In the first row at the D.C. National Bank Classic, about a stone's throw away, sat Nick Bollettieri in a yellow and blue shirt, gold watch glistening in the bright lights. Jimmy Arias, who learned his tennis at Bollettieri's tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla., never plays a tournament without him.
Bollettieri flew in from Wisconsin, where he was visiting his wife, to see Arias play Jose-Luis Clerc in the finals last night.
"Jimmy and I talked about everything before the match," said Bollettieri. "I told him to be more aggressive, to hit his balls deeper. In the first set Jimmy was lackadaisical."
When Arias led, 5-1, in the second set, after having dropped the first one, 6-3, Bollettieri, like a mother hen, sensed that Arias' moment, the time when championships are won, was now.
"If he could have won that set 6-1, it would have made the tempo different. Luis made three excellent service returns. If Jimmy had won there, I think he would have won the match."
In that decisive sixth game, Clerc hit a backhand winner off Arias' second serve to tie the game at 15. Next, Arias pulled a backhand wide. Clerc then hit a forehand down the line that Arias could barely get his racket on. Finally, Clerc won the game with another forehand winner.
Although Arias finally won the set, 6-3, the opportunity to topple the fearsome Clerc was lost in the still black night.
The third set began on a painful note for Arias. He started getting a leg cramp.
"It didn't hamper him that much. But, the set was over after he lost the first game of the third set," Bollettieri said.
"Jimmy lost his concentration in the third set. He went mentally, which is worse than physically. It was a hell of a match," Bollettieri said.
Bollettieri felt that Clerc played too magnificently for Arias to win. "He didn't just make good shots, rather, he was hitting great shots, getting balls back that force the opponent (Arias in this case) to make the next shot a little bigger. He was creating errors."
Did Bollettieri learn anything from the match?
"I picked up a few things: Jimmy is a little late recovering when balls are hit wide to his backhand. He also had to hit too many forehands on the run. His forehands usually don't come back. Tonight they did."
While Arias is watched by Bollettieri, Clerc travels with his coach, Patricio Rodriguez. Rodriguez sat on the first row to the side. At one point a wayward Arias racket almost hit him.
Still, he saw enough to make him smile about Clerc's second Grand Prix victory in a row.
Rodriguez claimed that there was no prematch strategy. "Jose can control the match when he plays like he can play. The ball goes where he wants it to," he said.
"We can say there wasn't too much strategy. He played his best tonight."
Rodriguez was pressed about the lack of strategy. "All I want is for Jose to hit the balls deep, stay cool, don't lose your temper. Sometimes he gets nervous, like tonight at the end of the second set."
Rodriguez felt that Arias grew so tired from coming back from 1-0 (in sets), that "he wasn't 100 percent after that. He couldn't keep it up. Then, after the second game (of the third set, when the ball hit the tape and fell back), he was down."
For Rodriguez and Clerc, it was all in a day's work.
"I'm happy," said Rodriguez. "Tonight, I'm happy."