The closest Ivan Lendl came to losing anything last night was when he almost lost his shorts in the first game of the second set of his semi-final match against third-seeded Eddie Dibbs.
It was Dibbs' advantage when Lendl, seeded seventh, retired to the locker room for alterations. He returned, with his game as well as his pants repaired. Lendl served two aces and went on to take the set and the match 7-5, 6-3.
"I just broke this," Lendl said reaching into his pocket for a button. "I don't know what you call it."
Lendl, who celebrated his 20th birthday Friday by defeating top-seeded Rosco Tanner, will play sixth-seeded Victor Amaya today at 1:30 p.m. in the final of the Volvo Tennis Classic.
Amaya, 25, won his semifinal match against Eliot Teltscher, 6-3, 6-4.
Dibbs and Lendl play an "unmistakalbe" game of tennis: both stay back at the baseline, and rely on their ground strokes to produce winners. Last night, mistakes were the unmistakable difference between them.
The usually consistent Dibbs, who is ranked 10th in the world, made 21 unforced errors, far too many, he said.
"I had no idea what I was doing out there," said Dibbs. "I made too many unforced erros, mis-hitting the ball. It's not like me."
In the three games in which Lendl broke Dibbs' serve, Dibbs made eight unforced errors.
Lendl made erros too, 18 of them, many on his backhand, which is by far the weaker of his ground strokes. But 14 service aces, including four in a row in the seventh game of the second set offset them. "I was surprised," Dibbs said. "I didn't think he had that big of a serve."
After trading service breaks in the middle of the first set, Lendl threatened to take the set at 5-4 on Dibbs' serve, but squandered three set points. Down 0-40, Dibbs came up with two of his four aces, and then evened the score. "At deuce," Lendl said, "I shouldn't miss my volley. I should have put it away."
But he did not and Dibbs was back in the set, though not for long. Lendl broke him on his next service.
"It was one of those matches," Dibbs said. "I had no depth on my shots, no feel off the ground. He was always close to breaking my serves, deuce and ad."
Still, Dibbs stayed close until the seventh game of the second set, when Lendl mis-hit a forehand high into Dibbs could not reciprocate. At 15-30, Dibbs came in for a short ball and hit it into the net. On the next point, Lendl mishit a forehand high into the air, and Dibbs smashed it into the net. He lost the game by hitting a very loose backhand over the baseline. t"He played a good match," Dibbs said. "He had me off balance the whole time."
In 6-foot-2 Lendl, the 6-7 Amayawill have someone to pick on who is more his own size. Amaya, who outweighed and outplayed Teltscher in their semifinal match said, "It's abeen one of my better months. I got to the finals two weeks ago (in Denver, where he was runner-up) and this week. Serving at 15-30 in the last game, I couldn't keep my hands steady."
But during the rest of the match he was very steady, making only nine unforced errors, and serving 14 aces, including on the first and last points of the match.
Amaya is so big, his racket looks undernourished. And his serve is even bigger. Teltscher, 5-10 and 140 pounds, stood eight feet behind the baseline to receive it, rocking from foot to foot, as if he was about to run a 50-yard dash.But often, Amaya's serves propelled him backward, and one time off the court surface.
He never was able to break Amaya's serve.
Teltscher, seeded eighth, who has had the flu all week (and a 102-degree temperature Friday night) asked if he could play the night match and was told no.
"I could have used the extra six hours sleep," he said.
"I felt a little slow out there but basically it was just that he played better than me. A big serve is hard to play against.
"I was trying to guess a little on the serve. If I stood in the middle I couldn't react fast enough. If I was a half-step quicker, maybe it might have helped."
The match lasted exactly one hour, but it was decided in the 10 minutes it took to play the last two games of the first set and the first game of the second set when Amaya broke Teltscher twice.