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Orantes' strategy began to prevail. He caught Connors a number of times flat-footed at the net. "Look at those lovely rolling passing shots," Wood commented, "and that man hasn't even had breakfast yet," this in reference to Orantes finishing his marathon semifinal match against Guillermo Vilas at 10:35 the evening before.
"No, Connors is going to have his problems," Wood went on. "It's very hard to generate power off nothing. Orantes will wear him down. Rene Lacoste was very good at this sort of backboarding. He could even do it on grass."
Wood sat back and described a match on clay he had once played against Lacoste in Paris in which, after losing the first sets 6-0 and 6-1, he had settled down and forced matters into a fifth set, which Lacoste had won 8-6. Lacoste had stared hollowly at Wood over the net. The two had been on the court for five hours, reaching such a state of exhaustion that neither cared if he won or lost, but played simply to get the torture done with.
"Afterward, they got us down on training tables and tried to work the cramps out of us," he said. "We were both offered double brandies. Lacoste refused his. So I drank both of them. Someone came and asked if I could go out and play a mixed-doubles finals. I said, 'I feel great. I'll play.' They gave me another double brandy. Out on the court when I tried to toss the ball up to serve, it stayed in my hand. I couldn't open my fingers to release it."
"Well, Joe Hunt was quite a needler, "Wood said, "always doing what he could to fuss with your attention. He was playing doubles with Riggs against Don Budge and myself one day and he kept sliding his foot across the center line into Riggs' right-hand court when one of us was serving. Well, it got on Budge's nerves finally, seeing that foot poking into the area where he was trying to serve, and he came by me and said that he was going to hit that S.O.B. if he caught him at it again. And what's more, he did, too. He hit this great smoking serve down the line that hit Joe Hunt on the ankle. He jumped like he'd been shot, and he let out quite a yell, more startled than anything. It surprised us all—except perhaps Budge himself.
"Oh yes, Don Budge would have murdered these people, even on a slow surface. Bitsy Grant was fearsome on clay, just like these moonballers, and if you played him you had to figure that you were going to be out there for hours. Well, Budge buried every ball hit against him at that Greenbriar clay tournament, and Bitsy was only able to take one game from him in three sets. Oh, he was something. I played Budge in the semifinals of the Nationals. I had a plan [Wood laughed at himself in deprecation] and I was able to let it percolate for a week because it rained. At first it seemed to work. I got ahead three games to one in the first set. The idea was to hit short, undercut shots, played low, so that Don would have to come in and hit his returns up, which would give me a chance to pass him at the net. My execution was fine. He would come in and hit those low balls of mine so hard that they had to hit the back fence. Well, they didn't. They drilled into my court like 16-pound shots. I kept at it. I thought those shots of his were accidents. They weren't. They stayed down. Again and again. Nobody ever hit the ball like that against me. Everything about that man was superhuman. He had this enormous 16�-ounce racket—Tilden used a 14�-ounce racket, which is what Connors is using up there—and he let me play with it once. After one set I couldn't hold it anymore; it fell out of my hand."
On the screen Wood watched Connors come to the net and Orantes pass him with a shot that made everyone lean forward with a sudden creak of wicker furniture; then a burst of clapping. Wood smiled. "Wasn't that something?" he said. "I can tell you about the greatest shot I ever saw played. Henri Cochet made it. It was such a great shot that I got chills from seeing it and I never wanted to play tennis again. He and Borotra were playing Johnny Van Ryn and Wilmer Allison in a doubles match. Van Ryn was playing the right-hand court against Borotra's serve; Cochet was up at net. Van Ryn had a sneaking suspicion that Cochet was going to poach on his return of service, and he powdered a forehand drive down the alley at him. Van Ryn had just about the hardest and most accurate forehand the game has ever seen, and sure enough, he caught Cochet going. But with the ball just about by him in the alley, Cochet pirouetted his entire body, just spun it, with his racket out, and somehow he connected with the ball and put the shot away.
"Everyone was stunned. There wasn't any applause. It was a supernatural shot and no one believed it at all."
On the screen Connors netted an easy volley from close in, and the crowd in the taproom yelled in surprise. "That's Rod Laver's only weak shot," Wood said. "The volley from close in...odd to think...the easiest shot for all us mortals, and it stumped him so many times."