Veteran Arthur Ashe was pushed to the brink yesterday before overcoming 19-year-old Robert Van't Hof in the first round of the Washington Star International tennis champions, winning two tie breakers to advance to the second round, 7-6, 7-6.
Ashe, 35, winner of the Star tournament in 1973 and seeded seventh this year, had to come from a 1-5 deficit to win the first set over the 19-year-old Junior Davis Cupper from USC in humid 85-degree weather.
Ashe will play Colobia's Ivan Molina in the second round.
In other matches, second-seeded Brian Gottfried outlasted Fred McNair IV of Chevy Chase, 3-6, 7-6, 6-1, and Harold Solomon trounced Ismail El Shafei, 6-2, 6-1.
McNair took the first set from Gottfried with a service break in the eighth game. In the second set, McNair railled from 0-3, tying at 6-6 to force the tie breaker, won by Gottfried 8 points to 6.
Gaining control, Gottfried easily wrapped up the third set by breaking service three times, taking the set in 20 minutes.
Ashe began his comeback from 1-5 and 0-30. He won the seventh game to tie at 5-all.
Ashe, plagued by double faults, was down again at 5-6, and changed tactics, hitting to the youngster's backhand and rushing the net. The strategy paid off as Ashe took the game and shut off Van't Hof with three points in the tie breaker.
In the second set, Ashe again had to rally to tie, 6-6, to force the tie breaker, which he won, 10 points to 8.
Afterward, Ashe said, "Mentally I conceded the first set to him. I didn't win it - he lost it." Asked if he had taken his younger opponent too lightly, Ashe said, "No pro takes any man lightly these days - not even Connors or Borg."
Van't Hof was elated, even in defeat. "This is the biggest guy I have played," he said. "I feel great I just need more experience, I guess. Ashe won because when the big points came he knew what to do with them."
In other matches involving seeded players, No. 4 Raul Ramirez beat Billy Martin, 6-2, 6-3: No. 9 John Alexander topped Alvaro Bentacour, 7-5, 6-0, and No. 16 Phil Dent beat Rick Fagel, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2.