"If people want tradition, I'll plant some ivy," said USTA President Slew Hester, the man most responsible for the transformation of the Open. And with that, Slew did. Right out in the middle of the main plaza in a container that suspiciously resembled a garbage can.
Hester's memorial garden would have received far more attention from players and spectators alike if they had not been so preoccupied with calming senses constantly battered by the rumbling of the Long Island Rail Road, the screeching of New York subways and the roar of planes arriving and departing from nearby LaGuardia Airport. When all of these noises converged at once, center court sounded like a pit stop at the Indianapolis 500. "Once I thought a plane was going to land on the court," said Rejean Genois, a Canadian player. "I threw the ball up to serve and it never came down. The ball must still be in the wheels."
Other players were not as bothered because, as defending champion Guillermo Vilas noted, "the noise, it is a constant." The Open's switch of surface to Deco-Turf II, the speed of which allegedly was somewhere between the claylike composition of Forest Hills and the concrete of an interstate highway, was another matter.
This being the U.S. championship, the USTA polled U.S. players as to their desired surface before the Open changed sites. The overwhelming choice was asphalt, which is similar to what most Americans grow up playing on. What everybody got was a hard, slick court predictably advantageous to serve-and-volley specialists. However, it turned out to be faster and harder than anyone suspected.
The European clay-court aficionados complained early and often. Manolo Orantes defaulted in the first round, while Corrado Barazzutti of Italy said, "These courts are——" after he was bounced out in the second. Many foreign players threatened not to return unless the surface was made slower. But as Victor Amaya, the "Incredible Hulk" from Holland, Mich., said, "Let them go. We don't ask anybody to speed up the clay in Europe. Why shouldn't we play on a fast surface at home?"
Borg himself kept saying that the court was too fast, that he needed more than 10 days to get used to it. Then he would amble out in his bowlegged way and drill holes in the asphalt with his enormous service. It should be noted that Borg always complains about the grass at Wimbledon, too, and every mother's double-fisted son knows what he has done there.
If some early-round matches didn't prove that Deco-Turf II afforded plenty of opportunities for long rallies, exciting points and admirable shotmaking—namely, Vitus Gerulaitis' 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 struggle over Amaya and the three-set escapes of Borg and Connors from the clutches of Bernie Mitton and Pat DuPre, respectively—then the Labor Day night classic between Vilas and bazooka-serving Butch Walts surely did. Consider this:
•Walts, a tall Californian ranked 54th on the ATP computer, whose temper routinely out-fierces his serve, rocketed 11 aces and 35 service winners even though Vilas waited to receive some 20 feet behind the baseline.
•Vilas stretched his soft-court game to the outer limits by coming back from two sets behind and by saving a match point in the fourth set with an extraordinary lunging backhand volley winner off his shoe tops.
•The match lasted 4 hours and 11 minutes, with Walts and Vilas disdaining quick points in favor of trading topspin bolo punches from their respective baselines.