Order began taking shape out of chaos today at Wimbledon as both the men's and women's championships were reduced to 16 survivors.
Only five days ago, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club grounds were cluttered with 224 players, the vast majority of them paltry pretenders to the silver plate and cup.
Now, after three full rounds of winnowing, only three kinds of players are left: the great, the hot and the lucky.
Those who remain alive in these championships are a strange lot. After all, 15 of the original 32 seeds are gone, including 10 "gentlemen." Today's victims were No. 9 Jose-Luis Clerc and No. 15 Balazs Taroczy, among the men, and No. 11 Dianne Fromholtz, among the women.
A motley, colorful and unexpected crew has reached Satuday's prestigious round of 16. True, the top three men -- Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors -- won impressively in straight sets this afternoon. But the fourth-through-11th-ranked players behind them have been erased. In fact, McEnroe is the only seed left in the bottom half of the draw.
The eight top-seeded women won today and are expected to win again Saturday, producing an all-chalk ladies quaterfinal.
The most unexpected, but welcome, gate-crasher at this tennis high tea is 34-year-old Stan Smith, who routed Taroczy, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, with what, in New York, might be called a gangland-style slaying. The Hungarian clay court specialist was, so to speak, found dead in the doubles' alley, riddled with volleys. At times, Smith seems to turn back the clock a decade to the era when he was twice the world's top player.
As an added pleasure, Smith will face McEnroe next.
"I didn't expect to win this tournament," said Smith. The 1972 champion, who has been written off year after year as too old, suddenly has begun playing extremely well.
"But now, if I could just beat McEnroe, I'd be lookin' pretty. The path to the finals . . . Well, face it . . . it's never going to be any more wide open."
Most would disregard Smith's chances. Even he says, looking back on his 0-4 record against McEnroe, "I've played pretty well against him and gotten beaten pretty badly."
Nonetheless, only three men have won all nine of their sets here: Borg, Connors and Smith, and only three men have lost fewer total games than Smith's 31: Borg (21), Peter McNamara (25) and Connors (30).
"I won't be bothered by McEnroe's temper," promised the 6-foot-4 Smith. "I've gone through worse guys than that. The stuff he does isn't intended maliciously, except maybe occasionally. He's just a perfectionist. Generally, you like to see a complainer complaining, 'cause it means he's got something to complain about."
Of course, McEnroe has something new to complain about. You didn't think that being young, rich, famous and a 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 walkover winner over Smith's great doubles partner, Bobby Lutz, this afternoon would make him happy?
British radio now has a new hit record, a tape of McEnroe's tirades on Monday, complete with musical background.
"They asked me for my consent to play it," groused McEnroe. "I wouldn't give it. So this morning I hear it on the radio. That figures."
At least McEnroe no longer leads this event in fines. Vile-tempered Fritz Buening, who lost in five sets to Sandy Mayer, has wracked up one charge of "mocking the official" and two citations for "obscene gestures" to nose ahead of McEnroe is punishment pay, $1,550 to $1,500.
Besides McEnroe versus Smith, almost every other men's 16 match has a bizarre or comic twist.
For instance, Borg, after steamrolling Rolf Gehring, 6-4, 7-5, 6-0, will meet his constant, everyday practice partner and personal piegon, Vitas Gerulaitis, who won in five brutal sets over the incredible hulk, Victor Amaya, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Talk about naming your victim, "It's better not to play guys with a big serve. If I play bad, I lose," said Borg, before Gerulaitis and Amaya had played. The 6-7, 225-pound Amaya has a serve the abominable snowman couldn't return with a snowshoe. So, Gerulaitis beat the clumsy monster, just to do his buddy Borg a favor.
And how does Borg do against Gerulaitis? He's 19-0 in official tournaments. The more the once near-great Vitas practices with Borg, the worse he gets smoked. "I must get a new practice partner for one day," said Borg, who has won 38 straight matches here.
Other interlopers besides Smith include: Jeff Borowiak, Paul Kronk (who sent Clerc packing today, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6), Vijay Amritraj, Rod Frawley, 20-year-old John Fitzgerald, Tim Mayotte, Johan Kriek and Francisco Gonzalez.
Borowiak, 31, who once began a regimen of arising at 4 a.m. to practice at the quietest time of day and who began those sessions by sitting cross-legged and starring at a tennis ball for an hour, has interested fans here because he arrives at this ritzy place and departs from it on a $10 rented bicycle. The British have asked him where he pedals on his "bone shaker," but he won't tell them.Borowiak, who plays classical flute and piano and who lost track of the match score in his upset win over Brian Gottfried, meets No. 12 McNamara and figures to depart on his cycle for the last time.
Other spicy or spacey pairings include the meeting of Mayer and Mayotte, both former NCAA champions from Stanford; the all-hot dog showdown between Kriek and Gonzalez, and the all-Australian collision of Frawley and Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, who beat Frawley soundly in their only meeting, could be not only a dark horse quarterfinalist, but eventually an almost unknown semifinalist. Coming from the outback town of Cocaleechie, population 1,500, Fitzgerald first played by hitting a tennis ball off a garage wall with a plastic cricket bat. He learned the game on a 25-year-old home-made asphalt court where he played occasionally has been interrupted to scare red-bellied black snakes off the court.
Fitzgerald left his father's 2,000-acre sheep and cattle ranch at the age of 14 to head for "the big smoke" -- an Australian term for the big city, in this case Adelaide. There, he foresook the 120-degree temperatures on the court his father had built, and where he and his two brothers played, to learn the game from Aussie pro Jack Rose.
While some are simply ecstatic to have progressed so far -- like Kronk, who says, "I'm ranked so low by the computer (95th) that I don't even look at it anymore" -- there are other Saturday battles which may be grudge affairs.
Connors, for one, wants a piece of Wojtek Fibak, who beat him indoors in Philadelphia this year. Also, Betsy Nagelsen, who depressed the British by coming from behind to beat popular Sue Barker, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, has a score to settle when she meets Martina Navratilova.
"After Betsy beat me (earlier this month), I really stuck my foot in my mouth," said Navratilova. "I said, "Well, she wouldn't have beaten me if this were Wimbledon.' So, now I have to play her again. Now I'll have to live up to what I said." $ chris Evert Lloyd striggled in her 6-2, 7-6 win over Lele Forood, a former Fort Lauderdale, Fla., high school classmate. Then she shocked gentle ears by saying, "Court No. 2 is not fit to be played on."
In fact, going to court No. 2, known among players as the Ho Chi Minh trail for its bombed-out, crater-like look, is at least to a tennis player's delicate sensibilities, the equivalent of being asked to play on the glass-littered parking lot at a liquor store.
Mandlikova, the No. 2 seed, says she is taking pills for her lower back pain and has no intention of even trying to make a tough shot until the semifinals. "If I must reach," she said, "then I won't."
Claudia Pasquale, who Thursday ousted 14-year-old Kathy Rinaldi, today made seeded Fromholtz her victim, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Tracy Austin saved three set points in her 6-4, 7-6 win over Susan Leo, while Navratilova looked bewildered in losing a set to Sharon Walsh in a 6-1, 2-6, 6-0 victory. "Before the third set," said Navratilova, "I said to myself, "Why don't you just win this thing 6-love?' And I did."
The easy days are about to end for the cream of the tennis world. They've been munching on strawberries and ice lollies so far. The first taste of tougher fare is just hours away.