Tennis' own counterculture all-stars resumed their traveling headband-and-friendship review deep in the heart of Texas last Sunday, and when the barrage of ground-stroke dust had cleared, the scraggly curled, blue-jeaned teen-ager from Scandinavia had done it to the scraggly curled, blue-jeaned poet from the Argentine one more time.
That the top-spin twins, Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas, managed to eat meals together, hit practice balls together, hang around hotel lobbies and attend press conferences with each other and reach the deciding match of the sixth annual World Championship of Tennis Finals looking like some new country rock group was understandable enough. But that Borg then saw fit to wind up and blast his way past his friend for the fifth time in six matches in the past year and that Vilas reacted to another rear-kicking with merely a shrug was somewhat amazing. "These beatings not affect our relationship. I am never thinking I cannot win," said Vilas after losing the $50,000 first prize, 1-6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-1.
If it seems Borg has been making the WCT finals in Dallas since he was six, it probably is because every time he does reach Big D and its blue-bunting hoopla, he slugs his way through to the championship round. Having lost in the finals to John Newcombe in 1974 and Arthur Ashe last May, Borg wasn't about to let this one slip away, not even to a boon companion. "I am pretending Guillermo is somebody else; it is another guy over the net," Borg said.
After the Teen Angel and the Mild Bull of the Pampas had fought through two sets and two service breaks in the third, it came to Vilas serving at 5-5, 15-40. Their competition is always a fascinating study in strokes and tactics; now, as the ball passed over the net 84 times, one point mirrored the entire match. The players pounded top-spin drives, sliced delicate backhands, ran down lobs, chased drop shots. It was power on power, then soft stuff countering soft stuff. Suddenly Borg rushed the net, and Vilas, momentarily stunned, sliced a forehand down the line, but wide.
Having gained the key break, Borg served out the set and quickly broke in the fourth, taking advantage of Vilas' fading forehand and a questionable line call. "One ball does not make difference," Vilas said. "Bjorn was too deep on approach, very high balls, no good angles for me."
At the end one dashing blond right-hander had simply outhit and overpowered one dashing brown-haired lefthander again, but they still were world-ranking best pals.
"What so strange about this?" Vilas said. "Cannot be friends and tennis players too?"
Before Borg and Vilas came to grips with their top-spin artillery as well as their friendship, the tournament belonged to Ashe. For about two hours. That's how long it took the spunky, 5'6" moonballer, Harold Solomon, to eliminate Arthur on opening night.
Ashe had started his brilliant run in WCT play last season and had won 61 of 69 matches during a two-year span, including five tournaments this year. He was the proud owner of two 13-pound solid gold tennis balls as WCT's two-time point leader and he had won the fairly outrageous sum of $218,500 in four months. Yet there were signs that the defending champion was in for trouble.
He had finished his regular WCT season in Caracas a long four weeks ago. Since then he had played in one challenge match in Hawaii and in the WCT doubles in Kansas City, so he was not tournament sharp. Friends say he did not seem the hungry, eager, new Ashe who had shown up in Dallas last year.