Most weeks, to most of the public, it would be just one line of small type buried under the heading "Results," or at most a single paragraph in your morning newspaper.
"Victor Amaya defeated Brian Teacher yesterday, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, in the second round of the $125,000 Volvo tennis tournament at George Washington University's Smith Center." A bald statement of fact -- unvarnished, and soon forgotten by practically all except the players involved.
In the grand scheme of mankind, the tennis match that 24-year-olds Amaya and Teacher played yesterday before a few hundred noontime onlookers was insignificant, revealing no cosmic secrets. There wasn't even a betting line.
It was a good match, though, a tough, competitive, flat-out duel between powerful students of the school of serve and volley. In another time and setting, or if their names were better known, it would have delighted a large audience.
This match had the same essential ingredients, and only a slightly lower level of skill, than more celebrated confrontations -- Bjorn Borg vs. Jimmy Connors, say, in a Wimbledon final.
But Wimbledon finals occur only once a year, and Borg and Connors don't bump into each other much more often. Professional tennis goes on somewhere every week. Amaya vs. Teacher, No. 29 in the computerized world rankings vs. No. 32, is in many ways what the pro game is all about.
Amaya and Teacher each has prepared for years to gain the stage he now occupies. They have trained, hit countless balls on the practice court, disciplined themselves and honed their athletic gifts. They have sweated, and now they are among the top few dozen practitioners of a sport played quite seriously by millions.
When they go out and play a match for money (second-round losers here get $1,600, quarterfinalists at least $3,000) and professional status (the all-important Grand Prix and computer-ranking points), it is more than a lunchtime amusement to them. Ego and perhaps next month's rent are on the line.
And surely as Borg versus Connors is a battle a body and brain, of strokes and wits, mano a mano within the confines of a white-lined, 78-by-27-foot rectangle, so is Amaya versus Teacher.
Some people call it "physical chess." It involves strategy, applied geometry, grance under pressure. It embodies drama, challenges, satisfaction and disappointment. And mind games, always mind games.
There is an infinite number of ways to strike a tennis ball, a wondrous range of choices, technical and tactical, in every match. The weaving of painstakingly refined shots into patterns, shrewd or silly, is what makes the sport so endlessly fascinating.
Victor Amaya and Brian Teacher are strapping lads, players who like to charge in behind both first and second serves, blanketing the net with their elongated reach, ending points quickly with flashing volleys.
Amaya, from Holland, Mich., is 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, massive in the chest and shoulders. He is built more like a tight end than a tennis player, and treads rather heavily on size 15 sneakers. His left-handed serve and forehand are among the most concussive in the game.
"Big Vic" -- sometimes also affectionately called "Lurch" or "The Incredible Hulk" -- has immense strength in his forearm, wrist and calloused fingers. No cradling rackets under his arm; he walks on court effortlessly carrying six of them between the palm and thumb of one hand, as most of us would carry six sheets of paper.
When he scoops a can of Gatorade out of a cooler, he sets it downs on a table and, while holding it between his pinky and thumb, snaps off the flip-top with the index finger of the same hand.
Teacher, of Los Angeles, is 6-3 and 175 pounds, more agile but less punishing than Amaya. He has better touch but less penetration on his volleys. His overhead smash is flawless. "He never misses any, and I think he gets back on lobs faster than anybody else," says Amaya.
Amaya and Teacher have played each other eight times in their pro careers, which followed All-America honors at Michigan (Amaya) and UCLA (Teacher).
"We know each other's games well. We usually have close matches and there's not too much we do to surprise each other," says Amaya.
"Neither one of us are what you would call deceptive players. We come right at each other with our shots, We seldom try to get cute, you know, with dinks and lobs and angled stuff."
Amaya had lost the first set on a single service break, losing his serve from 40-0 in the seventh game. At 4-4 in the second, he double-faulted to fall 0-15 down.
Jeff Borowiak was watching his colleagues play from the top row of the Smith Center balcony, at the end of the court, where you can see the geometrical and strategic patterns of a match unfold. He was asked what he, as a touring pro, thought might be going through Amaya's mind at this moment.
"I don't mean to make a light answer, but the truth is that's very difficult question" he said.
"I do hear (commentator) Bud Collins say sometimes to Donald Dell on TV, 'What's he thinking now, Donald?' And Donald matter-of-factly says, 'He's thinking about getting his first serve in.'
"But I have no idea what he's thinking, really, and neither does Donald. He might not be thinking about anything. Or he might be thinking that he's got to make a payment on his house."
Amaya and Teacher last played in the U.S. Pro Indoors at Philadelphia in January. Teacher led, 6-4, 5-4, 40-0 -- triple-match-point on his serve -- and lost, 7-5, in the third set. "Somehow I won that match," says Amaya, "but I don't hae any idea how."
The conventional wisdom is that such a past experience has residual psychological benefits for a player... that when a match gets tense, he will remember this past superiority, no matter how slight. Was this in Amaya's mind at 4-6, 4-4, 0-15 yesterday? Or at 5-6 in the final set, serving to save the match?
"I don't remember exactly what was going through my mind at those times, but it definitely wasn't Philadelphia," said Amaya afterward. "That is past history. It's gone."
It is amazing what little distractions can turn the outcome of a close tennis match: a flash bulb in the stands such as disturbed Teacher yesterday; an unraveled grip, such as troubled Amaya, or a breakdown in officiating, which infuriated both players. None of these proved decisive in this case, but the offciating might have been.
In the third set, when the match was its tightest, the umpire lost track of the score several times. A service linesman forgot to shift from one end of the court to the other as the players changed ends until Amaya barked at him to "wake up." The net judge, whose primary duty is to detect with ear and finger the vibrations of a serve that ticks the net, missed such a "let serve" that practically everyone else in the building heard. He forgot to place his hand on the net.
This occurred with Amaya serving at 43, needing only to "take care of his knitting," as Arthur Ashe puts it -- that is, to hold his serve the rest of the set -- to win the match. The net cord serve in question was returned by Teacher and called a winner, even though the return appeared to be long. The umpire awarded the point to Teacher, giving him advantage.Amaya eventually lost the game, leveling the set at 4-4.
Amaya has become a mature, self-contained player, as he demonstrated last year by beating Italy's No. 1 ranked player, Corrado Barazzutti, in Rome's madhouse Foro Italico. But this episode taxed his patience.
"I try to keep my wits about me. The only thing I ever really get upset about anymore is when I think an umpire is blowing the match, like today." he said.
"I thought we were having a great match, well-played, and then all these things started happening in the third set. It just totally ruins the flavor of the match for the spectators and the momentum for the players. I had to tell myself for two games to forget about all that nonsense and play."
Teacher heard the "let serve" that was not called, but he said nothing as Amaya argued, walking in wide circles and putting his racket in his mouth for safekeeping.
Borowiak, up in the stands, said that Amaya should ask Teacher, "Did you hear a let?"
"I don't like to do that," he said later. "It's not up to Brian to make the call. He's just playing the match like I am, and shouldn't have to make calls in my favor. We've just got to abide by the rules and go by the calls, bad as they may be.
"Otherwise you might get to 6-all in the tie breaker and have another bad call. Do you ask how he saw that one, too? You can't have that in sports. You can't have some basketball player say, 'You know I didn't foul you; tell the ref.'"
Physically, Teacher prepares for his matches as carefully as any player. He does stretching exercises and yoga. He watches his diet. He stays limber. "He is as much in touch with his body, muscles, as anybody I know," says Borowiak.
Mentally, does he prepare as well? Did he devise a game plan for Amaya?
"Not particularly. I know how he plays. I know pretty much how I'm going to try and play," Teacher said. "I know enough not to sit there and serve to his forehand all day, so I guess you could call that thinking about strategy. But you don't have to give it much thought when you know somebody's style."
Amaya had a different view.
"I was amazed that he served so much to my backhand -- maybe 85, 90 percent of the time. The rest of the time, he was serving straight into my body. I could count in one hand the number of times he served wide to my forehand," said Amaya.
"I think when it came down to the crunch, the difference was that I mixed it up more. I served some to his forehand, some wide to his backs hand, a few at him, a few at threequarters pace. I had the feeling that on a couple of big points, when he tried to run around second serves and hit forehands, he didn't know quite where I was going, and that was the difference between him making it and missing it.
"Meanwhile, he kept serving me the same way every time. I knew just where he was going to serve every time, just about. If you keep giving a good player the same thing, he's going to get on it after awhile. It's like a pitcher giving a good hitter the same pitch again and again. Eventually, he'll hit it."
It all came down to one crucial point in the final tie breaker, Amaya serving at 3 points to 2. Twice Teacher tried to pass him with backhands down the line, and twice Amaya blocked backhand volleys back down the line. On the third, Amaya went cross-court with his volley, but mishit it slightly. Teacher had a wide-open forehand passing shot. He was in position, but knocked it a foot long, making the score 2-4 instead of 3-3. He lost the tie breaker, 7-3.
"I thought the point was gone," admitted Amaya, "and that would have made a world of difference."
"I can't believe Brian missed that forehand. He makes that one every time in practice," said Borowiak.
"I guess that's the difference between practice and a match," Teacher said forlornly. "I made the right play, I just didn't hit it, I didn't execute. It wasn't a hard shot at all. I just waited for the ball a little too long instead of stepping out to hit it."