WASHINGTON -- So much of what we see, hear and read about tennis is frosting, flashy wins by young prodigies struggling with the odds on their way to fame, fortune and favorable schedules at tournaments.
That's why when a guy like Amos Mansdorf, a solid player who has toiled in the vineyards for nearly a decade, up and wins a tourney, it's so refreshing.
Never up a break in the match, Mansdorf, who was dubbed "Not So Famous Amos" by a resident print wit obviously not up on the game, squeezed by Todd Martin, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, in a superior showdown as far as D.C./Newsweek Tennis Classics go.
Martin was supposed to win. He's an up-and-comer who won his first tournament a couple of months ago, took a couple of five-setters at Wimbledon from top guns and appears destined to join the squad of young Americans in the throes of dominating the game. Todd is just under 9 feet tall, and his serve brings to mind what Arthur Ashe once said about an opponent: "Facing so-and-so's serve is like standing under a tree while he's firing rocks down at a hundred miles an hour."
It didn't help Mansdorf's situation when Martin won his first two service games with dispatch and broke easily for a 3-0 advantage. If not brimming with confidence, Amos admits: "At this point [career-wise], I'm very much in control out there. I know where the key points are; years on the tour prepare you."
The victor started thinking his way through the match against seemingly superior firepower. This included a search for positives.
Martin played mainly night matches during the week-long tourney, he recalled, "and maybe the fact the ball moves a little differently in the heat and humidity of the day would bother him. Plus I knew he wouldn't be able to hit like that for two sets."
From 0-3, Mansdorf tied it, the rivals held serve through the next half-dozen games and Amos breezed in the tiebreaker (those key points), 7-4. He continued to apply pressure through the first eight games of the second set, forcing Martin to come from behind to remain on serve. When Martin broke in the ninth game and had the ball in his mitts to serve it out and send the match into a third set, Mansdorf regrouped.
"At that point, I wasn't ready to win the match. I was thinking about a third set," he said. He was still moving the big kid around, however, Martin was expending great energy hauling his 6-6, 190-pound frame around and, quickly, Amos not only broke back but held serve for the lead at 6-5.
A couple shots and, almost unnoticed, Mansdorf had a match point, which he quickly converted. He had put away a short ball and stood at the service line for an instant not immediately aware of what had transpired. Reality dawned and he shot straight up into the air. Victory. It had been three years.
"The whole philosophy of the game has changed since I started in 1984," he said. "I knew I would do well, but I had no idea what it was going to take, the commitment, the hard work. Coming from Israel, I did not get the opportunity for early development similar to players from the U.S. or Germany. The way I see it, my best years will be when I'm 27-28-29 [now] as opposed to other players at 21-22-23."
Currently ranked No. 29 on the computer and with six career tourney victories, Mansdorf's immediate goal is to get back in the top 20, where he has made a couple of visits before. Considering his match record in 1993 (30-13), the fact he's made it to the semifinals of five tournaments since January, he's been a perennial in the top 40 since 1987, Amos seemed amused that some regarded his victory as a "shocker."
"It's difficult to beat guys like me," he said. "While I'm not going to hit a guy off the court, not too many guys are going to hit me off it, either." Martin was on the verge a couple of times, but Mansdorf always had the answer and a counter.
"Todd beat me in Boston last week when I was just short of playing well," he said. "I tried a little different game plan this time, because in today's game guys are changing all the time. If you have a weakness, you won't survive."
He wouldn't let on to what he had changed, explaining, "I might have to play him again next week," but it must have been subtle at best since Martin concluded, "All Amos did is serve a little bit better this time."
Obviously, Todd didn't notice the passing shots whizzing by. "It wasn't his experience that won it; he just played the big points better," he said.
Maybe experience had something to do with it.