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Vilas wins the first set, 6-4. Gerulaitis holds seven set points before taking the second, 7-6. Vilas earns five match points and survives in the third, 6-3. Form is shattered and so is Gerulaitis. "The Masters court gets faster every year," says Vilas, who longs for the day the sponsor brings the tournament to the mud of Buenos Aires. "If I keep qualifying, someday I'll play the Masters on glass."
•Wednesday night. Roscoe Tanner, the ace machine who extended Borg to five sets in the Wimbledon final and then dashed his Grand Slam hopes one eerie night in the U.S. Open, takes him on again.
Tanner reveals that he has switched hairstyles once more, back to the straight, wet look from his Little Orphan Roscoe perm because it "was burning my hair." That's not all that gets burned now as Borg swamps him. The Swede breaks Tanner's bazooka in the very first game of the first set and also in the second game of the second; he runs out the match with embarrassing ease, 6-3, 6-3, as Tanner connects on fewer than 50% of his first serves.
•Thursday afternoon. No sooner is Vilas being measured for a berth in the semis than he is destroyed by McEnroe, who runs the Argentine all over the court with his exquisite curves and knucklers to win 6-2, 6-3. Two points from the end McEnroe delivers a most spectacular drop shot. Racing for a short ball, he falls onto the net cord, rolls over and drops—hello—himself onto Vilas' side. A few spectators begin counting him out...two...three...four. But Vilas isn't Carlos Monzon, and McEnroe gets up.
"I hit my head on the court," he says. "Actually, that's the best part of me to hit."
•Thursday night. A match to remember. Especially, a match for Connors to remember because this may be Jimbo's last stand. He has lost his last six meetings with Borg, 15 of 17 sets. But he is slimmed down ("150 pounds, the best shape of my life," he says), primed ("My family is my support; the new baby has taught me patience"), and he quickly takes the initiative, pressing Borg on the baseline, running him from side to side and pocketing the first set, 6-3.
In the second, Connors is more tentative and Borg shaky, and a strange, error-plagued pas de deux ensues, 6-3 to Borg. After this the struggling Swede moves out to a 5-2 lead in the third and it's all over, of course. But wait. Borg's own serve is slowly falling apart—"I was scared. For sure," he says later—and Connors comes crashing back. The old Connors. The linesman-baiting, finger-waving, crotch-grabbing Connors. The brilliant one. The crude one. Jungle Jim. Connors races deep into the corner to whirl an impossible forehand off the tape past a stranded Borg, and suddenly it's 5-all.
But that is the pinnacle. In the tiebreaker Borg opens with an ace, Connors makes two quick mistakes, and Borg hangs on to win 7-4.
In the pantheon of golden struggles between Borg and Connors, what this match, which consumes two hours and 38 minutes, lacks in artistry, it makes up for in intensity and importance because it manifests one glaring reality: Connors, at peak form, has thrown everything at a sub-par Borg, but still he has lost. "I'm not out of this thing yet," an exhausted Connors says. But he is. If Borg hasn't taken Connors out of the fight, he has taken the fight out of Connors.
•Friday afternoon. Connors winds up his round-robin against Tanner while practically dead on his feet. The winner will advance to the semis, and Tanner looks like a shoo-in when he leads 4-1 in the third set. Then the dread tennis disease, "elbow," strikes Roscoe. The two men belt and claw, both clutching at straws. But in the tiebreaker Tanner cannot win a single point on his serve, cannot control his volley, and Connors wins, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6.