August 4, 1973: The day the United States and Chile contested a 3h45 set, the longest in Davis Cup history

Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 1973 to recall the longest set ever played in Davis Cup history

4 August 2021

What happened exactly on that day?

On this day, August 4 in1973, during a Davis Cup tie between the United States and Chile, Stan Smith and Erik van Dillen lost the longest set in the history of the competition against Jaime Fillol and Patricio Cornejo. After three hours and 45 minutes of play, the Chilean team won the second set 39-37 to take a two-sets-to-love lead. However, Smith and van Dillen did not collapse, and went on to win the third set, before the match was suspended by darkness at 5-1 for the USA in the fourth set.

The teams involved: The United States and Chilean Davis Cup teams

  • Stan Smith and Erik van Dillen (United States Davis Cup Team)

Stan Smith was born in 1946 in South California. As a kid, he applied to become a ball boy in the Davis Cup, but was turned down because the organizers thought he was too clumsy. Yet, Smith later played collegiate tennis at the University of South Carolina, and in 1968, he started playing on the tour. By September 1971, he had already won11 single titles, including the 1970 Stockholm Open, where he defeated Arthur Ashe (5-7, 6-4, 6-4), the 1970 Tokyo Masters, where he beat Rod Laver (4-6, 6-3, 6-4) and the 1971 Queen’s Club Championship, where he dominated John Newcombe (8-6, 6-3). Three weeks after his triumph at the Queen’s Club, Newcombe took his revenge against Smith in a close Wimbledon final (6-3, 5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4). A few weeks later, Smith claimed his first Grand Slam title at Forest Hills, after he beat Jan Kodes in the final (3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6). It was the first time that a US Open final ended with a tie-break, which had been established only in 1970. In 1972, he clinched a second Grand Slam crown at Wimbledon, edging Ilie Nastase in the final (4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5), and, in the eyes of many experts, Smith was the best player in the world. However, in 1973, his hold on the tour decreased.

Erik van Dillen, born in 1951, obtained his first remarkable win in 1968 in Boston, when he defeated Charlie Pasarell, the No 1 player in the United States at the time. Although he was a good singles player, van Dillen was better known for his performances in doubles, having reached the 1971 US Open final, and the 1972 Wimbledon final, both times partnering Stan Smith.

  • Jamie Fillol and Patricio Cornej: (Chilean Davis Cup team)

Jaime Fillol, born in 1946, obtained his first remarkable results in 1968, before the Open era, claiming his first title in Indianapolis (defeating Cliff Richey in the final, 6-1, 7-5, 6-2), before he graduated from the University of Miami in 1969. In August 1973, he had claimed four singles titles since the beginning of the Open era. Fillol was also good at doubles, where, partnering countryman Patricio Cornejo, he had reached the Roland-Garros final in 1972 (lost to Bob Hewitt and Frew McMillan, 6-3, 8-6, 3-6, 6-1). 

The place: The hardcourts in North Little Rock, Arkansas

The 1973 Americas Inter-Zonal Davis Cup Final was held on hard court at the Burns Park Tennis Center in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The venue could host as many as 4,000 spectators for this special occasion.

The facts: “The best crowd we’ve ever played for in the United States” – Stan Smith

In 1973, the United States were the five-time defending Davis Cup champions, and even the end of the Challenge Round rule in 1972 had not prevented the U.S. players from continuing their winning ways. This time, after having defeated Mexico, they were the heavy favourites against Chile to qualify for the so-called Inter-Zonal Zone (the last draw). On the first day, Tom Gorman defeated Jaime Fillol (17-15, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3) and Stan Smith prevailed against Patricio Cornejo (7-9, 6-2, 8-6, 6-4) to give his team a 2-0 lead.

On August 4, when Fillol and Cornejo entered the court to play doubles, they had no other option than winning if they wanted to stay alive in this tie. The duo rose to the occasion, playing at a very high level to take the first 9-7. However, it was the second set of this match that would go down in tennis history: the teams remained on par for three hours and 45 minutes!! The Chileans broke service three times, but never managed to keep the advantage. On the other hand, the Americans were unable to convert 12 set points. Fillol and Cornejo finally broke their opponent’s serve again at 37-37, and this time, Fillol won his service game to love.

After having lost such a long and dramatic set, the American team could have collapsed. However, a welcome support from the crowd, in response to a group of noisy Chilean supporters helped the American duo, as Smith told The New York Times:

“It was like there were 10 cheerleaders leading them in unison. It was the most tremendous thing I’ve ever heard. It kept us in the match,” Smith said. “That crowd made us want to win. It was the best crowd we’ve ever played for in the United States. It wasn’t an obnoxious crowd like we’ve seen in other countries – just a polite, supportive crowd.”

Smith and van Dillen won the third set 8-6, and in the fourth set, their opponents seemed to run out of fuel. However, as the US team led 5-1, the match was stopped as darkness fell upon North Little Rock, giving the Chileans the opportunity to recover before the fifth set.

What next? Smith and van Dillen seal the match in five sets

On the following day, thanks mainly to an inspired Stan Smith, the Americans didn’t give their opponents another opportunity to push them into a long deciding set. In 20 minutes, Smith and van Dillen sealed the fourth set 6-1 and stormed through the final set 6-3. 

Despite his exhaustion, and the fact that the tie was lost, Cornejo played a last singles match against Tom Gorman, and was defeated in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1.

The United States would face defeat for the first time in six years in the final of the 1973 Davis Cup. Rod Laver and John Newcombe, from Australia, would leave them no chance, claiming an impressive 5-0 win.

Stan Smith would remain famous several decades after his retirement because of the famous Adidas line of shoes bearing his name. Jaime Fillol would be one of the founding members of the ATP Tour, creating the first ATP Pension Plan. His grandson, Nicolas Jarry, born in 1995, would become a professional player as well, reaching world No 38 in 2019.

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