They will tell the story in Australia forever—indeed, it seems forever already—about how Ken Rosewall learned his tennis by practicing endless hours on the clay courts of a working-class neighborhood of Sydney. Less widely appreciated are the lessons he received in a six-story building containing no tennis facilities at all. The building, an exhausted, peeling relic on the edge of Sydney's main commercial district, houses the Metropolitan Business College, where Rosewall studied accounting as a teen-ager. That was back before either John Alexander or Phil Dent, a couple of the young bulls he regularly dispatches on the pro tennis circuit, were born.
Rosewall's failure to become an accountant is accepted calmly in the halls of Metropolitan Business College. "Ken used to bring his racket to class," a school official relates over the chatter of aspiring stenographers in thigh-high skirts. "He was always on his way to play tennis." Yet the people at Metropolitan should be consoled that Rosewall could pass for an accountant today almost anywhere. His manner is correct, his personal habits are governed by honesty and thrift, and his clothes, in contrast to the sunburst hues that predominate in tennis, run toward prudent grays and blacks. Because he further lacks what anybody would call a commanding presence, he has occasionally had to talk his way into dressing rooms by assuring the guards, "My name is Rosewall—I'm one of the tennis players."
He deserves better. It is not simply that Rosewall has lasted at the very top of tennis for two decades, nor even that he ranks as the current world champion by reason of his victory last November in the 32-man World Championship of Tennis tournament—a title he will be defending next week in Dallas. It is that he has done these things, and gone from child prodigy to geriatric phenomenon, without losing either his schoolboy air or the quiet authority he has always exerted on the tennis court. While this authority will never be distilled into The Wit and Wisdom of Ken Rosewall, it was at bottom a truthful reply when, asked how he has changed over the years, he recently deadpanned, "I'm just a little heavier in the wallet."
So slight of build that he is ironically nicknamed Muscles, Rosewall stands, in a further irony, as one of nature's indestructibles. Having performed in his share of lonely, dimly lighted arenas during the early years, having survived the sport's recurring political wars and having suffered the scourge of Rod Laver's deadly top spin, he has finally made his way, a tired warrior of 37, into the sunlight. One can almost hear the trumpets blare. Reflecting in part the impact of the riches of WCT boss Lamar Hunt, Rosewall's winnings last year amounted to more than $137,000. That was a distant second to Laver's positively indecent $290,000, yet the significance of the $137,000 figure does not escape Ernie Christensen, longtime tennis writer of the Sydney Sun. "One-thirty-seven," Christensen observes. "That's 100 plus his age—it's just like a blood pressure measurement."
April 30, 1972
To ever arrive at six digits, Rosewall, the ex-accounting major, had to make a bookkeeping operation out of life itself. Not quite 5'7", he canceled this debit by learning to hit a tennis ball with decimal-point precision. As the years accumulated, he balanced the books by practicing moderation, especially in assaying his own place in the cosmic scheme of things. Awarded the Order of the British Empire last summer, Rosewall thought enough of the honor to drive his wife Wilma and their two boys over to Government House in Sydney and proudly join other recipients at the ceremony. But he was embarrassed, too. "There were a lot of older, unmarried women there—75 or 80 years old—who had given their lives to charities and other worthy causes," he said afterward. "It was sad. I wondered what I was doing there."
Equally restrained and level-headed about his own physical well-being, Rosewall keeps himself coiled in a state of constant watchfulness. He watches his weight, which has varied in a decade little more than a scoop of ice cream either side of 142 pounds. He watches his sleep, aided by the capacity to curl up mouselike in a jetliner and doze off even before it leaves the runway. He watches his vitamins, eating great heapings of Kellogg's Product 19. "Maybe I'm being led along by the advertising, but they say it's better for you," he explains. Confronting the mirror in the morning, he watches, helplessly, for any new strands of gray that may have found their way into his sleek black hair overnight.
Something else Ken Rosewall watches are his investments, this with a shrewdness not seen in tennis since Frank Sedgman got Australian schoolchildren to drink more milk by selling their mums chocolate-flavored straws. From his home in Sydney, Rosewall is forever flying up to Brisbane on some land deal or down to Canberra for a tennis clinic on behalf of British Petroleum, which employs him as "professional adviser." For matches in Australia, he religiously competes with a Ken Rosewall-model wooden racket made by Slazengers, the sporting-goods firm he has been affiliated with for 20 years. Everywhere else he wouldn't be caught dead without a Ken Rosewall-model metal job by Seamless. He also endorses Revere sportswear and lends his name to John Gardiner's tennis ranch in Arizona.
In attending to these far-flung ventures, Rosewall shuns the business agents—and their fees—without whom other athletes of equal prominence would never sign an autograph, much less a contract. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel I can work things out myself," he says. His confidence is shared by friends. "When you hear Muscles has invested in something, you can invest in it, too, without question," says Fred Stolle, his doubles partner and countryman. "You know he's already asked all the questions."
Stolle and others who know Rosewall find it convenient to speak of him in terms of the many things—extravagant, flamboyant, devil-may-care—he is not. Rosewall himself says, "I try not to overdo anything. I try to keep fit and not hurt myself." Discipline and denial show in his face, too, the skin drawn severely over bones that seem about to break through. It is a heavy-lidded, darkly handsome face with a narrow railing for a nose, but very occasionally, as when some silliness tickles him, it can form a wide, delighted smile.
Peel away the layers of what Rosewall is not, get to the core, and one ends up sharing the conclusion of Arthur Huxley, a Slazengers official and close friend of Rosewall's for 20 years, that "Ken's just a very decent little bloke." In the starched and sometimes bloodless world of tennis, Rosewall's sobriety makes him seem at home, yet there is a gentleness about him that at times seems oddly out of place. There was the moment when a ball boy fainted at courtside as Rosewall was beating Arthur Ashe in the semifinals of the WCT tournament last February in Philadelphia. A worried hush fell over the crowd, but the silence was quickly broken by a call over the public-address system by the umpire. He was calling not for a doctor—but for another ball boy.
The umpire next ordered Ashe and Rosewall, who had interrupted their match to lend a hand with the stricken boy, to resume play. Rosewall lingered near the youngster, who was still on the ground at courtside. "Let's play, Mr. Rosewall," the umpire said sharply. Afterward, restrained as always, Rosewall would not be drawn into criticizing the umpire's callousness, but neither would he defend it. "I just wanted to see how the little fellow was," he said, ending the discussion.
None of this necessarily makes Rosewall the brand favored by famous Hollywood stars, who prefer their tennis players colorful, dashing and, wherever it can be arranged, named Pancho. But he is not without his fanciers, either. Pintsized players, the ones who have trouble lifting a racket or peeking over a net, find his giant-killing ways utterly inspiring. He also enjoys the affections of his fellow Australians, a geographically isolated lot unhappy over the tendency of homegrown celebrities to live elsewhere. Among Australian tennis players, Rod Laver has moved to the U.S., and Roy Emerson and John Newcombe, too, but nationalistic pangs are soothed by the fact that Ken Rosewall goes on making his home in Sydney.
Another group of Rosewall admirers are his rivals on the pro tour, including so improbable a kindred spirit as Jeff Borowiak, a WCT newcomer who sports a headband and majored in music at UCLA. Getting Rosewall's ear at courtside during an idle moment at a WCT tournament last fall in Cologne, West Germany, Borowiak launched into a line of thought that had been germinating beneath the headband for some time. "Did you realize there's a balance to your game also found in Bach?" he enthused as Rosewall listened politely. "You both have symmetry, perfect control. You're not showy like one of the romantic composers, like Liszt, but your game builds to a peak—to a whirlwind of perfection. Like Bach, in other words."
Rosewall has lately taken to traveling with a cassette player and a good selection of Andy Williams tapes, a far different fare from the hard rock and cool jazz that issue from the tape decks of Arthur Ashe and Bob Lutz, two of Borowiak's friends on the tour. Listening to Borowiak in Cologne, Rosewall thanked him for the apparent compliment but admitted, "I don't know too much about music." Borowiak has since expounded to others on the theme, and Rosewall, reacting as though he and Bach had been linked romantically, denies all. "I'm not sure what he's getting at," he says.
There is also respect for Rosewall among the other Australian players, who spend hours over late-night beers in his absence ("We never see Muscles after dark," John Newcombe says), marveling over the hows and whys of his longevity. There is much to marvel over. It is true that Pancho Segura was still active in his mid-40s, that the other Pancho—Gonzalez—pulled some big upsets two years ago when he was 40, and that Alex Olmedo and Roy Emerson, 36 and 35, are still around today. But Rosewall, at 37, is not only still around, he is still winning big, including about 80% of his WCT matches.
The only rival on the circuit safely ahead of Rosewall at the moment is Laver, whose own advancing years—he was 33 last August—enable one to understand why help-wanted ads are always calling for men of experience. Rested and confident after some shaky moments toward the end of 1971, Laver won this year's first three WCT tournaments, defeating Rosewall in the finals of two of them. But none of this compensated for Rosewall's four-set victory over Laver for the WCT championship in November, which carried a payoff of $50,000, the biggest in tennis history. The reason he has to defend the title so soon, after only a six-month reign, is that the WCT, tailoring its season to TV, is currently switching from a late-fall to a late-spring windup.
Laver should pocket the $50,000 this time, but never count out Rosewall when the stakes are high. Besides his triumph in last year's WCT showdown, he has done well in the four championships—of Australia, France, Wimbledon and Forest Hills—that make up the game's Grand Slam. Of the last six such events, Rosewall has entered four and won three: he won at Forest Hills in 1970, then took the Australian championship in both 1971 and 1972, the latter victory coming in straight sets in January over 36-year-old Mai Anderson, another survivor of an earlier, brighter day in Australian tennis. The excursion into nostalgia drew a sellout crowd of 10,000 in Melbourne's Kooyong Stadium, a turnout so unexpectedly big that Rosewall needed a police escort to get his car through the snarled traffic in time for the match.
Rosewall is determined to savor these and other triumphs—he also won last year's South African Open and the U.S. pro title at Brookline, Mass.—as long as he can. "Sometimes I feel like I'm 21 again," he says at one moment. "My reflexes are good. I'm good mentally and physically. I don't see why I can't go on winning my share of matches." At another time, though, he sounds less hopeful. "The younger players have more room for improvement than I do. All I'm doing is postponing the inevitable. This year may be my final fling—my swan song."
It has been suggested in the genial surroundings of the Mad Corner, the Sydney pub where Rosewall occasionally stops by for one or two—but never three—dinner ales, that he is playing the best tennis of his life. But it has always seemed inappropriate to use the word "best" on Rosewall without somehow qualifying it. As a youngster, he was touted as having "the best backhand since Don Budge," a phrase still heard today even though his backhand has long since surpassed Budge's. Others are fated to be best in this world, not the Ken Rosewalls. He lived in the shadow of Lew Hoad as an amateur, of Pancho Gonzalez in his early days as a pro and of Laver in times more recent. For three or four years in the early '60s, Rosewall was indeed the world's ranking tennis player, but who knew it? Those were the lean years when the tennis circuit played to crowds like the 80 souls who turned out one day to watch Rosewall and his fellow pros perform in the Australian cow town of Cloncurry.
No, Rosewall will not be remembered as the best. He will be remembered mainly as the fellow who defied time and space—by taking up so much of the one and so little of the other. In 1953, only 18, he became the youngest player ever to win the Australian championship. This year's Australian victory, his fourth in that event, came 19 years later. It was almost as long between his first French title, also in 1953—again he was the youngest champion ever—and his second in 1968. His victory two years ago at Forest Hills occurred 14 years after he had previously won that championship.
The one prestige tournament missing from the list is Wimbledon. The record shows that he lost in the finals three times, twice before turning pro in 1956 and then, after being shut out of the event until the arrival of open tennis a dozen years later, to Newcombe in 1970. The record fails to show that Rosewall suffers from hay fever and that the condition has always bothered him in the pastoral setting of Wimbledon. Last year for the first time he tried cortisone for relief. He defeated Cliff Richey in the quarterfinals in as dramatic a come-from-behind affair as Wimbledon has seen, and then, drained by that four-hour ordeal, lost to Newcombe in straight sets the next day.
Friends suggest that Rosewall might have won at Wimbledon in recent years had he foregone the doubles competition there and conserved himself during the grueling week. Rosewall mulls over this possibility with his usual caution. "I'm not saying I would have won," he declares at last, "but maybe I could have stood the pace a little better."
Whether Rosewall gets another shot at Wimbledon is in doubt because of the recent ban against contract pros by the International Lawn Tennis Federation. Rejecting any talk of a Wimbledon jinx, he says, "Maybe I've put too much pressure on myself there, but my record at Wimbledon is not too bad. I don't make a big thing out of it." The Australian press has called Rosewall "the best player never to have won Wimbledon," but there's that word "best" again. Remember, Pancho Gonzalez has never won Wimbledon, either.
One realm where Rosewall defers to nobody is his sheer proficiency as a shot-maker, and he is being merely factual when he says, "Probably the biggest reason I've lasted so long is that I learned the game the right way." Unlike Laver, who is also quiet and unassuming but becomes all daring and flair the moment he steps onto a court ("The Rocket goes into a phone booth to change," says Marty Riessen, another WCT performer), Rosewall's game is an extension of his personality. He wins with steadiness and control, and without the smoldering serve ordinarily so essential to a secure livelihood in tennis. Interestingly, Rosewall's golf game reflects similar qualities; his drives, while never long, are almost always straight down the fairway.
Rosewall tries to compensate for his relatively anemic serve with accuracy, and he is so successful that Dinny Pails, a onetime rival on the pro tour, says, "He doesn't win matches with his serve, but he doesn't lose any, either." During the WCT title match in November, Rosewall scored several points when his serve struck an uneven spot on the court, causing Laver to hit the ball off the end of the racket. The area was about the size of a bowl from which Rosewall might eat his Kellogg's 19. He denies he was aiming for the spot, despite suggestions to that effect by a close friend, John Barrett, a former British Davis Cupper who covers tennis for London's Financial Times. "It was uncanny the way Ken was hitting that patch," Barrett says. "One couldn't help wondering."
Though his backhand remains his most decisive stroke, the one he hits for winners, Rosewall's game admits to no real weakness. He backs up his service with a first volley conceded to be the strongest in the game, which often means that it merely takes him one more exchange to win the point than if he had a cannonball serve. He also has one of the surest returns of service, deftly laying the ball at the feet of onrushing opponents with the audacity of those little guys in old war movies who are always picking up live grenades and tossing them back at the enemy. The neutralization of power is Rosewall's forte, and he achieves it by mixing his shots, keeping the other fellow off-balance until, finally, the poor devil is going in as many directions as he has feet.
It is almost as if Rosewall, as he runs through another orderly sequence of clever dinks, sharply angled line ticklers and diabolically casual returns, is redesigning the playing surface, enlarging his opponent's court while narrowing his own. "He's a chess player on the court." says Cliff Sproule, Australia's Davis Cup selector in Rosewall's amateur days. "He seems to be thinking a few shots ahead." Dick Crealy, an Australian who had plenty of experience in losing to both before quitting the WCT tour this year, considers Rosewall more frustrating to play in many ways than Laver. "With Laver, you make your best shot and he'll knock it for a winner and do it with contempt," Crealy says. "With Rosewall, you think you're playing well but he seems to anticipate everything you do. And he never misses. He doesn't maul you the way Laver docs. He just breaks your heart."
Rosewall's play is characterized above all by an utter unwillingness to waste effort. "He will seldom kill a shot if a quieter one will do," John Barrett observes. "He knows when a point is lost and doesn't spend energy unnecessarily." On the infrequent occasions when Rosewall loses his temper, he may drop his racket, but he does so oh-so-gently, as if Slazengers and Seamless—wood in Australia, metal everywhere else—were not busily at work to keep him endlessly supplied. Unhappy with his play, he assumes a hangdog look, one that Tony Trabert remembers well from their days as Davis Cup rivals. "Muscles starts moping around and the ladies all want to mother him," Trabert says. "Meanwhile, he's cutting you to ribbons."
There are only two areas of Rosewall's life where he is given to any excess—and they are in conflict. One is his continual keenness for tennis, not only for playing the game but for watching it, too. Arriving for an early round WCT singles match last February in Toronto, Rosewall, learning he was too early, sank into an empty seat to watch some doubles. Instantly absorbed, he propped his chin on a railing and began oohing and aahing with the crowd. Following one particularly good rally, he looked up, eyes glistening. "Hey, those are good points," he said. He returned his chin to the railing.
This enthusiasm for tennis is matched only by the zeal with which Rosewall, away as much as eight months of the year, plunges into the role of family man when he is at home in Sydney. He is making every effort to get home more often, one occasion being when he passed up Forest Hills last September, as did Laver and other WCT stars, in what was widely assumed to be an informal boycott in the ongoing feud between the contract pros and the Lawn Tennis group. Resentment at Forest Hills was especially high toward Rosewall, since he was the defending champion, but he and the others have insisted all along that no boycott existed. While the feud no doubt made it easier for him to skip the tournament, it also happened that both of Rosewall's sons, 12-year-old Brett and 10-year-old Glenn, were ill. He spent the week of the tournament with his family in Australia.
A similar truancy occurred this past January when Rosewall notified WCT in Dallas that he would skip the opening tournament of the year in Richmond. This time it was his wife Wilma who was ill. "But you've got to be there." a WCT official, Don Mordecai, pleaded on the phone from Dallas. "Your picture's on the program cover."
"I can't make it, Don," came the reply. "Wilma's not that well." Rosewall's picture on the cover was probably a good thing, because it was all that Richmond ever saw of him.
"If I have to make a choice, Wilma and the kiddies come first," Rosewall says firmly. As family pressures increase, it is not inconceivable that Rosewall will eventually withdraw from WCT in order to play as an independent—when and where he chooses. On tour, meanwhile, he sends Wilma roses even when it's not her birthday and writes at least four letters home a week, sometimes addressing separate ones to Brett and Glenn, each of whom likes to receive his own mail. When he is in Australia, he happily keeps busy, as he did one Sunday afternoon not long ago, with "family-type things" at his home in the Sydney suburb of Pymble.
The contemporary five-bedroom house, in a neighborhood popular with barristers and airline executives, occupies a rolling lawn not far from Barker College, the Anglican boys' school where Brett and Glenn play rugby, cricket and fair games of tennis. Among the family-type things Rosewall was referring to on this particular day: Wilma added a few stitches to her knitting; Glenn beat his mother 21-15 at table tennis; Ken strung a rope from a towering eucalyptus tree on the front lawn for the kids to climb; and everybody pitched in to barbecue steaks on the patio. After dinner Brett and Glenn played in the basement with their model train, which loops past a homemade Sign: KEN ROSEWALL, WORLD CHAMPION, PLAYS SLAZENGERS.
Somewhere between the table tennis and the barbecued steaks, while Glenn was shinnying up the rope outside the picture window, Ken and Wilma took a moment to sit down in the living room. Wilma, a pleasant woman with the lively, full-faced good looks of a cheerleader, is a onetime junior player who met her husband at a tennis tournament when both were 13. They were married eight years later, a month before Ken turned pro. "I've been waiting for Ken to retire 15 years now," Wilma said. "My lady golfers and tennis friends tell me, 'Oh, you must be used to Ken being away.' But you never get used to it. Not if you care. They say, 'Well, it won't be long now.' " She rolled her eyes and glanced at her husband.
The ball was in Ken's court. "It's not often a man is lucky enough to do what he loves for so many years," he said. "I owe that to Wilma. She's been strong enough to take care of things in my absence. But the time is coming when I may have to put on the brakes, when maybe I won't be able to justify being on tour so long. The boys are getting older, and it's hard to concentrate on your game when you get bad news from home. We'll just have to play it by ear."
"Play it by ear," Wilma repeated, laughing. "That's your favorite expression, love."
Family separations of the kind he has experienced more recently are something Rosewall never knew in his boyhood as the only child of Bob Rosewall, a grocer, and his wife Vera. Ken's mother died in 1966, and his father, now remarried, lives in retirement in the faintly old-world surroundings of Black Heath, a resort town in the Blue Mountains 70 miles west of Sydney. A jaunty little man with a shine on his shoes, Bob Rosewall remains close to his son, though he has not seen him play tennis since suffering a mild heart attack while also suffering through Ken's loss to Laver in the Australian championships two years ago. He calls Ken's success "a dream fulfilled," and he is speaking not only as a proud father but also as the only tennis coach Ken Rosewall ever had.
The elder Rosewall, a tennis buff who learned the game by poring over instructional manuals, owned a couple of clay courts that he rented out to supplement his income from the grocery store. The courts were behind the Rosewalls' small, red-brick house, set in a row of look-alike dwellings in the suburb of Rockdale. With his father as willing instructor, Ken took to the game with enthusiasm, neatly laying out all their tennis clothes the night before so that the two of them could get a jump on their early-morning practice. Father and son would awake at dawn, play for three hours before Ken's dad changed clothes, put on his apron and went to the store.
Bob Rosewall quickly saw that his scrawny son would have to win with finesse rather than power. He drilled the boy for weeks in a given stroke before he was satisfied enough to move on to the next one. As the two practiced, there were moments of self-doubt for each. The father, concerned that the boy might do better under a professional, consulted a respected coach, who took one awed look at Ken's flawless strokes and sent them both on their way. For Ken, the moment of questioning came when he was eight and his dad delivered an ultimatum.
"I didn't want to push him any further unless I knew he was willing," Bob Rosewall recalls. "I told him, 'Ken, if you quit rugby and cricket and concentrate exclusively on tennis, I think you have what it takes to be a champion. Or you can be good at all sports but champion in none of them.' " He gave his son a week to choose, and the boy agonized for three days. "I can still see him coming into the living room," the father says. "He said, 'Dad, I want to be a champion.' "
Ken Rosewall speaks touchingly today of the "sacrifice of my parents," but his father waves away such prattle to dwell instead on a regret that has tugged at him all these years. "I wish I'd worked more on his serve," he says sadly. "But Ken had a good overhead smash, and I thought the serve would come naturally." Even with harder work, though, the father might have been disappointed, for Ken labors under the handicap of playing tennis right-handed while doing almost everything else, including throwing a ball, with his left. The serve being the tennis stroke closest to the throwing action, he fails to get the wrist snap that southpaw Laver, barely an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier, gets on his ripping service.
Despite his feather-duster serve, Rosewall's ground strokes were artful enough that the Metropolitan Business College, which he attended for 18 months in all, never had a chance. Even before he enrolled at Metropolitan at 15, he was being touted as a certain champion. The fact that his childhood rival, Lew Hoad, also from Sydney and three weeks his junior, was receiving the same billing, simply made the future that much brighter for Australian tennis. As partners, Hoad and Rosewall wound up winning three legs of the Grand Slam in doubles in both 1953 and 1956 and powering Australia to Davis Cup triumphs over the U.S. in three out of four years. As opponents, they took turns beating each other, most notably when Hoad stood on the verge of a singles Slam in 1956 only to lose to Rosewall in the finals at Forest Hills.
Considering that they were sometimes called the Tennis Twins, the two could scarcely have been more different. Hoad had the rugged blond looks of a beach-boy, Rosewall the small, swarthy appearance of a Panamanian jockey. Hoad's style on the court was big and booming, Rosewall's all pit and pat. Lew was outgoing, Kenny withdrawn. Ken worked for Slazengers, Lew for Dunlop, a competitor at the time although the two firms have since merged. There is something else that set them apart: it was Rosewall who lasted. Although Hoad was considered the better prospect because of his big serve-and-volley game, he was slowed by injuries soon after turning pro in 1957 and has been in semi-retirement for the past six years.
Rosewall joined Jack Kramer's barnstorming pro troupe a few months before Hoad signed up, and Ken took his lumps at first from Pancho Gonzalez. But he improved quickly, both by sharpening his serve and by augmenting his superb baseline play with more aggressiveness at the net. Ironically, while many of the game's big hitters were busily damaging their back muscles or wrenching their elbows, Rosewall's measured style, involving less wear and tear, was probably prolonging his career. Touch wood (metal everywhere except Australia), but he has seldom suffered so much as a blister in tennis. Besides his hay fever, Rosewall used to be bothered by a form of eczema that caused bad rashes. The condition has all but cleared up, leading his rivals on the WCT tour to wonder if Rosewall has been consorting with the devil.
Another reason for such speculation is that three years ago Rosewall was assumed by many to have reached the end of the line. After open tennis arrived in 1968, he briefly played with inspiration, winning the very first open tournament, the British hard-court championships at Bournemouth, and followed by taking the French Open, too. Then he went into decline. Not only was Laver beating him—Laver, warming up for his Slam in 1969, was beating everybody—but so were some of the gifted upstarts, mere babes like Arthur Ashe, John Newcombe and Tony Roche, who had arrived all at once on the scene.
Although Laver was the ranking pro, it was Rosewall the newcomers were chiefly gunning for. "Some of us had played Laver when he was an amateur," Newcombe explains. "So we knew about him. But Muscles was new to us. It must have been tough on him. All of us were out to get him, and he had to learn how to play each of us one by one." For Rosewall, the low point came at Wimbledon in 1969 when, suffering as usual from hay fever, he lost in an early round to Bob Lutz, another of the talented youngsters then emerging. "I was a little discouraged," Rosewall admits today. "Then I realized it was a mental thing. I knew I had no need to be nervous playing those guys. After all, I had already made my mark." He realized, in other words, that they were the ones who should be nervous.
Just as he had learned to live with the younger players, so Rosewall shrugs off the old jokes that are still tirelessly told about him, the gist being that he not only has short arms but deep pockets as well. There was the time when Pancho Segura, asked for his greatest thrill in tennis, convulsed everybody by saying it was the day Rosewall picked up the check. The other players from Australia, where buying a round of drinks is called a "shout," spread the word that "Muscles wouldn't shout if a shark bit him." And when the pro tennis players organized into an association in the early '60s, they carried the whole business to the point of unanimously electing Rosewall their treasurer.
The jokes persist to this day, and Rosewall gamely endures them. Entering the dressing room in the Philadelphia Spectrum, Tony Trabert spied his old rival and cried, "Hey, look at Muscles. He gets out his checkbook even before he puts on his shoes." Rosewall, clad only in trousers, had been arranging some things in his locker and, indeed, was holding a checkbook. He joined Trabert in laughter, then turned to a sportswriter who was present. "You weren't supposed to hear that," he said with mock severity.
It would have been too much to expect Rosewall, so economical in size and frugal in manner, to be any sort of free spender. "I come from an ordinary, hard-working middle-class family," Rosewall says. "I was taught to be thrifty." Yet even those who perpetuate the old jokes admit, when pressed, that Rosewall reaches for his share of checks. Tony Trabert was not present, but there was another revealing moment in Philadelphia, this one during a buffet dinner in the Blue Line, the Spectrum's private restaurant.
The tennis players were invited to the buffet as guests of the tournament sponsors, but Rosewall had neglected to pick up the necessary ticket. When the waitress came by to collect, he might have said, as if he were talking his way past another of those dressing-room guards, "My name is Rosewall—I'm one of the tennis players." He might at least have tried to rustle up a free ticket. Instead, without fuss, Rosewall pressed a $10 bill in the waitress' hand. "Is that enough?" he quietly asked. It was only by chance that a tournament official noticed and intervened to get back the $10.
To those impressed by grand gestures and lots of noise, Rosewall will never measure up. Being a very decent little bloke, he remained stoically in character even during the adversity that dogged him after he lost to Laver in the finals in Philadelphia in February and set out for Toronto. Owing to bad weather and labor disputes, flights to Canada were being canceled left and right. Detouring to New York, Rosewall was stranded at Kennedy Airport. He arranged to spend the night at a friend's apartment in Manhattan, only to be kept awake till all hours by a crying baby.
It took 20 weary hours for Rosewall to reach Toronto. At one point in this ordeal, he had admitted to being "a little tired." At another, referring to all the plane cancellations, he had said, "I reckon that's what happens when you travel." There had been one other complaint, if you could call it that, at the very start of this journey, as Rosewall left the Spectrum bound for the Philadelphia airport. He rode in silence, no doubt replaying the finals in his mind. He had won the first set 6-4 and then, the victim of a couple of bad calls and some relentless shotmaking by Laver, lost the next three sets, each by 6-2 scores.
A letter to Wilma, ready for mailing, was in the pocket of his black raincoat. Rosewall gazed out the window at a junkyard piled high with pretzeled cars, his face tightening in frustration. It was the look people get when they are about to scream, surely a forgivable thing to do when you are 37 years old, your family is 10,000 miles away and you may well have to play Rod Laver again next week. But Rosewall didn't scream. He did say something, but it was under his breath. It was a single word, uttered behind clenched teeth, in a guttural whisper. You had to strain to hear it.