as coming from "Transylvania, Romania" Nastase laughed at that, and immediately pretended to bite a lineswoman in the back of the neck.
It was Taroczy who sunk his fangs quickly once the match started, however. He served and vollyed consistently well on the fast synthetic surface and hit some wonderful forehand passing shots, mostly cross-court, but a few down the line.
Nastase, sometimes the speediest and most graceful of players, seemed a step slow. He volleyed horribly. He was often caught out of position by Taroczy's resourceful returns, and consequently blooped or blocked awkward volleys that had little pace or depth and left him a sitting duck.
As Taroczy broke for a 3-1 lead in the first set, the mercurial Romanian started gesturing disconsolately, playing with the strings of his racquet and looking despondently at linesmen after every close call as if by reflex.
He never erupted into his usual histrionics, however. He didn't even seem to have enough energy or inspiration for that. His heart wasn't in it, and Taroczy's was. The Hungarian was all over him like a giant crab from the nearby Chesapeake.