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Los Angeles Tennis Tournament : The McEnroe of Old Gains Final Round

September 21, 1986|JULIE CART | Times Staff Writer

John McEnroe manages to outlast them all.

He is wilier on the court than Brad Gilbert, whom he beat Saturday night, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

He has a sharper wit than those among the 7,812 fans at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA who heckled him.

And no doubt most satisfying of all to McEnroe, he is playing at a level that some predicted he would never again attain.

McEnroe's performance in the semifinal round of the $315,000 Volvo Tennis/Los Angeles tournament put him in today's final against Stefan Edberg of Sweden. It will be McEnroe's first final in 10 months.

"It feels good to win, it feels good to be in a final," he said.

All the same, McEnroe's win over the second-seeded Gilbert must be considered an upset; McEnroe is seeded No. 6--and ranked No. 20 to Gilbert's No. 12. But the first set made those rankings blush.

McEnroe crushed Gilbert in the first set. Gilbert was hitting for the lines and coming up wide; he was going for winners on his return of serve and coming up short.

Gilbert was tight.

"Brad was a little bit tentative in the first set," McEnroe said. "I think he was a little bit tentative as to what he was going to do. He was waiting to see what I was going to offer."

McEnroe was offering an array of dangerous shots, most of them unreturnable. McEnroe was passing brilliantly, covering the net and generally dictating the flow of the match.

Gilbert thrives on a serve-and-volley game. He works points around until he sees an opening and then charges the net. But with McEnroe's ability to flick balls past him, Gilbert's net game was defused.

The second set was a different story. Gilbert changed to his serve-and-volley style and "began to dictate the points," according to McEnroe.

"I figured if I was going to lose, I would at least do something differently," Gilbert said. "I served better and started putting some pressure on him. I snuck in a break. I began to play well."

The third set, was, as players are fond of saying, like a whole new game. It was a louder game, a rowdier game, a game that the spectators seemed to take over.

It began early. In the third game of the third set, McEnroe got into it with a female fan. He called her "the lowest of low-lifes," saying, "This made your night; now everyone knows what a fool you are." McEnroe served the point, muttering to himself.

"She's been there every night," he said. "I think she likes me in a way. She just doesn't want to admit it."

Two points later, with McEnroe serving at 40-love, a spectator yelled out, "Go Brad!" Which caused McEnroe to shout, "What do you want, an Edberg-McEnroe final or an Edberg-Gilbert final?"

To which a fan replied, shouting, "I started out wanting you, but I'm changing my mind."

McEnroe then bantered back and forth with the fans and the chair umpire for a few minutes, finally saying with a laugh, "This is just the way I like to play my matches."

Gilbert, the forgotten man at this point, sat on his racket, bewildered. "Quit stalling," McEnroe said, laughing.

Nothing very funny happened after that. McEnroe broke in the eighth game to go ahead, 5-3, and virtually seal the win.

Gilbert was upset about the lost time, which he said threw him off his rhythm.

"The tennis wasn't as good as it could be, but the umpire had a worse night," Gilbert said. "He was never in control of the situation. He called me for 15 seconds (players have 30 seconds in which to serve), and I looked at my watch when McEnroe was doing all that and it was four minutes."

In the other semifinal, Edberg had little trouble with fellow Swede Peter Lundgren, winning, 6-4, 6-3, in slightly more than an hour.

"I don't think he played badly overall," Edberg said of Lundgren. "He would play well for a couple of games, then begin to miss."

Lundgren's serve began to miss in the first game of the first set. Edberg broke him in the first and fifth games to win the first set, 6-4. Lundgren broke in the eighth game with the help of an Edberg double-fault at deuce.

"I had a very bad start," Lundgren said. "Maybe that's why the match went the way it went. I should have served better. He always put pressure on you. You knew you had to serve well or you were going to lose."

Lundgren had better luck with his groundstrokes and volleys in the second set, but Edberg stepped up the power on his serves to negate any advantage for Lundgren and won, 6-3.

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