Anders Jarryd never quit. He was 5-2, match point down in the second set today and came back to 5-4. He lunged, sprawled after and chased ball after ball. Andres Gomez was no different. He was always behind, but he kept hanging in. He saved three match points. He kept the Nabisco Masters fans in their seats.
But in the end, Jarryd and Gomez were merely fodder. Gutty and determined, but mere fodder for their opponents, the two best tennis players in the world. Jarryd finally succumbed, 6-3, 6-4, to Boris Becker and Gomez went home a couple of hours later a 6-4, 7-5 semifinal loser to Ivan Lendl.
The straight-set victories by Lendl and Becker before 15,007 in Madison Square Garden this afternoon set up a strong final for Sunday (WRC-TV-4, 12:30 p.m.).
Right now, Lendl, at 25, clearly is the world's top tennis player. He is playing the best, most confident tennis of his life. His nemesis, John McEnroe, has ceased to be a factor since the U.S. Open final and his reputation as a choker has, at least for the moment, been put behind him.
But looming just behind him is Becker. Thursday, after Becker beat him in a superb three-set match, Mats Wilander, the No. 3 player in the world, joked that if Becker gets much better Wilander may consider retirement. For Becker at age 18, the likelihood is that he is only going to get better.
Two months ago, in London, he stretched Lendl to 6-4 in the fifth set before losing. If he is not ready to beat him now, he is not far away.
"It's going to be interesting to see how much Boris has improved in two months," Gomez said. "I think this may be the biggest match in New York in two years. Lendl won the U.S. Open and Boris won Wimbledon, so I think this will be a good match."
With McEnroe embarrassed by Brad Gilbert on Wednesday in the first round, only Wilander had a realistic chance to prevent a Lendl-Becker final. He came close in pushing Becker to three sets Thursday, but came up short. That made Sunday's pairing little more than a foregone conclusion.
"I was very confident playing," Lendl understated. "When I feel I am playing well, I think I have a good chance to win."
The same is now true of Becker, who seems to thrive on pressure. Today, Jarryd, who lost a four-set semifinal to Becker at Wimbledon, broke Becker in the fourth game with a superb forehand return and seemed ready to make a match of it.
But just as he did during his remarkable Wimbledon run last summer, Becker squared his broad shoulders and picked up his game. He ran off the next six games, blasting his own serve and jumping on Jarryd's.
Jarryd, easily the most intense of the Swedes, always looks on court as if he has not slept for a week. His eyes are always open wide as he walks around stoking himself, willing himself not to give in to players bigger and stronger than he is.
Try as he might, Jarryd could not figure out Becker during a 12-game run in which Becker broke him five times. By the time Jarryd knew how serious was his dilemma, he was down 2-5 and Becker had a match point. Jarryd saved it with a service winner and somehow started climbing back into the match.
"In the three other matches I played him (all Becker victories) we never had a normal match," Becker said. "There was always something strange. Today, at the end, I just couldn't win a point at deuce. I aced him eight times, but I couldn't ace him nine times."
Becker managed to keep his sense of humor even when Jarryd was whipping returns past him. Serving for the match, Becker yelled at Jarryd to tell him whether he should serve to his forehand or his backhand. "I couldn't ace him on the deuce court so I asked him if I should serve to his forehand or his backhand to ace him," Becker said. "He didn't answer, so I couldn't ace him."
In fact, Jarryd broke Becker to get back to 5-4 and served to square the set. But a double fault put him in a 15-40 hole and Becker finally got the match over by smacking a net-cord forehand that hopped over Jarryd's head for a winner. Jarryd smiled, the smile of a man who knows he has done his best but never really had a chance.
Gomez undoubtedly felt the same way. He got into the tournament only because Jimmy Connors withdrew with the flu, and had to break a dinner date with the president of Ecuador to fly here from Washington to play. Having blown dinner, Gomez made the flight worthwhile, beating Henri Leconte and Johan Kriek to get this far.
Today, he often looked like the Gomez of 1984, a year he finished ranked No. 5 in the world. He used his 6-foot-3-inch reach to cover the net against Lendl's never-ending barrage of passing shots and had the crowd fiercely in his corner.
But Lendl doesn't seem bothered by such things anymore. The only time he showed any emotion was during an exchange with chair umpire Jeremy Shales, a longtime nemesis Lendl dueled with at Wimbledon last year and then again in the Canadian Open.
At one point, when Shales refused to overrule a call against him, Lendl snorted, "You think you're a genius, don't you?"
Shales never did offer an audible answer and Lendl shrugged and kept plugging away. He won the first set easily, got the break he needed to lead 6-5 when Gomez rocketed a backhand long and then, after botching three match points, finally put the match away with a service winner.
"He's hitting the ball pretty hard," Gomez said, almost mimicking what Jarryd had said of Becker earlier. "I was in rallies, I was happy with the way I played. But . . . "
He shrugged. But, Lendl was better, just as Becker had been. Lendl said it best as he headed for the exit: "See you tomorrow."