There are a lot of young players who are great until it is time to close out a match," says Arthur Ashe, the former U.S. Open champion. "They have to go through that transition period when they learn to put the higher-seeded player away once they have him on the ropes."
On the fourth day of the Open, two young players, Chip Hooper, ranked 27th in the world, and Tim Mayotte, ranked 28th, faced that situation. Both played great tennis. Only Hooper was able to close out the match. But Mayotte had the harder task. He lost to Ivan Lendl, the No. 3 seed, in the best match of the tournament, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4.
It took Hooper 4 hours 20 minutes and 61 games to defeat Roscoe Tanner, the 16th seed, 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4).
There were so many good matches today, it was fitting that 20,738 people showed up, an Open record for single-session attendance. Many of them saw John McEnroe, No. 1 seed, struggle past Martin Davis, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-3; Jimmy Connors, No. 2 seed, ease by Hank Pfister, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2; Martina Navratilova, No. 1 seed, figure out Jill Davis, a woman she had played before only in basketball, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2. And, in the final match of the night, Guillermo Vilas (No. 4) beat Marcos Hocevar, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.
Many fans crowded into the grandstand to watch Hooper and Tanner, two large men with large serves, who had 33 aces between them (Tanner had 24). They traded glares, stares, tie breakers, and then the third and fourth sets.
In the fifth set, at 5 all, 30-30, with Tanner serving, and planted at the net, Hooper whistled a shot at his abdomen. Tanner, disquieted, lost the next point and it was break point.
Hooper offered no apology. "It gets me a little angry when the guy has a full court to hit in so he blasts it at me," Tanner said. "Maybe he doesn't like me."
But Hooper netted a backhand and it went to deuce. Finally, three points later, Tanner held. Hooper followed suit and they went to a tie breaker for a third time.
Hooper took a 3-0 lead and at 6-4, a backhand sailed as long as the match had lasted. Hooper took his racket, raised it over his head, and spiked on the Decoturf court, the first two-handed spike in tennis history.
As good as the match was, the confrontation between Lendl, who is seeking his first Grand Slam title, and Mayotte, who lost to McEnroe in the semifinals at Wimbledon, was better. Billie Jean King says she loves playing here because "New Yorkers get involved."
The New Yorkers who jammed the grandstand were not involved, they were committed. They roared for Mayotte at every opportunity (and at some inopportunities). Although he lost, Mayotte said, "Playing out there with that kind of crowd is one of the highlights of my tennis career."
Certainly, the match was the highlight of the Open to date.
It began late Thursday night on center court. Lendl was ahead, 6-4, but down a break in the second set, when the rains came.
The match resumed at 5:21 this afternoon, and with it Mayotte's confidence. "I got a feeling last night, he wasn't playing as well as during his streak," Mayotte said.
Mayotte went on to win the half-completed set, the next one. At 4 all in the third, Mayotte broke with a forehand cross-court winner. He held to win the set.
The fourth set went to a tie breaker and Mayotte quickly took a 2-0 lead when Lendl unaccustomedly came in behind his serve and netted a backhand volley on the first point, and made an unforced error on the second.
But Lendl tied it at 3 and then at 4 with an ace. He won the next three points and the set, the final point on a piercing backhand return of serve.
In the fifth game of the fifth set, Mayotte saved a break point, but in the seventh game, he yielded to the pressure. Lendl hit a forehand winner from the base line to make it break point. Mayotte, who got in 58 percent of his first serves, missed one. Mayotte could do nothing with Lendl's strong return of his second serve.
Lendl had the break, but the crowd would not give him one. When he came out to serve for the match at 5-4, the crowd stood for Mayotte. Lendl quickly went ahead, 40-0. Two unforced errors and a double fault made it deuce. A service winner gave Lendl the advantage, but on the next point Mayotte made a wonderful, low backhand return and it went back to deuce. He stood at the base line jumping three feet in the air.
On his sixth match point, Lendl came in behind a short ball. Mayotte tried to pass him with a forehand down the line. It went long. The sun set for the second time, the last time, on the match.