Off the hook, Smith's competitive juices started flowing. Laver could never get the upper hand again, and Smith won the fourth set 7-5 to move into the finals.
It would have been poetic justice if the man he met there had been Rosewall instead of Ashe. Rosewall was the leading winner and most acerbic spokesman for players who all season long declared that being branded with the letter "B" cast them in a role as second-class citizens. Could the aging leader from downtrodden Group B take on the big blond youth from privileged Group A, muffle his power and thus hurl shame and confusion into the ranks of those who would dare discriminate?
Nope. As it turned out that job would have to be left to Ashe, no slouch as a spokesman himself. Exhausted from a tough five-set victory over England's Roger Taylor that had dragged on until 12:50 a.m. that same morning, Rosewall could not overcome the comparative youth and strong serve of the 29-year-old Ashe. Shuffling from sideline to sideline like a man in ski boots, Rosewall dropped the first two sets, 4-6 and 2-6, revived to win the next two 7-5, 6-1 when Arthur grew careless, but finally ran out of adrenalin and lost by a decisive 6-2 in the fifth set. So off went Rosewall to that third-place playoff.
Ashe is not quite ready to rank the World Championship tournament with Wimbledon or Forest Hills, but he considers it close. "It's a big thing, a pressure tournament, a big occasion," he said before taking on Smith. "But the difference here is that you only have to win three straight matches to be the champion. At the others you've got to win seven straight. Still, if you don't believe there is a lot of pressure here just look at the guys who lost in the first round. Except for Emerson, none of them had ever won a major championship. The rest of us have. We've been there before and can handle it. At the least this shows who is champion of the first four-and-a-half months. Maybe not for Smith, who has been winning a lot lately, but for someone like me this could set up the whole year."
When Smith beat Laver in the semifinals, Ashe decided he knew what that meant, too. "It stamps Stan as the undisputed No. 1 in the world," he said. "Maybe even if I beat him."
Arthur's credentials were pretty solid. He was the runner-up at Forest Hills last September, losing to Ilie Nastase in five sets. Later in the fall he won the $25,000 first prize at the WCT's championship playoff following its 12-event autumn series. In that one he beat a strong field that included John Newcombe, Tom Okker and Marty Riessen. In addition, he had been building momentum on the WCT winter tour, reaching the finals at the last two events. The question at Dallas was, would he be the runner-up again?
"When Stan and I get together the match can go any which way," he said. "We're like two double barreled shotguns firing from 78 feet. He could bludgeon me or I could bludgeon him."
As it turned out, it was Ashe who got gunned down. Smith won the first two sets 6-3, 6-3, dropped the third 4-6, but was never in any real danger. He won the fourth set 6-4 to pick up the $50,000. It was not the best tennis Smith has ever played, especially in the third and fourth sets, but he has reached the stage where he can be slightly off his top form and still beat practically anyone in the world.
"I've always claimed Laver was the best," Smith said after the match. "Today is the first time I feel comfortable in saying that maybe I am."