It was a very patterned match. Both players served and volleyed every point, so there were no baseline exchanges. The points were short, pitting Tanner's power against McEnroe's quickness and finesse. However, McEnroe repeatedly missed his passing shots on the critical points, and after failing on three set points at 6-5 of the first set, he never came close to breaking Tanner's serve again. Tanner won the tie-breaker 7-3, and broke McEnroe in the second game of the second set when the Stanford dropout netted three volleys. It was more or less typical of McEnroe's night when he laid off an easy putaway at match point, thinking it would go out. It didn't, but McEnroe did.
Afterward, McEnroe gave Tanner his due and talked numbly about cutting back on his schedule. He had been in Las Vegas the week before, filming a movie with Dean Martin Jr. and Ali MacGraw, which is hardly recommended as a way to rest. McEnroe plays himself in the movie, uttering three lines, easily the most difficult of which is "Don't choke, Pancho." He also spoke about the Supreme Court surface being "a little faster than I thought." When asked about the remark, Ellen Fernberger, a tournament official, pointed down to Court No. 1. "You see that court. That isn't just the same type of court he won the Masters on two weeks ago. That is the court." It had simply been rolled up and shipped from New York to Philly. Maybe McEnroe really meant that Roscoe's service was faster than he thought.
Once the Connors-McEnroe match failed to materialize, Ashe was the one consistently bright spot of the tournament. He had won this event once before—way back when Lyndon Johnson was President—and had the crowd solidly behind him throughout. Ashe seems to have completely recovered from a heel injury that required surgery in February of 1977 and kept him out of action nearly an entire year. "I never dreamed I would come back this far," he said early in the week. "My original goal was just to make it back to the top 20."
Seeded 10th, Ashe opened the tournament by beating South Africa's Bernie Mitton (6-2, 7-6) and Marty Riessen (6-1, 4-6, 6-4) and protesting newspaper accounts that made it sound as if he had one foot in the grave. "I'm tired of all this," he said. "I'm not coming back from anywhere. I'm just playing tennis."
In the third round he faced Vilas, who was coming back from Down Under, not the grave. Vilas has been making a concerted effort to improve his play on faster surfaces, and in December he went to Australia, where he won that country's Open on grass against a mediocre field. But Ashe proved that Vilas has a long way to go before he will win anything big on a surface other than clay, beating him 6-3, 7-5. The one thing Ashe wanted to avoid was long baseline exchanges. "I'd lose 80% of those against Vilas. I need to play as many points as possible on one-third of the court"—meaning from the service line in.
That's exactly what he did, coming to the net at every opportunity, including behind Vilas' shallow second serve, and volleying, as he put it, "decisively." His serve, as is always the case when Ashe is on his game, was humming. The rout of Vilas enabled him to advance to the quarterfinals, where he beat Brian Gottfried—strong, affable, with an unenviable knack for giving away important points—6-4, 7-5.
Gerulaitis was Ashe's opponent in the semis, having advanced there with wins over Zjelko Franulovic of Yugoslavia, Kriek and Harold Solomon. By far the best of these was his match with Kriek, who may be the tour's fastest player. Gerulaitis is probably the second-fastest and, without question, is the whining-est, stomping about after every close call like the Little League pitcher who can't believe he has walked the bases full. Kriek was up a set and a break before Gerulaitis lifted his game and won 7-5 in the third, in the most scintillating tennis of the tournament.
And it seemed that the momentum Gerulaitis gained there would carry him right into Sunday's finals. In the best-of-five semifinals, he steamrolled over Ashe in the first two sets, 6-1, 6-4, and was serving for the match at 5-4 of the third. Ashe is the best strategist in the game and one of the few players who can effectively alter his style of play to counter his opponent, but his game plan of drop shots and lobs left little margin for error against a speedster like Gerulaitis. Ashe's normally reliable serve was zooming in and out, and to that point in the match he had double-faulted 11 times.
Gerulaitis went up 15-0 on a service winner, but then, shockingly, Ashe put away an overhead and made two dink passing shots that even Gerulaitis couldn't catch up with, making it 15-40, Ashe. Gerulaitis saved three break points, but on the fourth Ashe delicately feathered a backhand by him at the net. Both players held serve, and in the tiebreaker Ashe overcame yet another double-fault to win, 7-4.
In the fourth set the momentum had clearly changed. Ashe found the range with his serve, and Gerulaitis began playing tentatively and defensively. Both players held service until the ninth game, when Ashe hit a backhand passing shot down the line that gave him the crucial break. Ashe served out the set, 6-4. In the fifth set, with Ashe serving for the match at 5-4, it appeared things might take a final turn in favor of Gerulaitis. He held four break points. Twice Ashe brought it back to deuce on big serves, and twice Gerulaitis hit passing shots out. On Ashe's first match point, Gerulaitis hit a backhand cross-court return that Ashe never touched, but a moment later Vitas netted a second serve to give Ashe the 3½-hour match and send him to the finals.