There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of tall, stately eucalyptus trees on the Stanford University campus, and behind every one is a tennis player. Straight white teeth. Handsome. A pair of rackets carried just so under whichever arm is not around a coed. Here is clean-cut Gene Mayer, only 18 but winner of six national titles. Here is deeply tanned Chico Hagey, an All-America when he was just a freshman. Those two mustachioed dudes are Chip Fisher, who had a 13-2 college singles record last year, and Tim Noonan, the 1973 New Zealand hard-court open champion.
None of these four was good enough to compete for the Stanford varsity last weekend. The fellows who were good enough beat the next-best teams in the country, USC and UCLA, by a combined score of 16-2 before perhaps the largest crowds in intercollegiate tennis history.
The organizer of the two-day proceedings and the man who has collected enough talent for two teams is Stanford Coach Dick Gould, who has "NCAA 1" on his Mercedes-Benz license plates, celebrating last year's title. It was Gould's plan that when perennial tennis powers USC and UCLA traveled to Palo Alto on their annual northern swing, they would play six matches in the afternoon on the varsity courts at the Stanford tennis stadium, then move indoors at night for the three most important matches. To this end he persuaded his athletic department to buy a slightly used Sportface carpet, which fit in perfectly at the modern Maples Pavilion. More than 10,000 tickets were sold in advance, the promotion being helped by Stanford's troubles in Los Angeles two weeks earlier. The Cardinals barely beat USC and were upset by UCLA 5-4.
"L.A. has smog, and the L.A. crowds are really vicious," said Stanford's ace, Alex Mayer. "They're a bunch of jerks.... UCLA is atrocious. To lose to them took a monumental effort. I would consider it one of the biggest upsets in the history of sports. Anybody who knows anything about tennis would have had to assume we threw the match on the basis of that score. It was impossible.
"But then, the whole scene was slightly incredible. There were guys in a nearby residence hall blowing a tuba every time [John] Whitlinger threw up the ball to serve. All match long there was a series of insults from out of the stands—rather personal insults, not just booing. It was a zoo."
Not since 1942, when Ted Schroeder was a member of the team, has Stanford beaten both USC and UCLA on its visit to L.A. It did not help Mayer's mood that he was upset by UCLA's Brian Teacher. Mayer had taken off a quarter semester to play the USLTA indoor circuit and turned down more than $40,000 in winnings so he could keep his college eligibility. And boom, a stringbean sophomore beats him.
Testy at best, Mayer, who beat Ilie Nastase at Wimbledon last year, cut loose in an interview in The Stanford Daily blasting Los Angeles, insulting Stanford women, claiming that tennis players could not see much beyond skirts and backgammon boards, and berating Stanford for not sending him an engraved invitation to its law school. If there was a target he missed, it was probably because he was not asked about it.
"For better or worse," gulped Coach Gould, "he's the most open and honest person you'll ever meet."
Not a half-bad hitter of tennis balls either, as the fans in Maples Pavilion soon found out. Mayer is very quick and, if it is true, as he claims, that he is not a natural athlete, he has been taught some lovely strokes by his father, a New Jersey pro. Mayer had to play second fiddle to hard-serving Roscoe Tanner as a sophomore, but last year he won the NCAA singles and is the odds-on favorite to do it again this June and become the first double winner since USC's Dennis Ralston in 1963-64.
Another intriguing aspect of the weekend was that the "no-ad" scoring system was used for all matches (and, in fact, is being used for most collegiate matches this year). According to hallowed tradition, a game of tennis is scored 15, 30, 40, "game." If a game is tied at 40-all, it is at "deuce" and must continue until one or the other player gets a two-point margin. An umpire's announcements might go like this: deuce, advantage Jones, deuce, advantage Smith, deuce, advantage Smith, deuce, advantage Jones and finally—just when everyone is tingling with excitement, dying of boredom or wondering what the deuce is going on—game, Jones. My ad, your ad, ad in, ad out, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
How did such a scoring system come about? Didn't the first racket swingers know that 30 plus 15 equals 45, not 40? Well, the story goes that the early score-keepers used clocks and would move the hands around a quarter of the way—or 15 minutes—for each point. But after a while the clocks and the five from 45 got lost in the shuffle.
Now comes collegiate tennis with no-ad, a system wherein zero is still "love," a bad serve is still a "fault" and a blazing, merely-waved-at serve is still an "ace." But a point, by God, is a point. One, two, three, game. As simple as that. If the score is tied at 3-3, the next point wins it, making for a lot of little sudden deaths in each match. And, if a set goes to 6-6, the issue is settled by a nine-point tie breaker.
The fans at Stanford seemed to like the innovation. All three coaches—Gould, George Toley of USC and Glenn Bassett of UCLA—were against the idea at first but are in favor of it now. They say it adds excitement for the audience, speeds up the matches and requires more concentration from the players.
However, while you can take the advantage out of the scoring, you cannot remove the advantage of playing at home in front of friendly crowds, although the way the Cardinals performed they would have won playing on the Hollywood Freeway at rush hour.
USC was the victim Friday. Since the Trojans had beaten UCLA, which had beaten Stanford, the competition figured to be close, but in the afternoon sophomores Whitlinger, Pat DuPré and Mark Mitchell and freshman Nick Saviano won their singles, and Stanford won the Nos. 2 and 3 doubles matches. Four of the six matches had gone to three sets, yet Stanford moved into Maples with an unbeatable lead, 6-0. About 5,500 fans enjoyed the circus anyway. The Stanford band was there with five gaily painted tubas, none of which oompahed during anybody's serve, and white-gloved pompon girls moved smartly and prettily through their routines, seeming not to care what Mayer had said about campus womanhood. Mayer polished off USC's No. 1, John Andrews, 6-4, 6-2, and the best show was put on by the husky son of a diplomat, junior Jim Delaney, who grew up in the Orient but came home every summer to tour with his racket. He saved three match points against Trojan No. 2, Sashi Menon of India, and won 3-6, 7-6, 7-5. Then he and Mayer won the doubles for a surprising clean sweep, 9-0.
UCLA fell almost as easily Saturday. Stanford won all the afternoon singles again and one of the doubles. Then an even bigger crowd, more than 7,000, watched in the arena as Delaney beat Steve Mott in three sets and Mayer easily took revenge on Brian Teacher, 7-5, 6-2. A loss in the final doubles match made the team score 7-2. The two-day attendance, outdoor and indoor, was more than 14,000.
Stanford must still meet the two L.A. schools twice more, at the Pacific Eight and NCAA tournaments, but win or lose, its tennis future seems bright. Gould has a eucalyptus grove full of talented underclassmen and proven ability to recruit still more ("If he wants you, your mailbox won't go empty your whole senior year of high school," says one of his players). Students and alumni stand ready to buy more tickets next year.
"These guys, without any question, spend more time at their sport than anybody," said a pleased alumnus sitting in Maples Pavilion Saturday night. "As a unit they're always over a 3.0 grade average. They're always bright kids. And they don't miss much social activity either. It's just amazing."