As if the blasted sports world were not confusing enough already, what with male and female golf tours, bowling tours and tennis tours—was it Billie Jean Whitworth who bowled that perfect game in San Jose, or Slammin' Sammy Petraglia?—the men's racket squad has now doubled its size and split in two. Yes, World Championship of Tennis, the international circuit run by Texas zillionaire Lamar Hunt, is now twins, cleverly named Group A and Group B. Each is headed by a slight Australian, A by Rod Laver, B by Ken Rose-wall. At this time it is not known which group has fewer cavities, but A definitely has fewer Czechoslovakians.
Group A made its debut last week in the $50,000 Saga Bay Tennis Classic on the asphalt courts of the University of Miami, a five-day fling that had all sorts of pleasant diversions. Cliff Richey and Nikki Pilic were on hand to fuss and fume at officials, always a jolly sight. Aussie vaudeville star John Alexander showed off a few clown routines, including one in which he chased an angled shot, landed in a pretty girl's lap and then called for his opponent to hit it there again. For those who did not care for sideshows, Wimbledon champion and Davis Cup hero Stan Smith, known as Godzilla to some, Mr. Clean to others, was there for his first taste of WCT combat. And the 34-year-old master, Laver, was returning after a more than three-month layoff forced by an aching back.
The rest apparently did Laver some good because he got to the finals as expected this time, where his opponent was not second-seeded Smith or third-seeded Cliff Drysdale or any of the 12 seeds. Instead it was 21-year-old Dick Stockton, who just last June was graduated summa cum laude in tennis from Trinity University in Texas. He was the 1972 NCAA champion, which does not exactly compare in the credentials department with Laver's two Grand Slams. Stockton played well in the finals, and even took Rocket to a tiebreaker in the first set, but his elder had too many tricks, too much experience, and won in straight sets 7-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Laver collected $10,000 for winning the singles and later in the day he picked up $900 as his share of the doubles first prize. Since he had already won $1,500 in a pro-am earlier in the week he left Florida with $12,400 and high hopes that his back would hold up under the grind. All this, said a press-box wit, and he didn't even have to tip a caddie.
This new twin-tour idea was made possible when WCT and the International Lawn Tennis Federation signed a truce last year. WCT had an international panel of 29 sportswriters rate the world's players—Laver, Rosewall, John Newcombe of Australia and Smith finishing in that order at the top—right down to No. 125, Paul Gerken. WCT invited the top 64 and a few substitutes to compete and most accepted. WCT then filled the berths by going down the list in order. A fellow named Stockton was ranked 65th. No. 3 Newcombe and No. 9 Ilie Nastase of Rumania were the more important decliners.
Dividing the 64 players into two nearly equal groups, a task demanding the skills of a diplomat, travel agent and juggler, was the headache of Welshman Mike Davies, WCT executive director. Every day for six weeks he fiddled with the lists, feeling like a little boy preparing the rosters for a dice-baseball league—toying with the fates of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays on his kitchen table. There could be no divorces among such successful, longtime doubles teams as Okker-Riessen and Laver-Emerson. Group A was going to South Africa, so Arthur Ashe, a black, would no doubt prefer to be in B, away from apartheid, but that meant he would not be playing in his hometown, Richmond, Va. Ray Moore of South Africa normally would have been put in A, but he wanted to be with B's free-spirited contingent, Jeff Borowiak, Haroon Rahim and Torben Ulrich. And so on, a thousand combinations swirling in Davies' mind.
He finally settled on two lists, heaved a sigh of relief and almost immediately had to begin shuffling again. Joaquin Loyo-Mayo of Mexico, no bigger than a chihuahua and apparently just as flighty, dropped out to work for a cigarette company. Alexander Metreveli of the U.S.S.R. joined up and had to be put in B because his country does not truck with South Africa, which led to Frank Froehling being transferred to A, which led to Charlie Pasarell being unhappy in B because Froehling had been his doubles partner, all of which made Davies wake up screaming in the night.
Well, Loyo-Mayo gave up tobacco and came back, Davies managed to reunite Pasarell and Froehling in A, and after a few million other adjustments WCT-73 was ready to wend its merry, bifurcated way. Each group will play 11 tournaments, A starting in the U.S. and Canada and then going abroad, B doing the reverse. Six of the 22 finals will be televised live by NBC. The top finishers in singles and doubles at each event will be awarded money, of course, and points. The four doubles teams from each group with the most points will compete in Montreal May 3-May 6 for $80,000 in prize money, the most by far ever offered for doubles. A week later in Dallas the eight leading singles players—again, four from each group—will be clawing each other for shares of $100,000.
Otherwise the twain shall meet only twice during the season, at two all-star events, the Aetna World Cup in Hartford, Conn., and the CBS Tennis Classic in Hilton Head, S.C., both in March, with neither counting in the point derby.
A continuing annoyance to WCT staff members has been their inability to dream up jazzy names for their two caravans. A and B are not only dull but also imply there is a difference in quality. The traditional National-American designation is inappropriate since 19 countries are represented in the two troupes and nine countries will host tournaments. Blacks-Whites might cause some nervousness in Johannesburg and, besides, any pair of colors could confuse fans because of the pros' rainbow wardrobes, e.g., red-haired Laver of the Blues playing in yellow. In Miami the press-box and locker-room habitués also came up with: Lavers-Rosewalls, Globetrotters-Nomads, World-Global, East-West, Faults-Double Faults, Forehands-Backhands, Aces-Slams, Aces-Deuces, Ad In-Ad Out and Ad Infinitum-Ad Nauseum. None of them quite struck the desired note.
So let's have a contest. Any reader who conies up with a pair of names that wow the judges and are accepted by WCT will receive a snip from Stan Smith's mustache and a portfolio of photographs, Cliff Rickey's Greatest Glares.
For Laver the A-B business was probably less important than another innovation, the hiring of two traveling trainers, one for the U.S. and one for abroad, a move he has been suggesting for two years. After each match last week Laver put the trainer to good use. The redhead would swig his beer, then have his still-weak back massaged. Wednesday night he and Roy Emerson gave Stockton and 20-year-old Brian Gottfried a lesson in how to play doubles, but afterward the two kids were showered and dressed while Laver and Emmo were still being strung back together in the training room.
Laver reached the final by beating Edison Mandarino of Brazil, Nikki Pilic of Yugoslavia, fellow Aussie Emerson and Bob Lutz of the U.S., but it was not exactly a pleasant stroll through Sydney. He was inconsistent, or "scratchy," as he put it, yet he seemed able to turn on the steam and let loose the shots when he needed to. He was forced into three tiebreakers along the way and won all. He played Pilic at night on a damp court but he won in straight sets. Emerson routed him 6-1 in their first set and had him down 6-5 in the third, but Rod in one streak won nine straight points and took it 7-6. Against Lutz he paced himself through the end of the second set when he saw he had little chance to catch up, but had plenty of tricks and energy left to win the third 6-2.
Stockton's climb was smoother. He has an edge over most of the other rookies because he played five tournaments on the 1972 WCT tour, twice performing well against Newcombe. In Miami he started off by upsetting Charlie Pasarell and then beat Ove Bengston of Sweden. He missed facing third-seeded Cliff Drysdale of South Africa in the third round when Drysdale was eliminated by the flu. Stockton went on to wallop Jim McManus, 10 years his senior, and then challenge Alexander.
The handsome Alexander, also 21, had bashed Smith the night before 6-4, 6-2 with strong serves and strong returns of serve, but he had to stick around and play a rain-postponed doubles match that did not end until two a.m. He was not in rare form the next day under a hot sun, but Stockton was. He served beautifully, blasting cross-court winners a la Laver and probably played his finest match, winning 6-3, 6-2. He joyfully leaped the net for the handshake, not for the moment considering that he, lowly No. 65, would be playing No. 1 the next day.
Despite the surprising showing by Stockton and the sharpness at times of Lutz, no one at this early stage was discounting Smith's chances of ending up as the top American in Group A, or even the top player period. He seemed to accept all the minor and major setbacks of the week with his usual calm. On the first day he arrived without his shoes and had to borrow a pair from Bengston, who at 6'5" is one of the few tennis tourists taller than Stan and with feet to match. Smith was fortunate that 5'6", 130-pound Harold Solomon, his Davis Cup teammate, wasn't the only guy around. On the second day Smith and doubles partner Lutz were socked with small fines for wearing different-colored shirts in a match.
Even the lopsided loss to Alexander did not cause Smith much distress. He remembered that he had been smashed by hard-serving Vladimir Zednik in his first tournament last year.
"It's a matter of timing, moving, positioning," he said. "I'm not doing any of that well yet. I expected to start slowly. There's a long way to go—for us all."