After he beat Yannick Noah on Sunday to win the Shearson Lehman Brothers Tournament of Champions at Forest Hills, Andres Gomez wore the same peaceful look that comes over him when he catches a wave off the beaches of Punta Blanca near his home in Ecuador. "It doesn't bother me that people are surprised I beat Noah and I Boris] Becker," said Gomez. "I'd rather be anonymous. But I wasn't surprised."
If Gomez, who came to New York ranked No. 12 in the world, continues to play the way he did last week, he can forget about anonymity. Although in surfing slang a "Noah" is a shark, Gomez showed no fear of his foe. The 27-year-old lefthander took the teeth out of Noah's serve with powerful returns. More impressively, Gomez, who theretofore had been known mainly as a baseliner, often took the net for saberlike putaways in the 6-4, 7-6, 7-6 victory.
At 6'4" and 190 pounds, Gomez blends power and accuracy as well as anyone. His serve is heavy with spin, and he can pound his forehand cross-court to the backhands of righthanders until they cry "no màs. "These weapons have carried him to two Italian Open and two U.S. Clay Court titles. His weakness is a lack of mobility. To borrow another surfing term, Gomez can be a "goofy-footer" when it comes to chasing down an offensive lob. But let him square up, and the end is usually swift.
"Go-Go is just a pure talent," says Jimmy Arias. "He's got such great wrists his shots are impossible to read."
Gomez was born and still lives in Guayaquil, the city that also spawned Pancho Segura. While Andres only dabbled in tennis as a youngster, he quickly developed the sweeping topspin strokes no coach has dared change.
Not surprisingly for a lad from a land that really has an endless summer, Gomez's dream was to tube the perfect wave. He spent every spare hour in the surf at Punta Blanca. "At 5 a.m. I'd be awake, easily, no alarm clock," says Gomez. "I never wake up at 5 a.m. for tennis practice. I need a wake-up call."
But Gomez's talent was too much to ignore. He left Ecuador at 18 to work with Australian expatriate Harry Hop-man at his camp in Largo, Fla. "I'm very Latin, but I learned the Australian method," he says. "Hard work, running after practice. It gave me the discipline I didn't have." In 1980, after only a year on tour, Gomez was ranked 43rd.
Nonetheless, he got a reputation for tiring and for mental lapses. "Andres was too soft," says Colon Nunez, Gomez's coach. "He couldn't forget bad breaks, and he felt sorry for opponents. He's sensitive, and you don't want to cut that off because that's a beautiful person. But he had to realize he was losing a lot of respect on the court because he didn't have the killing instinct."
Gomez can still play erratically. This year he has been upset by such notables as Jay Berger, Derrick Rostagno and Horst Skoff. "It was hard to leave home this year," he says. "I was surfing, I was with my family [he and his wife, Anna-Maria, are expecting their first child]. It was hard getting started. I came back lazy, and it hurt me. But when it hurts enough, I start playing better."
Gomez apparently reached his pain threshold in New York. In the semifinals against the top-seeded Becker, Gomez lost the first set 6-4, but his steady strokes and power wore down the 19-year-old's patience. Gomez won the last two sets 6-4, 6-3.
Noah also cruised into the finals. But Gomez was confident. "He has to make better than 70 percent of his first serves to win," said Gomez. "He has nothing else to hurt me with." Indeed, Noah converted just 58% of his first balls.
After the match, a proud Segura cornered his countryman in the clubhouse. "Andres, you are playing like a champion now," he said in Spanish. When Gomez modestly shrugged, Segura was insistent. "Seriously. You know what I mean, don't you?" Gomez smiled, one champion to another.