After he had beaten Jimmy Arias, 6-3, 6-3, in the final of the D.C. National Bank Tennis Classic, Ivan Lendl gazed at the tournament trophy--a 6-foot-6, 600-pound bronze abstract sculpture of a tennis player in motion--and said, "I hope you don't mind if I don't pick it up."
There is nothing abstract about the way Lendl plays tennis. His strokes are vivid and concrete. He is realism in action. His ninth victory this year--his match record is 101-5 since the U.S. Open--came in front of a capacity crowd of 6,000 at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium, and most of those watching were squarely behind his opponent.
Arias, who was playing in his first final as a professional, said, "Even though Mr. Lendl wasn't too nice to me, the crowd was really nice all week."
The crowd total for the week was 82,000, a tournament record.
Any apprehension that Arias would come into the match and simply defer to Mr. Lendl were misguided. In the first set, he gave Lendl, the No. 1 seed and fourth-ranked player in the world who has earned $1,147,650 this year, all he could handle. But in the second set, Arias tired and Lendl and his ground strokes came on strong.
"Being tired after the first set, now you're in trouble," Arias said.
But he gave Lendl trouble early, breaking him in the first game to let him know he was in the match, that it would be a match. He was aided by Lendl's unforced errors, but he won the game with an outright forehand winner, the sort that defeated Jose-Luis Clerc Sunday, and walked off the court with his fists pumping.
Lendl's response was predictable. He broke back, but had to work for it. There were 14 points, four deuces, and Arias saved four break points on the way. On one, Arias showed how mature a 17-year-old can be. He used a drop shot, a defensive lob, deep forehands and finally won the point on a half-volley cross-court drop shot. But Lendl won the game to tie at 1 when Arias made two uncharacteristic unforced forehand errors.
Arias had game points in each of the first four games, and when he squandered two of them, he stomped his feet in anger at himself, the only act that betrayed his age.
Lendl applied the pressure. Arias resisted. Surely Lendl expected him to fold in the sixth game, after six deuce points, four breakers. But Arias was not ready to capitulate. Finally, at 30-30 in the eighth game, when Arias' forehand sailed long, Lendl had another break point. A backhand cross-court winner gave him the break and he served for the set.
At 30-0, Lendl served what first was called an ace. Arias asked the line judge, Norman Fitz, to take a look. Fitz said the serve was wide. Lendl approached Ken Slye, the chair umpire. Slye gave him a first serve because of the delay in the call. Now, Arias approached the chair, asked for the referee. The call stood and Lendl won the game and the set.
"He has a little to learn, not to argue calls that are good and bad," Lendl said. "I hope he will change because he won't have too many friends on the tour."
Arias, who didn't think he had done anything "abnormally bad," said, "I think I've got a lot more friends on the tour than he does."
As he walked back to the base line, Arias flung his towel. Would he throw in the towel in the second set?
Grudgingly. He stayed even with Lendl through four games but Lendl began to assert himself, wearing down Arias. His errors disappeared, the angle on his volleys sharpened. He came in to the net increasingly and that, Arias said, "threw me off."
Lendl gave up only four points on his serve in the first four games. When he had a second serve to work with, Lendl made it work for him. And Arias learned how weak his own second serve is. Lendl broke in the fifth game, but Arias made him play his best, no small accomplishment.
At 15 all, Lendl's forehand took over. It was break point. But Arias retaliated with an ace and a forehand winner down the line. Lendl would not be one-upped by the upstart. Another forehand winner, launched, not hit, gave him break point again, and a backhand chip shot down the line gave him the game.
"I hit hard away from him and he was very slow," Lendl said.
That would have sufficed. But Lendl would not let it go. With Arias serving, ahead 40-0 at 5-3, Lendl pressed his point and his advantage. Time and again, when Arias, ranked 79th in the world, could have/should have relented, he didn't. He had six game points, and when he botched one of them with a mis-hit backhand, he called out, "Gosh darn it."
Arias may not have all the shots, particularly a strong second serve and a stronger backhand. He may not have the experience or the strength--"I'm not as strong as the big boys"--but he has something as abstract as the tournament trophy sculpted by John Safer, the chairman of the board of D.C. National Bank. Toughness. Arias mustered enough self-possession to deny Lendl the match on his first match point, with a forehand cross court winner.
Twice more Arias had the advantage and twice more Lendl brought him back to deuce. On the 18th point, Arias' forehand sailed long and Lendl had a second match point. The end was no longer in doubt, but neither was Arias' mettle. Lendl, who was playing impeccably, pulled him wide with a forehand and back across the court with an equally piercing backhand. Arias ran after it and hit a backhand cross-court winner, his prettiest shot of the night.
Finally, there was nothing left. Arias double faulted and a backhand betrayed him. His first professional final was over. But he had won $16,000. For Lendl, who won $32,000, it was the 12th final this year.
"I feel Jimmy can hang in there with anybody," said his coach, Nick Bollettieri. "He just needs a little experience. This is just the beginning for Jimmy."