Forget for a moment the other questions simmering on the tennis stove. We are not going to decide here which is the better racket, wood or metal, or who will win the Margaret Court-Bobby Riggs battle of the sexes next month, or whether the USLTA and the Virginia Slims women pros will ever quit squabbling. No, those vital issues must wait. The subject under discussion has to do with the World Championship Tennis twin tours, and the question is this: Should Group B dispense with the services of its trainer and hire a psychiatrist instead?
Group B definitely seems to suffer from an inferiority complex. No doubt it started with the group's name. Director Lamar Hunt and his staff might have come up with he-man names like Aces and Slams, but instead chose Group A and Group B. Aaarrgg and Bleahhh. B is the lesser grade on a report card, grade B movies are synonymous with poor quality and anybody who has ever played high school quoits knows that the B team is smaller and weaker than the varsity. The television people knew which was which. NBC made plans to broadcast the finals of six regular tournaments, four of Group A's, only two of B's. The decision just made things worse.
While A opened last January in sunny Florida and California, B was lost somewhere in the fogs of Wales and later was watching out for bits of falling ceiling in Milan's Sports Palace. Getting wind of B's various and sundry complaints, the fellows in Group A dispatched a large get-well card describing the fine weather they were enjoying, the plentiful beer and the abundance of festive parties.
Now the tables have turned, at least in the travel department, and Group A is overseas, hopping sleeplessly from Europe to South Africa and back again on a jumping bean itinerary that even Henry Kissinger wouldn't attempt. The B's have been careening around the U.S., last week stopping in Ohio for the second annual Cleveland Classic, and the results there were almost bound to add to Group B's collective angst.
April 23, 1973
While every Group A tournament to date but one has been hogged by either Stan Smith or Rod Laver, B has been doling out blue ribbons as if there were a limit of one to a customer. Nobody would have been too shocked if Premjit Lall or Boro Javanovic had taken his rightful turn. In Great Britain the winner was Brian Fairlie, a chunky young New Zealander whose wife prepares his horoscope before every match. That was a dandy week for Gemini. In Italy the stars were propitious for Marty Riessen. Then for Roger Taylor in Denmark, Jan Kodes in Germany, Arthur Ashe in Chicago, Tom Okker in Merrifield, Va., Tom Gorman in Vancouver, British Columbia and, finally, for Ken Rosewall in Houston. And then last week the 38-year-old Rosewall bashed Taylor 6-3, 6-4 to become the B's first repeat winner. Nine tournaments, eight different winners. And nine players with good shots at finishing in the group's top four and thereby earning an invitation to the rich WCT finals in Dallas next month.
To the B's, smarting under their name and their lesser television exposure, their diversity was argued as proof that B was grade A and certainly homogenized. They had a semi-raunchy group photograph taken of themselves and sent it to the varsity along with a greeting card that said, "To The Stan and Rod Show. Thanks for the card. We're wondering who else is in your group."
"It's quite simple," said Ray Moore of South Africa. "This group is a lot stronger than the other group. Here some very strong players were not even seeded. We've just got so much strength all the way down."
For the B's in Cleveland—despite good coverage in the local newspapers and the energetic promotional efforts of an organization called the Junior Women's Committee of the Cleveland Orchestra, which hoped to benefit from the proceedings—very few people showed up for the early-round matches in 7,000-seat Public Hall. Part of the problem had to do with the way the tournament was scheduled: most of the hot singles matches were played during the day and the evenings' entertainments were mostly doubles.
Taylor complained that the place seemed empty and that it hurt his concentration. "It's like playing in a vacuum," he said. Jan Kodes called it "the worst crowd I've ever seen in my life," which—considering how things have sometimes been at other stops—seems hardly likely. The remarks brought down the wrath of the Junior Women's Committee, especially on the more widely quoted Taylor, who must have felt as if he had just sent up 10 weak lobs and was having all of them slammed back at him simultaneously.
The committee was perhaps too harsh on poor unjolly Roger, but you have to understand that people in Cleveland, like the players in B, also have an inferiority complex. The town's attitude toward itself was nicely summed up by an ad in the tournament program for a popular steak house. Its slogan: "Not a great restaurant, but more than adequate when you consider the alternatives."
There were other diversions during the week besides watching Taylor tiptoe through the press room past the committee's publicity chairperson. WCT Road Manager Mike Costello fought another round in his weekly battle—keeping doubles partners in matching shirts. The episode featured doubles partners Arthur Ashe and Roscoe Tanner, who endorse Catalina and Wilson shirts respectively. Ashe's yellow was considerably lighter than Tanner's, and that would never do if they got to the final on national TV. And they couldn't revert to bare chests in the old schoolyard tradition of "shirts" and "skins" because they still wouldn't match. Costello had to get on the phone to lawyers and manufacturers to solve the problem.
Then there was the case of the plummeting light bulb. Egypt's Ismail El Shafei was playing in a doubles match late Friday afternoon. Marty Riessen of the opposing team lobbed and the ball hit one of the hanging light fixtures above El Shafei's handsome head. The fixture swung a little bit, like a chandelier in a mild earthquake, and the large, heavy light bulb was somehow dislodged. The umpire yelled, "Look out!" into his microphone, Shafei looked up and skipped forward just in time to avoid being maimed. The bulb crashed and exploded right behind him. An incident like that never would have happened on the varsity.
As for the tennis itself, it was mostly pretty good when the balls weren't taking bad hops off the surface laid over Public Hall's rough floorboards or debris wasn't spewing from the exhaust fan as it did in Sunday's finals. The rug, trade named Supreme Court, was a convenient item for the B's to complain about, and traveling tennis players enjoy having a good gripe almost as much as a frosty beer.
"The idea of the surface is to slow the ball down, which is O.K.," said Rosewall. "There will be more rallies, which the spectators enjoy, and most of the players like to play that way, too. More running. But there are lots of falls on it. The ball reacts differently on whatever surface it's laid on. It doesn't stick to the floor well. Balls skid off lines and joins. The strips are different.
"I don't really think it's a good surface. It's a court where bad shots sometimes become very good shots.... I don't think that's fair, not fair for anybody." Then he conceded a point. "Maybe I'm getting older and fussier."
By Saturday the last man to have a chance at being the ninth different winner in nine events was Ray Moore, a congenial, long-haired London resident who once recorded a song. Going to Carolina (In My Mind), for a British record company. He fits in beautifully with Group B's hippie contingent, which includes Haroon Rahim of Pakistan, Denmark's bearded jazzophile Torben Ulrich and Berkeley's Jeff Borowiak, a slender UCLA dropout who plays flute and piano in addition to tennis.
But Rosewall deprived Moore of his big chance—though with some difficulty—and put himself into the final for the second straight week. Nobody was much surprised, even though the little Aussie was seeded only fifth. He had brought himself along beautifully and seemed in good shape to make his annual run at WCT's $50,000 champion's pot, which he has won two years in a row.
"No man can keep his game completely sharp all the time," said the B's top-seeded Marty Riessen. "There are bound to be some letdowns. It's particularly difficult for the two who have gone into the singles finals the week before. More has been taken out of them physically.
"Still, I think there is one top man. He's Ken Rosewall."
After antagonizing the Junior Women's Committee, Taylor got to the finals wondering what else lay ahead. He has had some terrible luck in the States. An incorrect line call cost him first place and $5,000 in a nationally televised match in Chicago. In Virginia the following week a linesman yelled, "Out!" just as he was hitting the ball, which went into the net. Then the linesman changed his call. The rules clearly state that in such cases the point should be played over, but the referee ruled otherwise. Game, set and match to Taylor's opponent on that point.
Which brings us back to the original question about the B's need for a shrink. The vote here is no, not yet. They probably can fix themselves up mentally with a little group therapy. Ray Moore could sing some Torben Ulrich jazz composition with Jeff Borowiak accompanying him on the flute. The Fairlie family could do everyone's horoscopes. And then Rosewall could go out and beat Laver or Smith or anyone else in the WCT final and prove that B, while not a great group, is more than adequate when you consider the alternatives.