Indeed, against Solomon, he was the old Ashe we had all come to know and be puzzled by, the tentative, confused, erratic, even lazy Ashe. After losing the first set 7-5 by blowing two late service games in which he led 40-15, the world No. 1 seemed to recover by taking the second 6-3. Then Solomon, who was forced to win his last two tournaments (beating Newcombe, Ilie Nastase and Ken Rosewall among others) just to qualify for this moment, took control.
He hit double-fisted backhand service returns by the ton—low and skidding away. He made Ashe overanxious with long baseline rallies, and took advantage of the champion's weak drop shots to triumph in cat-and-mouse confrontations at the net. He won 20 of 23 points in one stretch as his opponent missed shots, Ashe later admitted, "a 14-year-old could make. I embarrassed myself." Solomon ran out the match by a shocking 6-1, 6-3.
In the semifinals against Borg, a man he had never beaten, Solomon didn't have it. Giving away five inches, 30 pounds and half the speed of sound on groundstrokes to the Swede, he battled him through a service-break-marred first set, losing 7-5. But he was punished in the second set 6-0—he won only five points—and in the final set 6-3.
"I'm reaching up all the time to get his top spin; he exhausts me," Solomon said. "The kid is so much stronger than I am. Just look at him. I don't think I'll be ready to beat Borg for at least two years."
By that time Borg's right arm will be shriveled like a Swedish meatball and embalmed in formaldehyde, so hard does he whack everything that approaches, so often does he compete when stray exhibition cash is on the line. A lot of people are beginning to wonder if Borg is being burned out and sabotaged by his own schedule makers. The Teen Angel is coached by Lennart Bergelin, but he is managed by Mark McCormack, whose people seem to be under the impression that a day off will turn their prince into a frog. Last year Borg played almost 10 full months, including 12 singles victories leading to the Swedish Davis Cup triumph. The week before the WCT finals his itinerary resembled a campaign schedule in the Stop Jimmy Carter movement.
Borg literally played his way halfway around the world to Dallas: Wednesday, challenge match in Copenhagen; Friday, exhibition in New Jersey; Saturday, exhibition in Chicago; Sunday, exhibition in Oklahoma City. After Dallas, Borg was to play exhibitions in Kalamazoo, Mich. and Durham, N.C. before flying to Hawaii, Germany, France and oblivion.
"I am not like all these exhibitions," said Bergelin. "I cannot control. Bjorn have to slow down. This is too much stupid. All time I am seeing him, he look more or less half dead."
Meanwhile in the other half of the draw, Vilas, 23, was alternately pounding backhand drives and lofting tantalizing lobs in impressive destructions of Bob Lutz and Dick Stockton. The latter had upset Mexico's Raul Ramirez, but he was quickly dispatched to his suburban Dallas home in straight sets by the perplexing variety of Vilas' shots. "It was a matter of whether he screeched the ball by me or I lunged at it," said Stockton. "Vilas can hit three different directions off one motion. It got to be a guessing game."
Lutz, who won the first set 7-5 before succumbing 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 to Vilas, was more graphic about the effects of his opponent's relentless heavy ammunition. "I got cold," he says. "My ears started popping. The rubber came off my shoes. I got a cramp in my leg. My contact lens started shooting around in my eye. I was falling apart."
Of all international court eminences, perhaps the least is known about the swashbuckling Vilas. In the two years it took him to streak to the top, he went through a mystical stage, quoting Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher, and Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, as well as doing some writing of his own. Entitled 125, it is a volume of poetry, short stories and the like. It sold out its first two printings of 20,000 copies, in Argentina.