At its best, a major tennis championship provides something for everyone. The great names playing great tennis. The old ones showing their grit past their prime. The young ones making a name for themselves. Drama. Major upsets. Pleasant surroundings.
Today, the U.S. Open had everything. Except the major upset. Six days and three rounds into the tournament, and the seeds, with only minor exceptions, are cruising.
But for the Sunday crowd that poured onto the grounds of the U.S. Tennis Center on a gorgeous, breezy afternoon, there still was plenty to enjoy.
There was Jimmy Connors, one day shy of his 33rd birthday, matching Vic Seixas' record of 75 singles victories here with an impressive 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Thierry Tulasne, a talented Frenchman who easily might have won against many other players today.
There was Tulasne's countrymen, Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte, certainly two of the most fascinating players in the game today, each advancing to the fourth round with impressive straight-set victories; Noah over Vitas Gerulaitis, Leconte over Hans Schwaier.
There was drama, provided by Jay Berger, an 18-year-old Clemson sophomore who already is nine days late getting back to school. He reached the round of 16 by beating Brian Teacher, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 7-6 (7-3). Berger, an amateur, is ranked No. 733 on the ATP computer and is playing in his second pro tournament. He saved three set points in the second set and came from a 5-1 deficit to win the fourth set.
Finally, there was the routine: Ivan Lendl's 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 walkover against Horacio De La Pena , and the almost monotonous march of the seeded women into the fourth round.
Martina Navratilova (No. 2) needed 37 minutes to defeat Sandra Cecchini, 6-0, 6-1, and Manuela Maleeva (No. 8), Steffi Graf (No. 11), Catarina Lindqvist (No. 13), Pam Shriver (No. 4) and Zina Garrison (No. 6) all were straight-set winners.
This first week has belonged to the men. Today's combination was a fascinating one: two Frenchmen playing wonderfully; a kid making a name for himself, and an old American whose game always has personified the American work ethic winning 24 hours before that American holiday -- Labor Day.
The French may be the Swedes of the late '80s. Since Noah's emergence in the late '70s, the sport has boomed in France. Here, Guy Forget pulled the upset of the tournament by beating fifth-seeded Kevin Curren in the first round, then lost to Leconte. Leconte, who turned 22 last month, was a quarterfinalist at the French Open and at Wimbledon. And, there is Noah, the old man at 25, who has played impressively in his three matches.
"It all started really with Yannick," Leconte said, explaining the rise of the French. "When he began doing well, more and more young people began playing the game. Then, when we made the Davis Cup final in 1982, that was very important. The next year, when Yannick won the French Open, the sport became huge, very, very big in France."
Whether it is their brash heritage or the training they receive as youngsters, the French play a bold, aggressive style that is wonderful to watch. Leconte always has been thought of as an uncut diamond, brilliant but rough. When he was coached by Ion Tiriac, Leconte was so wild that Tiriac used to call him "the Idiot."
Now, under Patrice Dominguez, Leconte has refined his game. He still goes for winners but not always at the first opportunity. Fewer and fewer balls hit the fence.
Today, against Schwaier, Leconte was a virtuoso. His twisting serve kept Schwaier off balance and his topspin ground strokes kept scorching the lines.
"I am hitting the ball very consistently," Leconte said. "I feel very good about my tennis right now. Each tournament, I am trying to get more consistent. Ever since I beat Yannick in Paris (in May), I have felt very confident."
It may be that some day people will look back at the Leconte-Noah match on a brilliant Sunday afternoon in Paris as a landmark. Leconte blew a two-set lead that day, took a deep breath and overwhelmed Noah in the fifth set, hitting a barrage of winners.
Leconte may have arrived as a world-class player that day. But Noah, hardly a loser in a match that brilliant, certainly hasn't departed. Today, he made Gerulaitis, who is only a bare shadow of what he once was, look silly during a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 romp. All Noah's quickness was there: the spectacular shots, the dazzling lunge volleys.
"I feel very good right now," Noah said. "I think I am ready for tough matches here because I am moving well and feeling confident. This can be a very good tournament for me."
It already has been a dream-like tournament for Noah's next opponent, Berger. Carol Berger, his mother, has been checking out of the St. Moritz Hotel each morning this week, anticipating that her son will be losing and going home. Both Bergers still are here.
Jay Berger has had injury problems throughout his career, numerous shoulder injuries and knee surgery three years ago. Because of his shoulder problems, he serves without drawing his racket back, simply throwing the ball up and reaching up with his racket to hit it.
The style is unorthodox but not ineffective. Teacher, who is 30, got to the third round by upsetting 15th-seeded Scott Davis and undoubtedly thought he had a free ride to the round of 16. But Berger hung tough and also got some much-needed luck.
Teacher, who has been ranked No. 12 in the world, won the first set and led, 6-5, with Berger serving at 0-40. On the first set point, Berger hit an overhead that was going to go out. But Teacher, standing on the base line, couldn't get his racket out of the way. The ball struck the frame and Berger still was in the set.
That seemed to unnerve Teacher. Berger won the next four points to save the game and won the tie breaker, then the third set, with ease. In the fourth, Teacher regrouped, taking a 5-1 lead. But again Berger came back, winning five straight games. Teacher finally held serve to force another tie breaker, but again Berger prevailed, ending the match with a good low return that Teacher netted.
"I've always been taught never give up," Berger said. "That's basically my only goal when I'm on the court. I was lucky to get back into the match the way I did. It's definitely the biggest win of my career."
Connors has had so many victories that keeping track of the big ones and the small ones has become almost impossible. Today, while tying Seixas' record, he put on a vintage performance. Tulasne is yet another of the young Frenchmen inspired by Noah and he, too, whacks the ball at every opportunity.
But Connors, as always urged on by his adoring public, dug in and began teeing off on Tulasne's serve as the match wore on. He broke to win the first set with a hard backhand pass down the line on set point and broke early in the second set.
In the third, with Tulasne serving at 4-5, Connors rolled him right off the court with a dazzling backhand, a lovely drop shot, a low return and -- what else? -- a backhand return that Tulasne couldn't handle.
"The record's nice because it means I've been able to stay around a long time and play a lot of matches," Connors said. "But it's all just part of trying to win the tournament. That's my job this week, to win the tournament. That's still the most important thing."
Connors' job will not be easy. He next faces Stefan Edberg, the stylish young Swede who today overcame a fast start by Brad Gilbert and went on to a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 victory. Edberg has lost his last two matches to Connors but thinks he has an excellent chance here.
"I feel much more comfortable with this surface than I did the last time we played in Montreal," Edberg said. "Playing Gilbert was good for me because he returns well, just like Connors."
Not just like Connors. No one in the history of the game ever has returned like Connors. Monday, he will turn 33. Today, he showed yet again, that like anything with class, age is not necessarily a hindrance.