With Borg out, and thereby another dream final against Connors; with the Disco Kid, Gerulaitis, gone after having been overcome by Solomon's relentless gravedigger strokes as well as by his own silly tactics; with Stockton also outsmarted by the heady Solly, most attention centered on Manuel Orantes.
The cagey Manolo had destroyed Connors in the 1975 Forest Hills final with his slice and spin artistry and he had done it again four weeks ago in Indianapolis. But twice is quite enough. In a quarterfinal match under the lights, which loomed as the only suspenseful confrontation of the tournament until the finals, Connors took on the look of an enraged bull while Orantes resembled a crippled matador. From the time Jimbo started slashing groundstroke winners all over the place, to the climax when he volleyed setups into the damp green clay, it was no contest. Connors kept Orantes pinned way behind the baseline and won 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.
"If Pancho [Segura] says I'm playing better than '74, then look out," said Connors. "This is my home. I'm moving in here. I'm rollin'." During his easy semifinal victory over Barazzutti, in which the Little Soldier became MIA, Connors screamed to the crowd, "I'm the only one you got left in this tournament. Let's hear it for me."
What Connors chose to ignore was that Vilas was still very much in the tournament, too. Having lost only 28 games in 14 sets, and having disposed of Solomon in a brutal semifinal marred by post-match invective ("What impress me about Harold?" Vilas said. "His mouth. He talk very big. I think too big"), Guillermo was primed for Connors.
Earlier in the week Vilas had explained in his poet's way how it felt to win and win and keep winning. And he had said, "It is like a hungry man who never eats. Then he has piece of bread. Then sandwich. Then a steak. Then he wants to go to the palace."
On Sunday Guillermo Vilas arrived at the palace and Jimmy Connors heard from him.