For tennis aficionados, it was "joy of doubles" day. A small but eager audience of about 1,000 people -- probably those enthusiasts who couldn't find an empty court themselves -- came in from the warm on the first spring-like Sunday of the year to witness the doubles final of the $125,000 Volvo tennis tournament at George Washington University's Smith Center.
"I'm sure the weather had a lot to do with the attendance. If I lived around here, I wouldn't be indoors today," said Stan Smith, who teamed with longtime partner Bob Lutz for a 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, triumph yesterday over Australian Bob Carmichael and Californian Brian Teacher.
This was a good match that likely would have turned into a rousing one if Carmichael and Teacher, who got steamrollered by a highly efficient machine the first two sets but refused to lie down flat, had won the tie breaker and forced a fifth set.
But Smith made a great half-volley to win the first point of the tie breaker on his serve, and Teacher promptly lost his first two serves to make it 3-0. After that, the deluge came.
Smith-Lutz won the best-of-12 point tie breaker game, 7-0, to win the doubles title here for the third consecutive year. The three-time U.S. Open champions collected $7,500, less than a third of what Roscoe Tanner made for winning the singles championship over Brian Gottfried on Saturday. The runners-up shared $4,500.
Doubles seldom gets the spotlight at any tournament, which is a pity. It is an entertaining game of tete-a-tetes and rat-a-tats: whispers of strategy between partners in the shorthand of the trade ("crossing"... "serving wide"... "lob him"), and eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations at the net, command of which is all-important.
Smith, 32, and Lutz, 31, are masters who have been blending their talents for 14 years, since their days as California juniors and University of Southern Cal teammates.
At their communicative best they make doubles seem like poetry -- not the soft rhyme of Emily Dickinson or Shelley, but free verse, full of flashing images and lyrical power.
When they serve well, as they did yesterday, it is difficult for opponents to penetrate the fortress they create at the net. And with Smith in the right court and Lutz in the left, they have weapons -- powerful returns and fine touch -- capable of putting enormous pressure on anyone.
Lutz held serve with five straight points from 0-40 in the second game of the match, and Carmichael-Teacher didn't have another break point until the sixth game of the third set. That was Smith-Lutz's only really sloppy game, Smith double-faulting to 30-40 and then Carmichael poaching for the second time in the game to drill a backhand volley winner at Lutz's chest.
Teacher, 25, also crossed to win the first point with a forehand volley, then set up his 38-year-old partner with a couple of blistering returns of serve from the left court off his previously erratic backhand side.
"I didn't serve quite as hard that game, and all of a sudden Brian clicked on a few returns," said Smith. "I had been winning points so easily against him that I think I got a bit lackadaisical and figured I could just serve medium pace. He timed a few balls really well, and all of a sudden we were down a break."
Smith-Lutz got to 30-all on Carmichael's serve in the next game, but couldn't get the break back. The underdogs closed out the third set and had Smith on the ropes again at 15-40 in the fifth game of the fourth set.
But Carmichael, nicknamed "Nails" because he used to be a carpenter, might as well have had a hammer in his hand instead of a racket the rest of the game. He mis-hit a backhand return for a pop foul on the first break point, and then Lutz rocketed a forehand volley into his ankle.
After one more deuce, Lutz poached and zapped a killer forehand first volley, and sealed the game with another shot straight at Carmichael.
There were no more break points the rest of the set, and into the tie breaker they went.
"You can just flip a coin in those things," said Lutz, whose backhand returns time and again set up Smith, a monster looming hungrily at the net. "It's just a question of who starts off well, and fortunately, we did."
Smith, serving first, reached out and poked a wonderful half-volley down the line off a good cross-court return by Carmichael Then, with Teacher serving, Carmichael flubbed a soft, angled forehand volley, and Teacher netted a reaching forehand Teacher netted a reaching forehand half-volley off one of Smith's menacing forehand cross-court returns.
Lutz served out the next two points and Carmichael, demoralized by now, lost the last two, enabling everybody to go back outside and enjoy the onset of spring.