It's a good thing tennis isn't a contact sport, because Yannick Noah inflicted a two-set defeat on Martin Jaite last night in the final of the D.C. National Bank Classic that fell just short of bodily harm.
Noah, intimidating at 6 feet 4 and possessing a killer serve, defeated Jaite, a slight 20-year-old playing only the second final of his career, 6-4, 6-3, before a crowd of 6,100 at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium.
Third-seeded Noah, who is ranked 10th in the world, upset top-seeded Jimmy Connors in the semifinals Sunday night. Last night, he overcame a three-game deficit in the first set after Jaite conceded a crucial point that led to a service break for Noah. He went on to dominate the 5-11, 150-pound Jaite, winning the next five games.
It was Noah's second Grand Prix title this year, after a two-year, injury-prone dry spell. He won the Italian Open in May, his first victory since the 1983 French Open.
"I was starting to think I couldn't win," said Noah, who earned $35,700 for winning. "Now I know I can, because I won the Italian and did it again here. I beat some good players."
Noah started slowly, falling behind, 4-1, but recovered when Jaite gave him a gift in the seventh game of the first set. Jaite agreed to play a point over that resulted in a service break, making it 4-3.
Noah held serve to make it 4-4, and Jaite did not win another game until the third game of the second set, Noah breaking serve three straight times. His third break came in the first game of the second set, and he polished Jaite off in the ninth game, the last break coming in four quick points.
Jaite, seeded 11th here and ranked 27th in the world, earned $17,850. He showed impressive foot speed and a good serve that gave him four aces to Noah's one. But he had numerous unforced errors while Noah kept the points short and concise, beating him with high kicking serves and lunging volleys. His deep, powerful topspin was consistently out of the shorter player's reach.
Noah's slow start wasn't particularly unusual; he generally takes his time getting into the match. Jaite broke serve in the second game when Noah mis-hit a backhand, and Jaite passed him with a forehand down the line. Jaite held at love for a 3-0 lead.
But Noah broke in the seventh game to put the set back on serve, and he had Jaite to thank for it. Jaite might have been a little too nice when he gave back a point on a disputed line call. In the end, it wasn't just the point but the set that he gave back.
With Jaite serving at 15-30, Noah's forehand lob was called long. He stalked to the net and demanded the mark be checked. The linesman indicated out again and Noah began arguing. Jaite checked the mark and indicated it was in, agreeing to play the point over.
Jaite's forehand pass went just wide, and instead of 30-30, it was double break point. Jaite had an easy forehand volley on the next point, but he netted it.
Noah held serve at love, with a spectacular leaping overhead on the final point that bounced into the crowd. He broke serve again for his first lead at 5-4 as Jaite made four unforced errors. He held serve at love for the set.
"I saw the ball good on the line, and I said it," said Jaite. "I played too fast after that, I lost my concentration and I had some mistakes. If I had a problem, I think Noah would have said it, too."
Jaite had only one break point in the second set -- in the fourth game -- and Noah killed it with a service winner. Noah broke serve in the first game, which went to deuce twice as they rallied at the net. But two unforced errors gave Noah the break: Jaite mis-hit a topspin backhand into the crowd, then leaped for an overhead he should have let bounce, sending that wide.
Noah held on to the advantage, Jaite unable to find a weakness. Passing shots that had been winners against lesser opponents became easy putaways for Noah. Jaite put himself in the hole in the eighth game by putting two easy forehand volleys in the net, and Noah got triple match point with a forehand volley cross court.
Jaite saved the first match point with an overhead that Noah reached but hit long. On the second, Jaite hit a topspin forehand down the line just long to end the match.
"I'd seen him play 10 or 20 matches so I knew he had a good serve and volley and is very agile," Jaite said. "He has a very good stretch. He's so good with the volley it was difficult."
Noah attributed his poor start partly to his semifinal victory over Connors, who he hadn't beaten in five previous meetings.
"I had a lot of pressure, I was excited, I had everything to win against Connors," he said. "Today, I had everything to lose. I wasn't as pumped up, I had to push myself into the match. Just being there against Jimmy was enough."
Hans Gildemeister and Victor Pecci upset the third-seeded team of David Graham-Balazs Taroczy for the doubles championship, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.