"It was very important time for me," Vilas said later. "If Jimmy having trouble with forehand, I'm stupid not to play it. I was pushing him to miss the thing."
No kidding. In the last set Vilas aimed his chip shots to Connors' vulnerable left wing like a man floating darts at the corner tavern. "You like that shot?" Vilas was to ask later. "I practice that one nine hours or something last few days."
Connors' loss of his Open championship began with three forehand errors in the first game of the final set. He lost the third, fourth and fifth games on similar mistakes and then fell on the seat of his pants while skying still another pitiful forehand practically into the cheap seats.
The new champion won the whole thing when Connors drilled a forehand just wide which nobody knew was out until the linesman made a tentative gesture. Then pandemonium. Vilas jumped high in the air and the crowd swarmed onto the court and began tugging at his headband. "With my headband, my head was coming," he said.
Though Vilas started his wonderful clay court streak with a victory in the French Open in June, his record has been questioned because of the lack of big names across the net—namely Connors and Borg. But Borg defaulted in the midst of his fourth-round match at Forest Hills because of a shoulder injury, saying he "had not one percent chance" and Connors was unceremoniously driven out when he had all the chances in the world.
"I never got down on myself," Vilas said. "I am very good friend of mine. Now I think I have something to say about No. 1."
This almost certainly was the last U.S. Open in Forest Hills; the USTA has scheduled future Opens at a soon-to-be-completed multimillion-dollar complex in Flushing Meadow, the site of the 1964 World's Fair. If indeed this was the last hurrah for the Tudored, gabled, impossibly cramped West Side Tennis Club, it was from one point of view good riddance to bad rubbish. That is as accurate a description as any for the tennis that yawned its way from the fourth round until Vilas and Connors faced each other Sunday. Of the 30 combined men's and women's singles matches during that period, only four were anything more than straight-set routs, and one of those was Borg's default.
In the men's division, both Ilie Nastase and Brian Gottfried lost to Corrado Barazzutti, called Soldatino—the Little Soldier—in straight sets, Barazzutti winning 30 of 43 games. In the women's division Martina Navratilova and Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade lost to Wendy Turnbull of Australia and the late and great Minnesota Buckskins. " Wendy's not that good technically," said Wade, "but they don't call her Rabbit for nothing." Wade won three games in two sets. Rabbit, run.
These were just random samples of the kind of spine-tingling action that threatened to drive most observers to a mass reading of Bert Lance's financial statements for their excitement.
Chris Evert, of course, with her annual share of whompings, contributed to the boredom. "Why aren't you guys coming to my press conferences?" she asked two media friends early in the first week.