It had to be a lob. The most interesting shot of the D.C. National Bank Classic couldn't be one of those laser forehands Yannick Noah was belting by Martin Jaite several yards away, even though the ball was high and almost begging to be slammed. No, something with considerable loft was required for this shot, because it had to clear the boy on a bicycle zig-zagging near the net.
Among the winners at the Rock Creek courts Monday night were the kid in yellow shorts and striped shirt who managed to lift the ball over that silly obstruction and back to his singles buddy in a painter's cap, who then nailed it high and hard -- and out of play.
The public and private parts of tennis are so close at this tournament. In the packed stadium court for nearly a week, such as the stylish Noah were about the business they often do brilliantly. There, breaks in the action included plugs for the official airline, the official beer, the official radio station and so on right down, one imagined, to the official diaper service for some of the prodigies.
Behind the stadium are five courts where tennis is played very enthusiastically, although not very well. Intruders buzz the area on their bikes once in a while, slipping past the nets, as if on some uncommon obstacle course, and then out in search of more merriment. As Noah and Jaite were playing the game at an especially sophisticated level for the championship, a half-dozen women were straining almost as hard simply to hit the fuzzy pellet in the general direction of a patient instructor.
Everybody got something from the show. Noah received $35,700 for winning, Jaite $17,850; sponsors received goodwill and writeoffs; managers urged to learn to count a whole lot better next season and avoid selling more seats than the stadium holds received their handsome fees.
And when all the swag is allotted, well over $100,000 will go to the kid in the painter's cap and the woman who whiffed three straight times on the no-pay courts. Assuming both choose to continue tennis. They will not touch the money directly, but may benefit from it through equipment and teaching.
Is that any way to run a pro tournament?
"Some of our best results (in promoting tennis at the grass-roots level) have come in places you'd least expect it," said Dwight Mosley, executive director of the Washington Area Tennis Patrons. "In Fort Stanton, for instance, there was a corps of maybe 20 kids six years ago. Now there's a player (Joe Ragland) on the pro satellite tour and seven or eight who might go on to college on some sort of scholarship aid.
"Our next goal is to help the (District) high schools, to pay for instructors who might serve as assistant coaches. I've been the executive director just a year and a half, but it's been exciting seeing kids who have gone through the program come back and work at it. Sell it, really.
"And Noah will be such a role model."
Jaite, too, as a sportsman.
At a time he could have used every point, however gained, Jaite threw one back at Noah. Leading, 4-1, in the first set, the 20-year-old Argentine fell behind, 15-30. Then Noah smacked a forehand that a linesman ruled long but Jaite felt was a winner. Noah argued; the linesman stood by his judgment.
That happens all the time in sport.
What followed usually doesn't.
Imagine this had been baseball, that the second baseman actually dropped the ball on a steal but the umpire's view was blocked and he called the man out. Would the fielder, honest and upstanding, fess up this way: "Gee, Mr. Umpire, the ball kinda fell out of my glove down there in all the dust and, well, I just couldn't sleep tonight if I didn't let you know about it."
You will see a major leaguer in such a confessional about the time bats are constructed from noodles. Doubters can call Earl Weaver in Minnesota.
Jaite said to play the point over, a gesture that would be applauded at any time. Under the circumstances -- he lost the replayed point, that game and the next six games -- it seemed close to inspirational.
"I think Yannick would have (done the same thing)," Jaite said.
In fact, he had.
The results, all the way around, were satisfying. A fellow even paid $1,000 at auction for Noah's racket, which will mean some additional balls and lessons for the programs the Patrons sponsor.
"I'm not a player," Mosley admits. "Not even a little bit. And I grew up here from the perspective that this was a basketball town and that kids wouldn't take to tennis. I still go to the Urban Coalition (basketball) games. But to see so many kids on tennis courts is beautiful."
One suggestion, Dwight, about the youngsters who learn from your program and seem obsessed with tennis: Remind them about Arthur Ashe as often as you do John McEnroe, that a player can rise to the top without leaving his manners behind.