For awhile, it appeared certain that today's title match in the $175,000 Volvo International tennis tournament would be a return engagement of last year's final: John Alexander vs. Manuel Orants. Same time. Same place. Sama network. Public invited.
But then Eddie Dibbs crashed the party at the Mt. Cranmore Tennis Club. He took advantage of Orantes' third peculiar swoon in as many weeks and ousted the Spanish left-hander, who suddenly can't seem to go the distance, in a terribly sloppy semifinal, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4.
This it will be Dibbs, the scrappy No. 1 seed, opposing defending champion Alexander - an impressive 6-3, 6-3 victor over Corrado Barazzutti - for the top prize of $27,000, plus one of the sponsor's top-of-the-line automobiles.
The final will be played at the time nonmountain folk sitdown to Sunday brunch (11:15 a.m.), but will be televised nationally on delayed tape by CBS-TV as dessert (WTOP-TV-9 in Washington, 1:30 p.m.)
Alexander, the sturdy 6-foot-3 Australian, has not won a tournament since he beat Orantes, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, in the final here a year ago. But the clean, relaxing air of the picturesque Mt. Washington Valley seems to give him the Eastern equivalent of a Rocky Mountain High.
The 27-year-old Aussie, who had beaten Barazzutti in Davis Cup matches on both Roman clay (1976 semifinals) and Sydney grass (1977 finals), attacked fiercely from the opening game.
He never let the Italian "Little Soldier" get a foothold in the red clay of the 10,000-seat stadium at the base of Mt. Canmore, which was packed to near capacity on a clear, sunny day that dried out the court and made playing conditions faster than they had been all week.%T"He's a pretty awkward guy for me to play, because he likes to stay back, passes well, and keeps the ball low at right times," said Alexander, runner-up to Harold Solomon at Louisville last week. "I wanted to rush the net right from the beginning and try to keep him from hitting a lot of ground strokes and get into a groove.
Alexander kept boring in, intimidating Barazzutti with his volleying, and built a 5-1 lead in the first set. He got a little complacent at the stage, lost his serve for the only time, but started with an ace and played a strong game the second time he served for the set.
Thumping his returns and forehand approaches, Alexander broke in the first game of the second set, held after three deuces for 2-0, and lost only four points on his serve thereafter.
Barazzutti - a dour fellow whose expressions on court range from anguished to persecuted to suicidal - shrugged, frowned and flaile his racket in exasperation. He finally tried to attack the last two games, but volleyed miserably.
Orantes, 29, led by 6-2, 3-1, and had a point for 4-1 on Dibbs' serve. He lost that lead, but then served for the match at 6-5 in the second set. Again he couldn't grasp it.
He had controlled the match, running seven consecutive games from 1-2 in the first set by serving superbly terful variations of spin, pace and angle. He was the puppeteer, Dibbs the object of his string-pulling.
But Orantes tired and became noticeably sluggish in the second set. He lost his timing and touch. His flowing strokes became increasingly labored. He served a costly double fault in the tie breaker, which he lost, 7 points to 5, and in the final set his shotmaking went downhill faster than the Alpine skiers who inhabit this territory during the winter.