Under a brightening moon at the end of another dark/stormy/sunny day at Wimbledon, Jimmy Connors heard someone roar from the far reaches of Court 1, "C'mmmonnn, Gitlin!"
By and by, the old champion would beat the properly anonymous Drew Gitlin in four sets, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5, 7-5, to stay on the scent of John McEnroe, who sounded his first subtle warning of the fortnight after obliterating Lloyd Bourne on Centre Court, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0.
That five more men's seeds--Gene Mayer (No. 6), Brian Teacher (11), Mark Edmondson (12) and Roscoe Tanner (14)--won easily made little difference. And while no one will miss Brian Gottfried (13), upset by Nick Saviano in five sets, the tournament lost its box-office strong man, Chip Hooper.
An upset winner over the eighth seed last week, Hooper botched three volleys in the 20th game of a marathon fifth set to lose to New Zealander Russell Simpson, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, 6-7, 11-9.
All the favored women won today, with Chris Evert Lloyd, Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger, Nos. 2-3-4, singing the same song: nice workout against patsies today, see you in the semis.
Gitlin, 185th on the pros' computer rankings, had to win three qualifying matches to get in the 128-player draw here. He is 24, a Californian in his first year on tour, a winner of only one tournament match before this Wimbledon fortnight. Yet when the roar came down from the darkness under the Court 1 stadium roof, Gitlin had taken Connors deep into a fourth set and if the customers didn't know his first name they knew that here, after a week of rain, was the stuff they came to see.
"That's not very British of you," Connors shouted back in good nature, later admitting he loved the moment as remindful of New York City and, in his best British impression, said he imagined the sedate Wimbledon customers saying to each other, "Where'd that animal come from?"
Perchance the chap was only a Brit so moved he violated centuries of congenital decorum, for Gitlin's inspired work to that point on this day thrice interrupted by rain had gained him a 4-all tie in the fourth set. Quick around the court and serving so well that even Connors, the best returner alive, couldn't do much with either the first or second serves, Gitlin rose to his finest moment in the second-set tie breaker.
Once up 5-2 in games that set, Gitlin, who later confessed to being nervous on court with "one of the greatest players of all time," worked his way to 6-6 in the tie breaker. He made it 7-6 with a first-serve winner to Connors' backhand, and closed it out with a backhand volley off Connors' weak return of a second serve.
Connors won the third set at 7-5, doing it by breaking Gitlin's serve with two last points that were winners against anyone. Off Gitlin's second serve, Connors hammered a return so strong that Gitlin, stumbling, could only get it weakly back. With Gitlin off balance, Connors sent an exquisite backhand lob to the corner. Connors ended the set by again picking on Gitlin's second serve. This time his crashing forehand practically untied Gitlin's shoelaces.
About here, down two sets to one against a certified merciless winner, a properly anonymous rookie might sheathe his racket and steal off into the gloaming. But Gitlin, to the delight of the 5,000 in attendance at Court 1, stood in against Connors so long the shining half-moon rose high by the time Connors served at 5-all in the fourth set.
It was, by then, 9:21 p.m., and Connors would say later of the falling darkness, "I was more or less going on instinct. The last three or four games, it was pretty rough. You'd lose sight of them high and lose them low."
Two minutes later, after a screaming overhead, a forehand to the far corner and two first-serve winners to the forehand, Connors had a 6-5 lead. And four minutes later, on Gitlin's serve, it was 30-all when Gitlin somehow returned a heavy forehand only to have Connors go cross court with an unreachable forehand volley.
"It was very difficult," Gitlin said of the darkness. "If I put the first serve in, I was all right. But Jimmy just crushes returns, and that was hard to handle."
Match point was a backhand return of Gitlin's second serve, after which, as the players walked off the court together, the customers gave them a standing ovation, perhaps the first of this nothing-much-is-happening tournament.
"I was not very good today, I struggled with everything," Connors said later. "My serving wasn't good, and my returns weren't as firm as I'd like them to be. Lazing around for three days between matches didn't help any. Now I feel like I'm back in the tournament."
So does McEnroe again have a thrill-of-the-hunt feeling after his virtuoso performance against Bourne? It's been nine months since he last played well, McEnroe said ("when I beat Borg in the Open").
"I haven't been happy with the way I'm playing," he said, "but I'm getting closer."
As warnings go, this is no siren at a thousand decibels. But for 10 days, McEnroe has seemed mostly worried about his behavior. Nothing untoward has gone on, though, and his dissection of Bourne today was done as precisely as brain surgery.
"I'm starting to feel the ball better," McEnroe said, an understatement to anyone who saw his match's last point.
Off Bourne's cross court forehand hit softly to the corner, a sprinting McEnroe flipped a backhand lob to the diagonal corner, the ball bouncing at the intersection of the lines.
Hooper's talent is yet one-dimensional. He is the 300-strikeout pitcher who walks 300, too. His 150-mile-per-hour serve handcuffed Simpson in today's one-set completion of a delayed match, but he never could handle the New Zealander's net game and so couldn't get a service break.
And, finally, the weak link in Hooper's game broke. Up 30-15 on his serve, Hooper sent a forehand volley long following in his second serve. Then Simpson, digging the serve out of his ribs with an awkward backhand, hit a winner cross court before the 6-foot-5 1/2 Hooper could get his balance back.
The match ended when Hooper netted a forehand volley of Simpson's block return of first serve.
Hooper was disconsolate afterward. A spot on the U.S. Davis Cup team might have been his had the 23-year-old Californian won two more matches here.
"It was just disgusting," he said. "That guy, that's probably the best he'll play all year . . . I thought I'd get to the semis. The final. Maybe win. This is not what I expected. I knew I could do well here, and I didn't. I missed three volleys in one game. That's all there is to it."