As a three-time winner of the German Open on slow, red European clay and a semifinalist twice in both the French and Italian opens, Eddie Dibbs felt as much at home sliding and digging on the stadium court of the Mt. Cranmore Tennis Club as a child does shoveling in a sandbox.
The scrappy Floridian returned serve ferociously and out-attacked Austrialian John Alexander from both the back court and the net to beat the defending champion, 6-4, 6-4, in the final of the $175,000 Volvo International Tennis Tournament.
"I think this court plays just like the ones in Europe. It's as slow as Rome or Paris and has a lot more top dressing than most of the clay courts in the U.S.," Dibbs said of the surface in the picturesque stadium in the white mountains, where 9,720 spectators congregated on a gray and muggy Sunday and watched one of the most impressive performances of Dibbs steadiest summer.
"Fast Eddie," the 27-year-old, Brooklyn-born hustler out of the public courts of Miami, started the U.S. summer circuit by winning the Western Championships at Cincinnati. He was runner-up to Jimmy Connors in the Washington Star International, lost to Alexander in the semifinals of the Louisville Classic last week, and yesterday justified his No. 1 seeding in the favored summer sporting event of the New England north country.
"Physically, I'm the strongest I've been in a long time. I took three weeks off instead of playing Wimbledon this year, went home, rested up and lifted some weights," said Dibbs, who has climbed to No. 5 in the computer rankings of the Association of Tennis Professinals, the best rating of his career.
His bank balance has benefited as well as his professional self-esteem. He collected $27,000 yesterday, twice the amount of Alexander's paycheck, plus a $15,000 car. He also move past vacationing Raul Ramirez into third place in the Colgate Grand Prix standings, behind Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors.
Dibbs beat Alexander because he was more aggressive in the most crucial stage of the match. He dug himself out of a 0-40 hole while serving at 3-4 in the first set, saved another break point in that game, and wound up running five straight games to 2-0 in the second set.
Through the first seven games, there had been only one break point - against Dibbs at 2-3. He saved it by forcing an awkward backhand volley error after Alexander came in behind a return of a second serve, and got out of the game by slugging a forehand cross-court volley and a backhand cross-court winner off a short ball.
Alexander, a powerful 6-foot-3 Aussie Davis Cupper who can be intimadating when his serve is on, held easily for 4-3 and had Dibbs on the skewer, ready for barbecueing, in the next game.
A nice forehand down-the-line passing shot by Alexander as Dibbs tried to serve and volley, sandwiched around two backhand down-the-line errors off returns when he served and stayed back, put Dibbs at 0-40.
But Alexander, also 27, wasexcessively cautious on the next three points, and Dibbs got back to deuce on an overhead, a backhand down-the-line pass and another smash.
Alexander had one advantage, but Dibbs escaped with a nice forehand volley, a forehand down-the-line pass as Alexander charged in behind a return, and a backhand cross-court winner off a short ball.
Having averted this peril, Dibbs promptly broke Alexander at 15, even though the Aussie put in five first serves. Dibbs cracked a forehand return winner, forced a volley error, and buzzed two cross-court passing shots, one off either side.
Dibbs served out the set at 15 with an ace, and broke at 15 again in the first game of the second set, cranking three clean return winners.
"I thought I served pretty well, but he hit some tremendous returns." Alexander sighed afterwards. "He played great tennis in the two break games, and I didn't play quite aggressively enough on the break points against him. I tried to play safely, figuring he would make an error on one of them, and that was a mistake."
Conversely, Dibbs attacked when he had the chance. His returns kept Alexander back on second serves, and he smacked approach shots when the Aussie hit short. Dibbs' ground strokes are much more solid than Alexander's, and once they got in rallies "Fast Eddie" usually prevailed - by blasing a winner, forcing an error, or getting to the net first.
Dibbs had only one break point against him in the second set. That came in the second game, and he brushed it aside by following his first serve to the net for a decisive backhand volley. He lost only four points in his last four service games.
In doubles, Robin Drysdale and Van Winitski came from behind to win a close match against Bernie Mitton and Mike Fishback, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3.