Guillermo Vilas survived a three-set struggle and Victor Pecci survived several anxious moments yesterday and they will meet today at 2 p.m. for the championship of the $175,000 Washington Star International tennis tournament.
Vilas had to fight off his determined young countryman, Jose-Luis Clerc, in a match taped for telecast in Argentina, finally winning after 2 hours 20 minutes, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.
Pecci, the 6-4 Paraguayan who is probably the most improved player in the world this year annihilated Eddie Dibbs in the second set to win, 6-4, 6-0.
Afterward, an outwardly calm Dibbs said the Washington tourney had seen the last of the little hustler from Florida. "I'm sorry I lost but I'm glad to be getting out of Washington," said, I'm glad to be getting out of Washington," said Dibbs. Asked to elaborate, he said, "I don't know exactly why, but I'm not too fond of this place. I doubt if I'll be back in this tournament.
Dibbs said even if he had won the tourney, he would not have returned to defend his title. Dibbs, who has played here the last seven years, is represented by Donald Dell, cochairman of the tournament.
Washington had little to do with Dibbs' problems against Pecci. The 23-year-old was all over the court, controlling the net from the beginning and serving well throughout the match, with nine aces and numerous service winners.
"I served well tonight," said Pecci, who understands most questions asked in English but inisists on answering in Spanish through an interpreter. "I was surprised that the second set was so easy but Dibbs wasn't hitting the balls as deep as he did in the first set."
The turning point in the match came at 4-4 in the first set. Pecci had started the set in sparkling fashion, allowing Dibbs only five points the first four games. But then Dibbs rallied, running off four games himself, and clearly had the momentum.
At 4-all Dibbs had two break points. First, Pecci hit a blooping backhand passing shot for a winner off a weak Dibbs overhead. Then Dibbs netted a forehand.
Pecci, pausing between points to look at his coach, Tito Vasquez, for advice and encouragement, came out of the game to lead, 5-4.
Dibbs got to 40-30 the next game but promptly made two unforced errors to give Pecci set point. Usually able to dig down a little deeper on big points, Dibbs double-faulted for the only time in the match and Pecci had the set.
That was it for Dibbs. Pecci seemed to hit the tape with almost all of his ground strokes the second set and Dibbs had no answers. It was over in 21 minutes.
"i just didn't have the patience to stay out there," said Dibbs, who beat Pecci in the Forest Hills Invitational a week ago."I wasn't patient enough."
Dibbs agreed that the turning point came at 4-all. "If I had won the game. I think I would have won the first set and things might have turned out just the opposite," he said. "When he won the first set, it gave him confidence. He played better and I played a little worse."
Pecci concurred. "That was a key game for me," he said. "Dibbs was playing very well at the point. After that he wasn't quite the same."
It was not as easy for Vilas, Argentina's national hero, who suddenly finds himself being challenged for supremacy in his home country by Clerc, a curly-haired 20-year-old topspin artist.
But when the draining match was over today, Vilas was still No. 1 in Argentina as he wore Clerc down with his consistent shotmaking.
"I got tired a little the third set," Clerc said. "He was playing better so I could not come to the net as in the second set."
From the outset, it was clear to most in the crowd at the sun-drenched Rock Creek Tennis Stadium that Clerc would have to be the aggressor to have a chance.
Vilas, who whipped Clerc in straight sets in their first three career meetings, consistently hit his ground strokes deep, his top-spin shots forcing Clerc to jump up to hit his returns.
"I was hitting the ball very well today," Vilas said. "My ground strokes have been good all week but today they were better. They had to be because he played very well. He's improved everything since we last played (nine months ago)."
Clerc, who was not steady enough in the first set to stay with Vilas, realized he needed a change in tactics. So in the second set, he began coming to net, shooting for winners.
The change produced shorter rallies and more service breaks, both ways. In fact, after Clerc held serve in the first game of the second set, neither player was able to hold serve the next five games.
Leading in the second set, 4-2, Clerc managed to hold serve, saving a break point with a service winner, then banging in two more serves that set up winning volleys to go up, 5-2.
At 5-3, Vilas had another break point, but again Clerc came up with a big serve, then hit a backhand winner down the line for set - the first he has ever won against Vilas.
"The second set, he played much better than the first," Vilas said. "He was hitting deep and near the lines consistently." Vilas insisted that Clerc's most aggressive tactics made no difference. "He came to net maybe eight times," he said. "What difference does that make in a set?"
The difference was apparent in the third set when Clerc, apparently bothered by the heat and humidity - the temperature at courtside was 96 degrees - stopped coming in and tried to outsteady Vilas as he had done in the first set.
Again, the tactic failed. Vilas seemed to turn on his afterburners after the two had reached 2-2, each holding serve.
He whipped a backhand cross-court winner to get to break point in the sixth game, then kept the ball in play unti Clerc blooped a backhand wide.
All the energy seemed to drain from Clerc at that point and Vilas ran out the match with ease, winning eight of the final nine points, breaking Clerc in the match game - Clerc making three unforced errors at the end.
Vilas and Clerc were cheered on by Argentinians in the stands and the match was taped by an Argentine TV crew to be replayed throughout the country on a delayed basis Monday. CAPTION: Picture, Victor Pecci concentrates on the business at hand in winning effort against Eddie Dibbs. By Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post