The winds came and blew away all the pyrotechnics. After all, you can't argue with a gale. The squalls of temper that dominated John McEnroe's quarterfinal match were replaced by a swirling, gusting cross-court wind that blew Guillermo Vilas off the court.
McEnroe won, 6-1, 6-1, and will play Vitas Gerulaitis in an all-Long Island final in the Mercedes Tournament of Champions Sunday at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. Gerulaitis, who beat McEnroe in the final of this tournament in 1980, defeated Johan Kriek, 6-2, 7-5. It, too, was an unusually temperate match from two men who are not known for their sunny on-court dispositions. "Both of us tried to keep our cool because there really was no point in complaining," Gerulaitis said.
In the eighth game of the second set, Kriek had three break points but squandered them. At 5-all, he lofted a backhand long on break point, giving Gerulaitis the edge he needed.
Gerulaitis volleyed well, moved well, on the Har-Tru court, one of his favorite surfaces. He said he had never seen McEnroe play so well on it.
McEnroe's match was an odd one--only the third time he has beaten Vilas on a slow clay-like surface--and wind had lots to do with it.
How bad was it? McEnroe, who questioned only one call, said, "It was so windy, they couldn't have heard me if I did. It was chaos out there."
How disconcerting was it? With McEnroe serving at 1-0 in the second set, Vilas went to place himself for a second serve, mis-hit the ball and watched, along with McEnroe, as it bounced safely inside the base line. McEnroe waited and hit a forehand cross court. Vilas planted himself again, waiting where the ball ought to have come down. It didn't. When it finally landed, five feet from where he expected it to, he lunged and missed. It was a portent for the rest of the match. "I thought it was going to go into the stands on a fly," McEnroe said. "It got caught in a swirlwind. All I did was pitter patter it back. It was crazy and I think he was thrown off by that."
Usually, in a fierce wind, a top-spin player like Vilas has an advantage. Top spin keeps the ball in the court. "Not in a wind like this," said Vilas, who made 27 unforced (wind forced?) errors. "When you are a touch player like him and the ball moves, you just go with it. We have to be set and then hit hard. Every time I was there to hit a ball, I couldn't. I had to be moving all the time, then I lose my power."
What made it so difficult was that it kept changing. McEnroe, so quick on his feet, so deft with his shots, was able to wait until the last split second, adjust to the wind, and make his shot. He was patient: with himself and the elements. "He was playing, with no power, let the wind take care of it," Vilas said.
Things didn't start so well for McEnroe, who has been playing so well of late (beating Ivan Lendl in the final of the WCT championship in Dallas last week). His first serve abandoned him. He missed five of six in the first game; 13 of 18 in the third game. He served only 41 percent for the set.
The turning point in the set came in the second game, Vilas' advantage. McEnroe's forehand return landed long. "One all," umpire Charles Beck called.
But lineswoman Nancy Epting had changed her mind and the call without telling anyone. She decided the return was good. McEnroe, who questioned only one call all day, waited before pointing this out to Beck: "I didn't want everyone to think I was questioning calls," he said.
Belatedly, Beck instructed the players to replay the point. Vilas double-faulted to go to deuce, and netted a forehand to give McEnroe the advantage. It went to deuce again but Vilas netted a backhand. This time McEnroe seized the advantage.
It was a long all-court point. McEnroe showed the patience that he must have to win on clay. He rallied with Vilas, his ground strokes looking stronger with his new graphite midsize racket. He waited for the opportunity. And when it presented himself, he sent a forehand cross-court shot wide to Vilas' forehand. Vilas barely reached it and McEnroe led, 2-0.
Four times Vilas had break points in the next game. The fourth time, McEnroe screamed at himself, "Get serious."
And he did. He won the next three points and the game. He broke in the fourth game at love. Vilas won only five points the rest of the set.
The winds got worse; McEnroe got better. His serve improved; his passing shots became deadly. He made only eight unforced errors in the set. At 2-1, 30-all, with Vilas hitting out, trying hard to get back in the match, McEnroe served two service winners. He had two more in the sixth game. In the seventh, Vilas double-faulted to end the match.
McEnroe, who strained his right thigh muscle this week, said he will decide in a week whether to enter the French Open, where both his leg and patience would be sorely tested.