Yannick Noah defeated Jimmy Connors for the first time in his career last night to advance to the final of the D.C. National Bank Classic at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium. In a match that promised everything, the result almost met expectations, Noah providing the brilliance and Connors the controversy.
Noah, seeded third, served 11 aces, including four in the fifth game of the final set, to beat Connors, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. It was Noah's first victory against top-seeded Connors in six meetings over five years, and demonstrated the Frenchman's comeback from the last injury-prone season.
"Every time I've played him, maybe I haven't played well and he did," Noah said. "Today, things didn't go so good for him."
In the other semifinal, Argentina's Martin Jaite defeated friend and countryman Marcelo Ingaramo in three attention-grabbing sets. He will meet Noah in the final tonight at 7 o'clock.
It was a match marked as much by camaraderie as it was by drama. Jaite won the last two games of the third set in eight straight points to overcome Ingaramo, his roommate this week, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.
"He was tired in the third set and so was I," Jaite said through an interpreter. "I got the advantage in the third and took over. I survived."
Noah's victory might say something about the direction of 32-year-old Connors' career. The man who has won a record 105 singles titles has made eight semifinals this year and lost them all.
"I don't worry about that," he said. "I just continue to play."
It was Noah's 11th ace that effectively ended the match and started the controversy. Noah had broken Connors decisively in the fourth game of the third set. He then held for a 4-1 advantage with the four aces. The last one, however, appeared long and even Noah later said it was out.
Connors yelled as it went by. He approached chair umpire Leon Lipp of Dallas and requested that the mark be checked. Lipp denied the request, Connors said something else and Lipp warned him for obscenity. Connors, incensed, continued to argue on the changeover, and glared at Lipp the rest of the match. He delivered an angry tirade after the match.
"I think he should be kicked out of the game," Connors said. "He wouldn't let the guy come out and check the mark . . . He was screwing us both from the very beginning of the match, the first game. He was sitting up there like King Farouk."
Ken Farrar, chief of supervisors for the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, said: "I think the official handled the match quite well. It's up to him to uphold, reverse or check the mark." The MIPTC fined Connors $500 to boot.
Noah agreed that the serve was "far out." But it came on 40-0 and probably would not have affected the outcome if the ruling had been changed.
"I'm not saying there would have been a different result," Connors said. "I'm not saying that at all."
The decisive service break came in the fourth game of the third set, and it was entirely Connors' doing. He netted a backhand, double-faulted, then netted two forehands to fall behind at 3-1.
"My boy could have played a game that good," Connors said. "I didn't keep too many balls in play."
He held serve after the controversial game but could not break back. Noah held again to go up by 5-2 and broke for a second time to win the match when Connors had three more ground-stroke errors. The final point was a backhand in the net.
"He missed some easy ones," Noah said. "Maybe he was going for the winners, or maybe there was pressure on him. I had nothing to lose."
There were four breaks in the first five games of the second set. Connors finally prevailed with breaks in the second, fourth and eighth games, then held serve to end the set with a gorgeous twisting backhand drop shot.
Neither player could break serve until the seventh game of the first set, when Noah took advantage of four errors by Connors for a 4-3 advantage. Noah extended it to 5-3, surviving two break points in the next game. Connors held serve in five points but couldn't break.
Jaite's victory puts him in his second final in two weeks -- he made the final of the U.S. Pro Championships last week, losing to Mats Wilander -- but this victory was a somewhat difficult one. Ranked 27th in the world and seeded 11th here, he is good friends with Ingaramo.
"Things like this happen," Jaite said. "Somone has to win. But Marcelo was tough. I had to fight for it."
Ingaramo was unseeded and is ranked only 122nd in the world, but apparently not for long. He has made four quarterfinal rounds and two semifinals this year and is vying with Jaite for the role of successor to Guillermo Vilas, whom he beat in two sets Saturday night.
The third set was something of an anticlimax after a frantic first set that included five service breaks, and a tense second set that Ingaramo finally won with a break in the 12th and final game.
Jaite controlled the third set, wearing down Ingaramo, who was still recovering from upsetting Vilas Saturday night. In addition, shots that looked like winners for Ingaramo became routine for Jaite, who may be one of the fastest players on tour.
"He's so fast, and he gets to everything," Ingaramo said. "It's a little demoralizing. It's so hard to win a point against him. He was just too tough."
Jaite broke serve in the fifth game of the final set when Ingaramo hit an easy overhead long. He broke again in the seventh in love, when Ingaramo lost a drop shot duel at break point, for a 5-2 lead.
He held serve in love again for the match. At triple match point, Ingaramo's forehand return fell long, and Jaite had made his second final in two weeks.