Indeed, with his cold, relentless hammering, spiced by a few of Manolo's own pet drop shots, Borg outlasted Orantes 4-6, 6-0, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 in the tournament's most riveting competition before the final.
That match set up what should have been some afternoon delights at Forest Hills on Saturday, including the men's semis—Connors against Vilas and Borg against Nastase—as well as the women's final between Chris Evert and Evonne Goolagong.
Why it turned into a Dog Day Afternoon of three awful mismatches was not all that difficult to comprehend. First, Connors, who had not played Vilas in four years, is the type who warms to such challenging occasions, especially against a topspin foe who lives on the baseline playing defense all day and whose heart for battle has always been questioned.
On the first point Jimbo came out slugging to wear down Vilas' looming backswing. From their respective positions Connors could hit winners, Vilas could not. Connors so dominated his left-handed counterpart that Vilas reached break point only once on Connors' serve and never did break through. The scores were 6-4, 6-2, 6-1. "Is impossible for player to play so good so long," Vilas said. "If player hitting 200 mph at you, can't hit 400 mph back."
Borg, too, settled matters early with Nastase, much the way he had in their Wimbledon final, i.e., by beating Nastase to death on iron will alone. For once the crowd was fair to Nastase, with a majority even on his side. But there was a swirling wind on the court, just enough to shake his fragile psyche. More important, Nastase, normally a wise tactician, had no idea how to cope with this year's Borg.
In the wind, Nastase's topspin flew over the baseline and his slices were short and wide. Nastase tried everything at the end, even comedy, by dropping a ball from between his legs onto the court. Borg looked up and gave a hint of a smile. Then the ice kid turned his back and thrashed Nastase 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
Later Connors, perhaps taking a cue from Borg, who is six years his junior, retained his tournament-long attitude: sober, business-like and, in fact, all grown up until somebody mentioned 1975 and his failures in the finals of major championships. That struck a nerve. "If you're going to bring up 75, why don't you bring up 74 when I was the greatest player of all time?" he snapped back. "Anyway, who wouldn't take my year in '75?"
Well, Evert for one. She won her first Forest Hills then. And she won her second last week. In truth, Evert may win 10 more Forest Hills before a young lady from California named Tracy Austin is old enough to take the Open from her.
Plain, cold numbers are sufficient to explain how thoroughly Evert commanded the field which turned up to watch her inexorable march toward 101 consecutive clay court victories. Evert won her six matches by a score of 72-13. It took her 302 minutes to win the 30-grand first prize, which is almost $100 a minute. She gave up 188 points, or 15 points a set. She was given a cake after winning her 100th straight. She was given a floral arrangement after beating a horribly off-form Evonne Goolagong 6-3, 6-0 in the final. Nobody gave Evert what she deserved, though, which is simply enough credit.
"I was spacey out there all week," she said. Which was another way of explaining she was in "the zone," that vague and wonderful area players talk about where everything one hits is a winner.