Nick Saviano, who was so depressed a year ago that he though seriously about giving up professional tennis, held himself together in the crunch yesterday and scored the best win of his 22 years, bumping Second-Seeded Brian Gottfried out of the $175,000 Washington Star International.
Playing on one of the outside courts that flank Washington Tennis Stadium at 16th and Kennedy streets NW in the heat of a steamy 90-degree afternoon, Saviano blew a 4-1 lead in the final set but did not fold and went on to win, 7-6, 3-6, 7-5.
In so doing he demonstrated - and later emphasized - that regular practice with Gottfried in his adopted hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has helped him enormously. And that his hewfound self-control - largely a result of advice from another regular Florida sparring partner, Harold Solomon - is not a myth.
Serving industriously and following both his first and second deliveries to the net, a degree of aggression that Gottfried did not expect on a clay court with heavy balls, Saviano held his serve from 15-30 at 4-4 in the third set, just when he appeared ready to unravel faster than a cheap Hong Kong shirt.
He got a lucky break in that game when Gottfried netted a forehand off a very short half-volley that sat up and begged to be punished. Saviano, reprieved and relieved, looked up to the sky as if to give thanks, then made the most of his good fortune.
He held serve again to 6-5, then broke Gottfried - runner-up to Guillermo Vilas in this tournament last year and winner of the Volvo Classic in Washington the last two springs - for the match.
A Gottfried backhand half-volley down the line, off a net-cord bail, sailed just wide to put him at 15-30, and then left-handed Saviano crunched two topspin backhand passing shots.
The second one appeared to be going wide as it buzzed cross-court, but it dived at the last second and sent up a cloub of dust just inside the sideline.
"Yes!" screamed Saviano, who did a jubilant little dance in the back court and practically flew to the net to shake hands.
"There's no way you could print what was going through my mind at that point," Gottfried said. "I thought it was going out, but then it dipped. The way I was judging balls the whole match, it didn't surprise me when it fell in."
Gottfried was the only seed beaten during yesterday's matinee session, but Chilean Davis Cupper Jaime Fillol (No. 14) was taken to three sets by Californian Bruce Manson before prevailing, 6-4, 1-6, 6-1.
Third-seeded Eddie Dibbs won the first eight games from Ramiro Benavides, at which point the beleaguered Columbian quit with an aching back. Dibb's persistent back court thumping and scurrying can do that to an opponent, sepecially one with a suspect sacroiliac.
Paul Ramires, the No. 4 seed, won a first set tie breaker, 7 points to 0., in a 7-6, 6-3 victory over 1977 Wimbledon junior champion Van Winitsky and No. 5 Manuel Orantes of Spain cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Keith Richardson.
Solomon, the Silver Spring native who now makes his home in Pompano Beach and considers himself a Floridan, ousted Victor Pecci of Paraguay, who beat him in the second round here in 1976, 6-3, 6-2.
Arthur Ashe, who had such a difficult time with 19-year-old Californian Robert Van't Hof Tuesday, was much sharper in eliminating Colombian left-hander Ivan Molina, 6-1, 6-2.
But yesterday afternoon belonged to Saviano, who only 12 months ago was so unsettled and troubled that he considered giving up tennis.
The native of Teaneck, N.J., who grew up in California and attended Stanford, had slipped from the low 80s in the computerized world rankings of the Association of Tennis Professionals to the 130s.
He didn't like style of the international tournament circuit, which seems the height of glamor to the fan in the stands but actually can be a long and lonely road. He was tired of being wanderer.
Last summer Saviano skipped the Colgate Grand Prix series of major tournaments and played the American Express Challengers Circuit of satellite events rebuilding his confidence and dedication to the game.
This year he bought a house in Fort Lauderdale, resolved some personal problems and has worked his way back up to No. 48 on the computer. He is a far better and calmer player than he was in 1976, when he had to qualify for the first round of the Star tournment and lost in the first round to Jorge Andrew.
"I wasn't really happy playing on the circuit I was raised in a large, close-knit family and had a very domesticated life," said Saviano, the third-youngest of nine.
'I was raised with the thought that you'd get married and have a family and live in one place. I just wasn't meant to travel around like this. I wasn't doing that well because my heart wasn't in it.
"I finally decided I was wasting my time, that I should either do it the best I could or get out. I went on the satellite circuit and worked hard.
"Now I'm happier. I'm doing better and I bought a place in Florida that I can call home," he continued."I don't feel like such a nomad."
One of the reasons he chose Florida was the ready availability of hardworking practice partners there - especially Gottfried and Solomon, to whom he is indebted.
"Even when I couldn't hit two balls in a row in the court, they practiced with me like I was one of the guys, even though I'm sure it wasn't the best practice for them," Saviano said. "Theyre great guys. They've helped me a lot."
Gottfried was disturbed with himself for not taking advantage of four break points in the first game of the final set, two more in the third and three more in the fifth. He did break Saviano to get back to 3-4, but he couldn't take charge.
"I kept coming back in the first set (he lost it in a tie breaker, 7 points to 4) and in the third, but I also kept putting myself out of it. Though the whole match I'd get rolling, and then do things to stop my own momentum," Gottfried said.
Saviano said he realized "Brian wasn't on his game. He was missing shots he normally makes, but I was trying extra hard to get every ball back because I could see he wasn't confident. He's a great guy, but we both know it's business on the court."
Saviano also controlled his once-volatile temper. He did not self-destruct, a fact he attributed to "some very sound advice from Solomon on the "mental approach to matches."
"I just told him that it was ridiculous to go out on the court and get hacked off about things," said Solomon.