Bjorn Borg performed his customary ritualistic slaughter of Corrado Barazzutti and Harold Solomon extended his surprising mastery over Guillermo Vilas on European clay today to reach the semifinals of the French Open tennis championships.
On a scorching, brilliantly sunny afternoon that made the center court at Stade Roland Garros dry and dusty, Borg continued his career-long domination of Barazzutti, 6-0, 6-3, 6-3, in barely 90 minutes. Solomon overcame Vilas, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6, 7-5, in 3 1/2 hours of trench warfare characteristic of their sweat-and-guts rivalry.
Solomon, 27, is a much better and more aggressive player than in 1976, when he was runner-up here to Adriano Panatta, but he knows he has little chance in Friday's semifinals against Borg, the only player he really doesn't think he can beat. "We play basically a similar style," Solomon says, "but he's stronger and quicker, the only player who really physically dominates me. I don't have many weapons to hurt him."
Solomon says he and his coach, Paul Cohen of Los Angeles, have developed a new strategy but nothing short of tying the Swede's shoelaces together is likely to reverse the pattern of utter futility Solomon has experienced in 15 career meetings with Borg.
With Solomon joining Jimmy Connors and Vitas Gerulaitis in the semi-finals, there are three Americans in the semis for the first time since 1954, when Tony Travert, Art Larsen and Budge Patty made it. Trabert won the title that year and the next, but no American has won since.
Connors will play Gerulaitis on Friday. The men have a day off Thursday as the women's singles semifinals take over the center court.
Defending champion Chris Evert Lloyd will play talented teen-ager Hana Mandlikova, who took a set from her in the Italian Open, and 1978 champion Virginia Ruzici will face Dianne Fromholtz for places in Saturday's women's final.
Borg, who will celebrate his 24th birthday Friday, is even a heavier favorite to win the world's foremost clay court title for an unprecedented third straight year and fifth time overall now that Vilas is out. The Argentinian left-hander is the only player to have beaten Borg on clay since 1976, having done so last month in Dusseldorf.
Borg has lost no sets and only 27 games in five matches here. He was in devastating form today for the first eight games and by that time Barazzutti already was a beaten man.
The Italian No. 1 whom his countrymen call soldatino (Little Soldier) usually surrenders to Borg even before they go on court. He has never beaten him, never even come close.
Borg lost only six points in the first set -- one of them on a double-fault, four on unforced errors. They played 18 minutes before Barazzutti hit a winning shot, a forehand cross-court pass in the sixth game.
In building a 6-0, 2-0 lead, Borg was about as flawless as a human being can be. "I played perfectly. I didn't miss a ball," he said.
Time and again he whistled forehand winners past the shellshocked Italian. Left with no choice but to go to the net, Barazzuitti charged -- and Borg blistered passing shots that dusted the lines. It didn't take long for Barazzutti's sullen expression to change to one of abject frustration.
Solomon and Vilas played in the brutal midafternoon heat. The stadium filled to its 17,000-seat capacity, a cauldron populated by bare-chested men and women dressed as scantily as they dared in the presidential tribute where VIPs congregate. Straw safari hats were passed out to guests, making them look like so many colonial chiefs.
The umpire stoically kept on his green blazer of authority but the linesmen all removed their jackets and several loosened their ties. The players, meanwhile, rolled up their sleeves, for what they knew would be a long match.
Vilas is currently ranked No. 4 in the world and Solomon No. 6. Slow, red clay is Vilas' native surface, and his best. But, surprisingly, he never has beaten Solomon on it. He has lost to him three times here and in the final of the German Open last month, where Solomon prevailed in a 4 1/2-hour five-setter.
Solomon started miserably, losing nine of the first 11 games. He served poorly and was spraying his forehand, engaging Vilas in baseline rallies and almost invariably making the error first.
But from 1-3 down in the second set, he started to turn the tide. After winning four straight games to lead, 5-3, in the second, Solomon lost his serve and had to break again for the set.
"I just hung in there, and all of a sudden things started to fall into place for me," Solomon said. "I really felt tired in the first set, but as the match went on I got stronger and stronger. I felt great until 2-0 in the fourth set, when I started getting cramps in my legs and hand, then I had to start for shots because I was getting cramps on every point. But all of a sudden, they went away when I served to save the set at 4-5."
Vilas led, 5-3, in the third set, and had one set point, but Solomon saved it with a forcing backhand down-the-line screamer. From that moment, he ran off 10 straight points, but Vilas held serve to force a tie breaker that was really the pivotal point of the match. Solomon played it superbly, whacking two fine backhand passing shots to jump out to a 4-1 lead and won it, 7 points to 3.
With the score 2-2 in the fourth set and Vilas trailing, 0-15, Solomon clipped over a neat cross-court forehand to pass the recently-crowned Italian Open champion. Vilas, knowing something was wrong with the ball, asked thke ball boy to throw it to him, then walked over to the umpire to show him the ball had broken. The official said the point should be replayed.
The crowd started jeering and booing, refusing to allow the game to continue. Vilas then served deliberately into the net for a double fault to make the score, 0-30.
The crowd cheered. Vilas lost the game, which lasted 18 minutes. Although he broke Solomon's service later, Vilas never really recovered from his sporting gesture.
"What happened happens. There's nothing you can do," the philisophical Vilas said afterwards. "You try your best, and maybe somebody doesn't like you. In 1977, when I won here, everybody was for me. Tomorrow, you don't know."
Solomon led, 4-2, in the final set but played a terrible game to lose his service for 4-4. Then he broke the tiring Vilas for 6-5 with four fine shots, two that forced errors and two clean winners, including a backhand down the line on break point, and served out the match.
Asked why he has such a good record against Vilas, Solomon recalled the first time they met -- the French Open here in 1972, when both players were new to the circuit and traded moonballs -- high-arching topspin loopers that one observer that day termed a threat to low-flying sparrows.
"The match lasted from 11 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon. All we did was hit the ball 8 million feet up in the air. He had me two sets to love, and I beat him five," Solomon recalled today.
"Since then, he's beaten me a lot of times, but I've had good success against him. I think maybe I have a little mental edge in the big matches."