It was Arthur Ashe himself who said it. "Charlie plays as well as I do," he admitted. "It's just that I get more attention because I'm a Negro." Charlie is Charles Pasarell, sometimes known as Charlito, a husky, good-looking Puerto Rican youth of 22 who, along with Ashe, attends UCLA. For the past year Pasarell has indeed been edged out of the spotlight by Ashe. At Forest Hills last summer Pasarell beat Australia's No. 2 man, Fred Stolle, in three straight sets, but that feat was overshadowed when Ashe beat Roy Emerson, the No. 1 man. Pasarell had also beaten Emerson—twice, in fact—but those victories were at smaller tournaments and therefore received less publicity.
This fall, while Ashe was making more headlines by winning four tournaments during his tour of Australia, Pasarell remained at UCLA to study and practice. Then, two weeks ago, Charlito made his move. Playing at the Philadelphia Invitational, Pasarell beat Mexico's Rafael Osuna and Jan-Erik Lundquist to reach the finals. There across the net was Ashe. Pasarell won in four sets, then joined his college teammate to win the doubles.
Still, Philadelphia was just another small tournament. But last week in Salisbury, Md. Pasarell won a big one, the National Indoor Championship, a tournament that included most of the game's top players, Ashe among them. In winning, Charlie Pasarell proved he is ready to stand alongside Ashe, Emerson and Santana as one of the best amateurs in the world.
It took Charlito a while to get there. Four years ago people were calling Charles Manuel Pasarell Jr.—handsome, wealthy and possessing the strokes and serve of a potential world-beater—the greatest import from Puerto Rico since rum. At the age of 18 he was ranked No. 10 in the U.S., the first player from the island commonwealth ever to win adult national ranking. But, admittedly "a little too anxious" and "expecting too much too soon," he stayed on the same rung the following year and at 20 slipped back to No. 12. He did well on the UCLA varsity but had to play second-racket to teammate Ashe when both were juniors, then voluntarily sat out a year—a tennis red shirt—as Ashe won the collegiate title. He was on the 1964 Davis Cup squad but did not get to play. Though he had some big wins, he was upset just as often. "Charlie's always been just on the fringe," said Davis Cup Captain George MacCall.
February 28, 1966
Pasarell recognizes that he has been inconsistent in the past and now proclaims himself a reformed man. "I've decided the only thing for me to do is play every match as if my opponent is champion of the world," he said early in the Salisbury tournament. "That's what I'm determined to do. I am fed up with winning big matches and losing the little ones. I've beaten just about everybody. Trouble is, I've lost to just about everybody, too.
"I'm inclined to be lazy and not prepare for matches that don't seem tough to me. I might stay up the night before or I might go out and play golf that morning. I was reading an article about Sandy Koufax. He said he would feel terrible if he lost a game because of something he did the night before. He wouldn't feel so bad if it was something that happened during the game. I guess he makes a heck of a lot of sense."
Charlito and his opponent in the finals at Salisbury, Ron Holmberg, himself a distinct surprise, had at least two things in common. Holmberg, 28, also was once a boy wonder of the tennis world and also was criticized for being lackadaisical. Now balding and forced to wear glasses indoors, Holmberg has a jiggly potbelly that makes him look at least 35. If tennis had musical accompaniment, as figure skating does, his theme would have to be Baby Elephant Walk. But he makes up for the overload of lard with a delicate volleying touch and a big serve, plus the ability to anticipate where his opponent will hit the ball. He is like the aging shortstop who hangs on by knowing where to play the batters.
If Pasarell was determined to make himself a more dedicated campaigner and win a Davis Cup berth, Holmberg had his strong motivations, too. He said he had been discriminated against because he had refused to "kowtow" to the United States Lawn Tennis Association.
"I would have liked to have gone to Australia with the fellows last year, but they didn't ask me and I'm sure not going to ask them," he said before the final. "They took five players ranked below me. I think the USLTA has something against me. They dropped me from sixth to ninth in the rankings this year without any cause. I'm going to play the circuit all year—Wimbledon and everything. Maybe I'll do so well they can't ignore me. I'd love to win here and I'd like to win at Forest Hills."
To reach the finals at Salisbury's modern Wicomico Youth and Civic Center (where Player Frank Froehling's pretty blonde wife caused more heads to swivel than any match), Pasarell and Holmberg had to pick their way through a litter of fallen gladiators. Lundquist of Sweden, the defending champion and one of the best indoor players in the world, lost to National Junior Champion Bob Lutz, only 18 years old. Manolo Santana of Spain, who won at Forest Hills last year, lost to New York Attorney Gene Scott. A 20-year-old Brazilian lefty, Tomaz Koch, knocked out Dennis Ralston and Osuna. And Ashe was eliminated by South Africa's Cliff Drysdale in the quarter-finals.
Of course, the finalists had to do some of their own hatchet work, too. Pasarell beat teen-ager Lutz in the quarters, but Lutz sort of expected it. "His forehand is real strong," he said before the match, "and he has a real tough serve. That will be my main difficulty, trying to return that thing." It proved too difficult. In the semis Saturday, with Davis Cup Captain MacCall in the stands, Charlie met giant killer Koch. He beat him despite a lapse in concentration in the third set, 6-3, 8-6, 5-7, 10-8. He had 19 aces and explained later, "I can hit about five or six different serves now and I've got confidence in all of them, spins and slices and the big bomb."
Holmberg's path was more dangerous. Against Gene Scott, the man who had ousted Santana, he won the first set 6-4 but took forever to win the second 18-16. But reporters who expected to find a tired, paunchy player in the locker room were surprised. Instead they found a fresh, paunchy player. "I'm just in shape," he said with no hint of humor. His semifinal with Cliff Drysdale, ranked No. 4 in the world, was another marathon and twice as scary. But Holmberg won 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4. "I'm not that tired," he insisted afterward.
The final match was played Sunday. It was a festive day in Salisbury, a friendly hamlet of less than 20,000 people who still cannot believe they stole the national indoors from New York City three years ago. Few out-of-town visitors could disagree, however, that the Civic Center was a vast improvement over the old site, a Manhattan armory illuminated by a few candles and Edison's original light bulb. All week long the town gazette had touted the tournament with a red-ink banner headline on page one. Tourney Chairman Bill Riordan, a transplanted New Yorker who prefers to be identified as a "Salisbury retailer" rather than a dress store owner, supplied the players with 1966 convertibles and a masseur. But Sunday was the capper, with so many folks out in their finery that Frank Froehling's wife walked in almost unnoticed.
Unfortunately, the folks in their finery were a lot more exciting than the tennis, which proved to be one of those booming battles of the big serve—crash, slam, crack. Pasarell won in straight sets, but they were long sets, 12-10, 10-8, 8-6. The last one might have been longer, too, had it not been for a sudden collapse by Holmberg. Losing 7-6 and needing a service break to stay in the match, Holmberg looked for a moment as if he would achieve it. He won three straight points, then, just as quickly, lost five straight, and Charlito had his first major victory.
One of the first to reach Pasarell's side after the match was George MacCall, smiling like a man who has just found out where they keep the money hidden. In his first season as Davis Cup captain, MacCall went against Spain with a team made up of names like Ralston, Froehling and Graebner, and he was beaten. This year you can bet that some of those names will be changed.