SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
September 19, 1977
In a tense, 3�-hour struggle that ended in chaos, Vilas parried Jimmy Connors' best shots, then put him away to win the U.S. Open
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 19, 1977

Fantastico, Guillermo!

In a tense, 3�-hour struggle that ended in chaos, Vilas parried Jimmy Connors' best shots, then put him away to win the U.S. Open

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

In the event you were not a transsexual ophthalmologist or a ninth-grader with braces or a guy who defaulted with a collapsed shoulder or another guy who collapsed with a defaulted forehand; and provided you managed to avoid bomb threats, stray bullets, prayer vigils, spectator sit-ins, racial slurs and penalty points; and if you were able to overcome cynical remarks about your two-tone bowling shirts, your pink racket handles and your lack of guts, you might have won the wackiest U.S. Open of all last week.

You might have, that is, if your name was Guillermo Vilas and you came from Mar del Plata, Argentina and you were playing the best, most fearsome tennis of your life, tennis that all but dismantled the opposition and left eyewitnesses believing you might go on winning on clay forever.

But last Sunday afternoon down there in the pit of Forest Hills stadium, the 25-year-old Mild Bull of the Pampas used his head and his heart as if he had been born on nearby Queens Boulevard.

Behind in what seemed like dozens of crucial situations, and with none other than Jimmy Connors across the net in the final, Vilas held on through a dispiriting first set, turned tough and agressive in the second and snatched Connors' last remaining big title away from him by the astounding score of 2-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-0.

If the final set went fast, it was nothing compared to the speed with which Connors' Sinatrian entourage cleared out of the West Side Tennis Club. As Vilas was being carried around the court on the shoulders of a delirious crowd, only eight minutes elapsed between the time Connors left the court and the moment he was driving away from Forest Hills searching for his lost forehand.

It was that forehand, which on approach shots he all too frequently hits low and into the net, that Bjorn Borg worked on to beat Connors at Wimbledon. Vilas chose to test it the same way, switching from his classic, looping, bolo-punch backhand to a softly sliced stroke that forced Connors up and into the middle of the court.

Early in the third set Connors had six opportunities in three different games to win his fifth game—the first would have given him a 5-1 lead in the set—but each time Vilas held firm. Still leading at 5-4, Connors had a couple of set points to put his left-handed adversary away again, but Vilas hurled an ace at him and then a backhand drive which Connors could not handle at net.

But with a chance to serve for the set himself, Vilas double-faulted and made three more errors to be broken back at 6-all. Surely now this sensitive poet and artist, who was under the immense strain of a 45-match, seven-tournament winning streak on clay, who was in against a street fighter he had never beaten and who had embarrassed him badly on this same surface last year—surely this Guillermo Vilas would be bullied again.

But he was not. "If I think back, I have to live back," Vilas said later. So instead he kept consulting with and accepting hand signals from his bearded, brooding Romanian mentor, Ion Tiriac, who glowered at courtside. Vilas kept pawing at his scraggly locks and adjusting his headband. He kept digging in and putting his own pressure on the defending champion until, remarkably, Connors, not Vilas, fell apart.

In the third set tie breaker Vilas took command and won it 7-4 after he blasted a forehand to the baseline tape and then covered a weak Connors' volley. Though nobody knew it then, the match was over.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6