Tennis, the once softly rounded game of love and deuce and green lawns, has marched into the metallic computer age. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) merely feeds in the raw data on, say, Corrado Barazzutti—the tension of his racket gut multiplied by the length of his right sneaker, his finish in the Timbuktu Classic, the velocity of his forehand, his mother's secret recipe for linguine with clam sauce—and, whiz, whir, click, out pops his proper place in the worldwide rankings. Tournaments then use these results to make their seedings. Arthur Ashe, to pick out a player placed somewhat higher than Barazzutti, is such a believer that he is willing to bet anyone $500 at the beginning of a tournament that one of the seeds will win.
"The ATP ratings do not lie," he says. "I'm not saying they're the Bible, but they're up there."
But last week at the U.S. Pro Indoor Championship in Philadelphia's Spectrum, if the computer didn't lie, it did fib a little. Top-seeded Bjorn Borg was folded, spindled and mutilated almost before he could get warmed up. No. 2 Rod Laver managed to lose his first match. Stan Smith, No. 6 seed, and Tom Okker, No. 4, were both indelicately dumped in the third round. No. 3 Guillermo Vilas stayed home in Argentina nursing his dyspepsia. One seed was beaten in the first round, two in the second, seven in the third and two in the fourth.
But if Ashe had bet, he would have won. No. 7 Marty Riessen, the only seed to make it out of the quarterfinals, went on to beat 20-year-old Vitas Gerulaitis in the Sunday final 7-6, 5-7, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 and earn not only $15,000 but the most important title of his 16 years in big-time tennis.
February 3, 1975
As the kickoff for Lamar Hunt's 1975 World Championship Tennis tour, it was suitable that the U.S. Indoor was scrambled and full of interesting upsets because that is just how the whole tour figures to be. By the time the circuit ends in May with the singles final in Dallas, the tennis nomads will have traveled 73,064 miles and earned more than $2 million in prize money.
Ashe himself took part in the most interesting upset of the week. In the quarters he met unseeded Jaime Fillol of Chile and did not seem too perturbed when he lost the first set in a tie breaker, 7-6. He breezed in the second set, 6-2. Four times in the third he had match point on Fillol—one point separating him from victory. Each time Fillol managed to wiggle off the hook. When the score reached 6-6, they played the WCT sudden-death tie breaker, in which the first player to reach seven points wins. Ashe took a 6-3 lead and thus had the splendid luxury of needing to win only one of the four possible match points. Fillol served twice and won to hoist himself to 5-6. It was Ashe's turn to serve, a distinct advantage. But he hit a low volley out of bounds, making it 6-6 and match point either way. He served again, raced up to hit a relatively easy forehand volley—and put it into the net.
Fillol had stared eight match points in the face and had not broken Ashe's serve even once in three sets, yet he had won. Ashe was like a boxer solidly outpointing his opponent for 14 rounds, then being knocked cuckoo in the 15th.
"I thought I had it won in the third set," said Ashe. "I thought I had it won a long time ago. I outplayed him in every department and still lost. That's why I probably won't sleep tonight."
"I never thought of losing the point," said Fillol. "If he was going to win it, good, but I wasn't going to lose it. That's what I was thinking."
Fillol's fun ended the next day when Riessen cooled the Chilean in straight sets, just as he had defeated Tony Roche, Syd Ball, Dick Dell and Anand Amritraj.
Fillol was the dark horse of the bottom half of the draw, but the top half had the most entertaining newcomer, Gerulaitis, who was likened to a disease by one Philadelphia newspaper (VITAS GERULAITIS FATAL TO OKKER). In another paper his name was spelled three different ways—all wrong. The name is Lithuanian. Vitas is a shortened version of Vytautas, the name of a hero-king in the 15th century. Gerulaitis speaks fluent Lithuanian but grew up in the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, where he learned to play on public courts.
At one time he was noted almost as much as a wise guy as a tennis player ("I used to go overboard. Every point was a big joke"), but two Aussies, Ken Rosewall and Harry Hopman, have calmed him down a bit. He first met Rosewall five years ago when, as one of the best high school players in New York City, he was invited to help warm up the old pro for a tournament. After a while, Gerulaitis could not resist bashing a shot past Rosewall. A few exchanges later Rosewall hit a ball that knocked the racket out of Gerulaitis' hand.
Last year after dropping out of Columbia College, where he had an academic scholarship, Gerulaitis played team tennis for Pittsburgh and was coached by Rosewall, with whom he practiced two or three hours a day. "I've been sort of copying Ken a little bit," he said after one match, "the way he trains and does everything in moderation."
Hopman, the legendary martinet of Australian tennis, now runs an academy in Port Washington, N.Y., where Gerulaitis often works out, and Hopman, too, has taken the kid under his wing. After Gerulaitis beat Okker in the third round, Hopman phoned him and told him not to get excited and to keep concentrating.
Apparently he did, despite a sore neck one day and a touch of virus the next. In succession last week he beat Sweden's Ove Bengtson, Okker, Raul Ramirez, Paul Gerken and an ex-Hopman pupil from Australia, John Alexander.
Gerulaitis is a quick, lanky blond who wears his hair long and closely resembles the young Swedish star Bjorn Borg. People often mistake him for Borg, but it soon may be the other way around if he continues to play as he did against Riessen, 13 years his senior, in the entertaining final.
"He's exciting," said Riessen. "He's good-looking, there's something flashy about him. I think he's going to be a superstar. It takes more than good tennis to be a superstar, and Vitas has those qualities."