Washington tennis fans who have been spending money to see a succession of one-sided matches in the Washington Star International finally saw a contest to remember last night.
Digging deep after being blown away in the first set, Jose-Luis Clerc fought his way into the final with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Corrado Barazzutti.
Clerc will face Brian Gottfried, who cruised past a tired Gene Mayer, 6-3, 6-2, in the afternoon semifinal in today's title match at 2 p.m.
The Clerc-Barazzutti match was memorable for its tennis and for a succession of arguments over line calls between players and officials. As Clerc's game improved and he began to take control, Barazzutti became more frustrated.
His anger peaked in the eighth game of the final set. Clerc had broken for a 4-3 lead but Barazzutti jumped to a 0-40 lead and looked ready to break back. Clerc saved two of the break points. Then, on successive points, Barazzutti hit deep forehands, both of which were called out by line judge Jim Valli. Barazzutti argued both calls to no avail.
He lost the game, missed a backhand on the next point and for the match a game later.
When the matched ended, Barazzutti, still angry, swatted a ball in Valli's directio, just missing him. Valli walked across the court pointing his finger at Barazzutti. He reported the incident to Dick Roberson, Grand Prix supervisor, who said Barazzutti can appeal the fine to the Men's Pro Council of professional tennis.
The ending marred what was easily the best match of this tournament. It took 2 hours 20 minutes and was replete with long baseline rallies. It was Clerc's ability to get to the net while keeping Barazzutti pinned back that won the match.
Barazzutti played a flawless first set, losing three points on his serve while breaking an erratic Clerc twice. But in the beginning of the second set, Clerc settled into a groove and the match became a dogfight. The fine play was interrupted only when the players argued with the officials.
"The lineman missed two calls at very important points," Barazzutti said, still upset 30 minutes after the match ended. "I hit the ball at the end of the match because I was frustrated. I wasn't trying to hit the linesman. But I was upset. I don't think I did anything to deserve a $500 fine.
"I played well. I don't like to lose that way. When he made the bad call I lost my concentration for a few points because I was upset. The next thing I know, match is over."
Clerc, who has beaten Gottfried in two previous meeting including a straight-set Davis Cup victory for Argentina on clay in April, preferred to discuss tennis, not line calls.
"The first set he played so well I had to change my tactics," he said. "I couldn't just rally, I had to go to net. My stop volleys were great tonight."
Barazzutti said he would appeal the fine but didn't expect any satisfaction.
"It is my word against the supervisor's," the Italian said. "He said I hit the ball hard at the linesman. I did not. The whole thing is very upsetting. I play well and lose a match and $500."
By comparison, the Mayer-Gottfried match was tame, the only controversy arising over the time it was scheduled to begin.
Mayer, outstanding in his rout of Victor Pecci in Friday's quarterfinals, was not the same player yesterday. He had played three sets of doubles Friday night after his match with Pecci and did not leave the court until after midnight. Gottfried had played singles Friday afternoon and two sets of doubles that night.
"I could see that he was getting tried," Gottfried said. "That helped me, made me feel stronger. It helps when you see the other guy not quite getting to balls that he normally gets to.
"He was making errors he doesn't usually make. When you're just a little bit slow getting to the ball like he was, it affects a lot of shots."
The topspin lobs and drop shots that Mayer had used so effectively against Pecci were going into the net or over the end line throughout this match.
Mayer, who said he went to bed at 4 a.m. following his doubles match Friday, admitted he was below par physically.
"It was impossible," Mayer said. "I felt very dizzy out there, especially when I looked up to serve. I kept seeing spots in front of my eyes.
"Brian hits a lot of shots. "It isn't like with some other players where you can play your points fast. You have to hit a lot of balls and rally with him. And you have to be serving well. I couldn't do either."
Following his singles match Friday Mayer had been asked whether he preferred to play in the afternoon or evening Saturday. "I asked for afternoon today," he said, "because it was the lesser of two evils. I figure if I played singles and doubles tonight (Saturday) then I would be in trouble for a final Sunday. The problem is, it's hard to play good singles and play doubles, too."
Television was another factor in the decision to schedule the Mayer-Gottfried match in the afternoon. PSB preferred a match involving two Americans for its telecast.
Donald Dell, the tournament codirector in charge of scheduling, said Mayer is "paying the price really for being a good singles and doubles player.
"You're never going to get a player to play his doubles before his singles and that creates a problems.We don't let players dictate the schedule but we did try to work it out so it would be fair to both players. They both played last night. Gene said he preferred to play in the afternoon, so we put him on in the afternoon. Television was a secondary consideration."
Dell appeared offered when asked about the scheduling. "What is this? Some kind of Watergate conspiracy investigation? We had a simple scheduling problem. Having the worst weather we've ever had here in 12 years didn't help any, you know."
The weather -- hot -- didn't help Mayer, either. He broke Gottfried in the first game of the match, but began to show signs of not being 100 percent midway through the first set. Gottfried got the break he needed for the set in the eighth game when Mayer missed an easy volley, then netted a drop shot.
Mayer again broke early in the second set, going up, 2-0, but that was his last hurrah. Gottfried immediately broke back at love, aided by two Mayer double faults.
Mayer quickly got to 0-30 in the fourth game with a slicing backhand winner followed by a Gottfried error but Gottfried came right back to win the game on three Mayer errors and a service winner. Mayer won just six points the remaining four games of the match.
"The key was right after he broke me, I broke back at love then won my serve after being down, 0-30," said Gottfried." At that point I really felt in control of the match. He was tired and I almost felt stronger. I could sort of see him wilting."
Postscript: Mayer and his brother, Sandy, played their semifinal doubles match against Van Winitsky and Jose Higueras within minutes of Mayer's singles loss. They won, 6-2, 6-4.