Something good has come out of the Nielsen ratings, that audience-measuring system used by the television networks to justify keeping the chaff and throwing out the wheat. It seems that Arthur C. Nielsen, before he went out into the nation's bedrooms and started counting all those pajama-clad Johnny Carson freaks, was a tennis player at the University of Wisconsin, class of 1918. His son played there, too. Five years ago Nielsen, now in his 70s but still a twice-a-week doubles player, served up $2,156,500 of his marketing-research profits to build a tennis Taj Mahal at his alma mater. Today it ranks as the fourth wonder of the racket world, just behind Ken Rosewall's backhand, Ken Rosewall's longevity and Ken Rosewall's bank account.
Nielsen Tennis Stadium has 12 indoor courts, six squash courts and a gallery in which spectators can move easily from match to match. The lighting is good, the resilient asphalt surface gives a true bounce and the ceiling is high. Maybe best of all, fans can sit in living-room comfort and watch play on the featured No. 5 court through a glass wall—splendid for those used to second-guessing line calls from high up in Section Q. The building seems suited for something grander than a tennis clinic for faculty wives, and last weekend that something was tried, the first—and perhaps last—annual Intercollegiate Indoor Team Championship.
After four days and approximately $2,100 worth of optic yellow balls, the winner Sunday afternoon, believe it or not, was a team having a slight connection with the State of Wisconsin—Stanford. The No. 6 man for Stanford, freshman John Whitlinger, is from Neenah, Wis., where he grew up across the street from an indoor court. The Cardinals beat UCLA in the final 6-3, and their compact, quick little No. 1 player, Alex Mayer, beat UCLA's Jeff Austin 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 in the feature match.
Perhaps because last weekend also happened to be the opening of the sturgeon-spearing season on Lake Winnebago, a disappointingly small number of people showed up at Nielsen to buy the 25¢ "Love Is Our Racket" buttons and watch the good competition. Coca-Cola made a $7,500 contribution and each of the 16 competing schools put up a $750 entry fee, but the lack of spectator interest might make that money difficult to get next year.
February 12, 1973
This is how the tournament worked. The field included eight All-Americas, but the lowly No. 6 men on each squad were just as important as the stars because the competition was team versus team. Six singles matches and three doubles matches were played in each round, each match counting one point. "You're battling depth in this tournament," said Wisconsin Coach Denny Schackter. "A team has to be five and six deep to win here." The host Badgers proved to be about as deep as a wading pool and lost in the first round to Southern Methodist 9-0, winning only two sets.
The top seven teams from last year's NCAA tournament were entered but, sadly, a number of outstanding individuals—enough to draw crowds even in Wisconsin—were absent. Michigan's Freddy DeJesus, the best player out of Puerto Rico since Charlie Pasarell, stayed home with the flu. Columbia freshman Vitas Gerulaitis, one of the country's top juniors, chose to play in a European tournament. Stanford All-America Chico Hagey still nursed a broken leg, suffered on the first point of his match last year at Forest Hills. If it had not been for pro signings, Erik Van Dillen, a senior at USC, would have been there, as would Brian Gottfried, a junior at Trinity, Jimmy Connors, a junior at UCLA, and Stanford's Leonard Roscoe Tanner III.
Still, there were some excellent, if little-known, players there in Nielsen Stadium last week battling for points rather than dollars: Michigan's Victor Amaya, a hulk with a gut-busting serve; a Dutchman playing for Tennessee; an Englishman for USC; an Australian for SMU; and a South African for UCLA. But the best of all was Stanford's Mayer, the son of a New Jersey tennis pro and the odds-on favorite to win the collegiate singles championship this June at Princeton University.
Mayer gives the impression of being compulsively neat, the type of guy who before going to bed at night arranges his change on the dresser, nickels, dimes and quarters in separate stacks. His tennis whites are always Rinso bright. He wears a little towel hanging over his right front pocket and wipes his hands on that rather than on his shorts like the slobs. Why, the very contours of his aluminum racket and handsome face are modern and neat. Naturally, his game is precision. Mayer's volleys seem to land exactly six millimeters this side of the line. But hew human. He grumbles—and sometimes bellows—at himself on the court and he is cocky enough off it to annoy some of his opponents. And his friends call him Sandy, not Alex.
Mayer is just a junior and played No. 2 for Stanford last year behind Tanner—but not far behind. He won four tournaments at the end of the season—Ojai, Husky Invitational, Mountain View Invitational and California State—beating Tanner in the last two. He lost in the NCAA semifinals but, teamed with Tanner, won the doubles. He had a good summer and winter including a win over pro rookie Dick Stockton, and is now a polished, sound percentage player who should make a very good pro.
"It would take one of the better players in the country—you've got to be in the top echelon, I think—to beat Alex now," said USC Coach George Toley. "If you don't put him away early, by the third shot he has cultivated position on you."
Mayer just mowed down his opposition at Nielsen and so did Stanford. North Carolina got blitzed 9-0 in the first round as Mayer beat All-America Fred McNair 6-3, 6-3. Trinity, a mere shadow of the team that won the NCAA title last June, was smashed 8-1—the one point coming when Stanford defaulted a doubles match early Saturday morning so the squad could go back to its lakeside hotel and rest up for the semifinal duel with old friend USC. Mayer beat Trinity No. 1 John Burrman 6-0, 6-2.
UCLA was in the easier half of the draw. The Bruins beat Columbia 9-0 and Michigan 8-1, then whipped surprising SMU in the semis 7-2. SMU a tennis power? A look at the roster provided the reason: five Californians, one Australian and an Aussie coach. Not a Texan in the lot—and probably no Methodists either.
The semifinal between Stanford and USC was the best meeting of the tournament and showed why the coaches were unanimous in praise of the whole affair. USC's Toley and Stanford's young Dick Gould stayed down in the catacombs beneath the gallery. In a matter of seconds they could see all six singles matches, scurrying back and forth along the corridor like two nurses with dying patients in six wards. Whenever the players changed sides the coaches were allowed—as they are at many college dual meets—to talk to them.
Toley, whose Trojan teams have won nine collegiate championships, changed the order of his lineup slightly, then forfeited a singles match to save a slightly injured player for doubles (where he would not have to cover as much ground) and pulled every other legal trick he could think of to topple Stanford.
"Toley has earned everybody's respect by the way he does things," said Michigan State Coach Stan Drobac. "Have you ever seen the guy upset? He handles everything with consummate ease and his players are the same. I've picked his brain for 16 years. Every chance I get I talk to him."
But Gould of Stanford, a buddy to his players, a terrific recruiter and apparently no slouch at strategy either, had the upper hand this day, even without the injured All-America, Hagey (USC was also beset by injury and had to play without freshman Mike Wayman, who sprained his ankle the night before). Mayer continued his waltz through the singles battles, beating Raul Ramirez, a sophomore from Baja California, 6-2, 6-3. No. 2 Jim Delaney had a tough fight with USC's Mike Machette but won in straight sets. John Andrews and Sashi Menon then won for the Trojans.
Stanford won the No. 5 singles in a tough three-setter, which with a surprise victory in first doubles and the forfeited singles put the team match away 6-3. The favored USC pair of Ramirez and Machette lost to Stanford's Gery Groslimond and Rick Fisher 6-4, 6-3.
Collegiate tennis used to be strictly a Los Angeles affair, UCLA or USC winning every year, but Stanford has now made it a California affair. The three powerhouses will meet again in dual meets, then again in the Pacific Eight tournament and finally at the NCAA tournament in June. As Gould said after his team had finished off USC: "That's only Round One."