Professional Tennis is half Sport and half theater. It is a road show which has its cast of actors and its director, in this case the astute and unchallenged Jack Kramer.
Producer Kramer last week threw all his promotional genius behind one big super-duper show, his Tournament of Champions at historic West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. It was a show scheduled for a repeat performance a few days later on the other side of the U.S.—Los Angeles.
Kramer's colossal presentation, to use the Hollywood vernacular, started off with a press agentry even the movie moguls ought to admire. With delicate timing, he signed Lew Hoad, the blond Australian, three days after Hoad had won the Wimbledon Championship for the second straight time. The Aussie was dramatically flown to New York to affix his name to a $125,000 contract.
Then he was made an added starter in the Tournament of Champions, a round-robin affair involving the six best tennis players in the world. But there were other complications. Pancho Gonzales, who has proved himself the champion of the pros by cutting off the scalps of all of Kramer's new converts but who has been forced to remain a secondary figure moneywise, pouted on the West Coast like a John Barrymore. He didn't like the idea of Kramer's using Hoad so soon. It would ruin the big head-to-head series planned for next winter, he said.
Suits were threatened and then Gonzales, prodded by a lawyer's advice and a $1,000 bonus lure from Kramer, made a dramatic appearance at West Side on the day the tournament opened. The cast was complete—Gonzales, the champ; Hoad, the new challenger; and four others making up the greatest tennis sextet in the world—Pancho Segura, the circuit regular, Tony Trabert, Ken Rosewall and Frank Sedgman, the last flown 12,000 miles from Australia for two tournament appearances.
The schedule even was so arranged that Gonzales and Hoad would meet on the final day, ostensibly to decide who is the greatest player in the world. But then, pro tennis proved itself more sport than theater. It proved that in its unique showlike format there are still individuals with a burning desire to win.
This was an answer to the critics who scoff at pro tennis as sheer exhibitions without strong competitive meat. It was a ringing reply to those who say pro tennis is like wrestling, with preconceived designs to entertain the public.
Hoad beat a rusty Frank Sedgman in straight sets. Then he conquered Segura, the brown little Ecuadorian Indian with the two-fisted drive and one of the stoutest fighting hearts in the sport. That was two down and 3 to go for the Wimbledon champion. Gonzales, his big game crackling, won each of his matches handily to keep pace. Interest quickened.
Then Hoad ran into his boyhood nemesis, the tiny line-splitting Rosewall. And on the same court where 11 months ago Rosewall had smothered Hoad's bid for a tennis grand slam (Australian, French, Wimbledon, U.S.) Rosewall did it again.
This took a little of the edge off the tourney, but there still was the chance Lew could go into the final day with only this setback and a chance to beat Gonzales for the $2,500. But Trabert, lean and hard after weeks of practicing with Gonzales on the West Coast, apparently was anxious to get even for some of the indignities inflicted on him in Davis Cup competition. Playing brilliantly, his service an instrument of destruction, he handed Hoad his second defeat. This clinched the title for Big Pancho and made the final Hoad-Gonzales match a mere formality—although a splendidly played one.
It was a disappointing start for Hoad, but quite understandable. The results proved that pro tennis hardens the sinews and quickens the reflexes of its converts much more quickly than does the amateur game.
Hoad still has equipment to become the king of the game. He is young, only 22, and the six months on the pro tour before he goes against Gonzales for keeps is certain to sharpen him considerably. He should put brains and cunning in a game now built on sheer strength and natural talent.
It was a wonderful show. The tennis was superb. Perhaps it was the greatest tennis ever crammed into so short a span. Yet the big concrete stadium only once was more than half-filled.
This brings up another point. The amateur tennis fan is not the pro fan, who is probably the same as the baseball, basketball and hockey fan, so pro tennis' big aim now is to do a selling job. It has the world's finest product. The people must be taught to recognize it.