Ivan Lendl was making his getaway. He evidently also works on that part of his game, for the escape from the D. C. National Bank Classic Monday night was a whirl of swift and efficient ground strokes. Half trotting, a duffel bag slung over each shoulder, he led by several yards the two stunning bearers of his other necessities of life and a weary fellow toting a box large enough to hold Jimmy Arias.
So intently had Lendl passed fans hopeful of an autograph that the paper all but blew out of their hands. He had done his duty, as he saw it, won and tolerated a brief press conference. That he carefully packed everything in the trunk of a Mercedes around a golf bag and clubs seemed the only reason not to make a citizen's arrest for abuse of manners.
Lendl did hear the question: could he recall the time he had been in Arias' sneakers, surprising everyone--possibly even himself--with sustained excellence and reaching the finals of a rich tournament for the first time in his pro career? Before shutting the door and locking it, lest we wicked Washingtonians bite, he replied:
He was honest at least. In a more civil mood earlier in the week, Lendl had elaborated, explaining that he was so precocious so early that he had whooshed by even the Age of Arias in Tennis without pausing. He went from being the best young amateur in the world, winner of the Wimbledon, French and Italian junior championships in 1978, to 50th on the computer list almost the instant he turned pro.
At 22, Lendl can backhand much of the tinsel of tennis.
Seventeen for nearly three more weeks, Arias soaks in every new experience. He glows with the realization that everything dismissed for tennis for so long might just be worth it. The last week was more a trampoline than a stepping stone for him.
If it's no big deal to Lendl whether he is No. 1, or 1A, in all of tennis, it's as nice as sport gets for Arias to be maybe 38th in the next ATP rankings. So snap a straw in a malt and celebrate the kid going from 78th last week to, ultimately, as high as his body allows.
He won over the crowd in Rock Creek Tennis Stadium before the final against Lendl began Monday night, and then broke Ivan the Terrible in the first set. Lendl, of course, being at 22 vastly wiser and stronger, recovered and won handily.
Still, Washingtonians expect of Arias what Arias seems to expect of himself, fine fortune in all that implies once he stops looking like he either should be an alto in a boy's choir or astride something in the feature at Pimlico.
In three years, he's come a long way; at 5-8 and 130 pounds, he still has a long way to grow.
"He's not a very good all-around player, but he is very tough mentally," said Pablo Arraya of Peru. "The amazing thing is how mature he is for that age."
Arraya the Elder is 20.
Tournament cochairman John Harris takes pride in making room for younger stars on the ascendant. And if they use it as a debutant would a coming-out party so much the better. He is both proud of Arias, and apprehensive.
"To see these players on the way up," he said, also referring to Mike Leach, Jimmy Brown, Rodney Harmon and some others in the field this year, "is what makes it exciting. I think Arias is definitely a top-20 player eventually, but you never know."
Harris was thinking of Billy Martin, who also had an exceptional week here as a youngster but is scarcely twinkling now in the tennis galaxy.
"But he never had any real weapons," Harris added. "Arias has a weapon. He can really hit a forehand. You don't see forehands any better in the game."
You see better second serves from middle-aged hackers. If Arias errs on his first serve, he all but serves the point to his opponent with that dainty followup.
"I learned how weak my second serve was (against Lendl)," he said. "Got pounded. But I wasn't as tight tonight as I was the rest of the week. I'm happy to have done anything, so even if I lost it still was great. But I'm not as strong as the big guys."
Big guy (6-2) Lendl noticed.
"To play in many tournaments in a row," said a man whose endurance is as remarkable as his record, "he must be stronger. He was very tired at the end of the second set. I hit hard away from him and he was very slow and missed it. That is where he can improve the most."
Arias is emotional without being obscene, fiery without being overbearing. Or so it seemed to most fans Monday. Lendl offers the minority opinion:
"He complained about a lot of calls on the line. He'll learn, I hope. Otherwise, he will not make too many friends."
Arias hit that back with his forehand, saying: "I think I have as many friends on the tour as he does."
So they went their separate ways, Lendl in the boorish manner pro tennis never seems able to smack out of a player the way pro golf does and Arias hopeful and still relatively innocent.
"What I'll remember about this week," Arias said, "is all those (ranking) points coming off."