Although there is $5 million to be won in women's tennis this year, only $10,000 of it was at stake when Julie Anthony and Marita Redondo met in the finals of the Avon Futures Championship in Atlanta last week. But the Avon circuit—11 tournaments with prize money of $20,000 each, which runs concurrently with the Virginia Slims tour where the purses are $100,000 each—is the minor leagues, and $10,000 is big money. In Redondo's case, $10,000 was about one-half as much as she had made so far in this, her best year. For Anthony it was almost as much as she had made this year.
The two came together Saturday on a sky-blue rubber mat laid on the basketball floor of Georgia Tech's Coliseum—Anthony, a 30-year-old scrambler who never gives up on a point, and Redondo, a 22-year-old baseliner with a devastating forehand. Anthony is a clinical psychologist who has a B.A. from Stanford, an M.A. from UCLA and is completing her doctoral dissertation there on the use of video tape in psychotherapy. She is married to Dick Butera, who owned the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis when they met, and she is stepmother to his five children. Redondo is dark and slender to the point of fragility. Recently she has begun to wear some of Ted Tinling's more spectacular tennis dresses. On the glittery Slims tour for which they were designed, they are effective. In a basketball pavilion in Georgia they were dumbfounding. Dorothy Hamill showing up on a New England pond in an Ice Capades costume could hardly have produced more slack jaws.
Like a lot of finals, this one was disappointing. Both had played better in earlier matches. Redondo's powerful forehand was missing its mark too often, and even when it did not, Anthony played her retrieving game so well that it was often neutralized. Down 3-1 in the first set, Anthony took five straight games, including the last eight points, and won 6-3. In the second set Redondo, down a break, had her chance in the fourth game but let four break points get away and again lost the set, and match, 6-3.
Anthony did not concentrate on tennis full time until four years ago, when she was 26. After her victory in Atlanta she said, "As far as tennis development is concerned, I'm probably less mature than Tracy Austin."
The field for the championship, a round robin, was made up of eight winners of Avon events, the pick of the winter crop. The youngest, Pam Shriver, was 15, the oldest, Renee Richards, 43. Some, like Anthony, are at the peak of their talents. Others, particularly young Shriver, displayed gifts still only partly unwrapped. What they all have in common is an earnest desire to make it to the majors and to stay there.
The idea of a feeder circuit such as the Avon is almost as old as open tennis (10 years) and the Virginia Slims tour (eight years). In 1974 and 1975, with the Slims already established as a home base for the elite of women's professional tennis, the WTA and the USTA co-sponsored a "mini-circuit" to provide second-echelon players with competitive experience and a little money. In 1976 Gladys Heldman, who originated the Slims tour, threw her considerable energies behind a "satellite" circuit that was to supply new talent for the Slims. And finally, last year, Avon Products, the door-to-door cosmetics giant, put its money behind a Futures schedule—"the opportunity circuit," as Avon likes to call it.
When acts of God such as blizzards, tornadoes and floods have let up, the Avon Futures feeder operation has run smoothly through its second season. Each week the four players who reach the semifinals in the Avon tournament are rewarded with a week of eligibility on the Virginia Slims tour, where even if they lose in the first round they earn $850. If they play well enough to win a couple of matches during that time, their performance point average will probably allow them to stay longer. If not, they can return to the Avon tour and try again. Caroline Stoll, who dropped out of Livingston (N.J.) High School at 16 last fall to turn pro, moved back and forth several times between the two circuits. Besides winning two Avon events, she played six tournaments on the Slims tour, never once winning a first-round match (although she made it to the second round once when Sue Barker quit in their first set). Nevertheless, Stoll won $7,900 playing Slims singles and doubles, which, added to the $8,775 she earned on the Avon tour, made a total of $16,675 for three months' work.
The Avon circuit has three tiers, all designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. The wheat moves up, while the chaff gets valuable match experience and perhaps enough prize money to keep its hopes alive. The bottom tier is called pre-qualifying. It is open to anyone with $25 and a pair of sneakers whether or not she has a competitive record. Avon's publicists claim that theirs is the only truly open qualifying in all of professional sport.
The top eight from pre-qualifying, which was held six times during the season, became eligible for a week on the next level—a qualifying round of 64. A player who reached the final eight in any one week on the qualifying level was then eligible, in turn, for a week in the Avon main draw of 32. From there, if she made the semifinals, she went into the next two Slims tournaments.
The good ones do not hang around long. Marita Redondo was a promising junior from Southern California in the early '70s, winner of the U.S. Girls' 14s and 16s and runner-up in the 18s. She played the Slims tour in 1973 and 1976 and both times did quite well. In the fall of 1976 she left the tour to have a baby, Jean Baptiste Chanfreau II. This January, when she was ready to return, she had no computer ranking, because she had not competed in more than a year. Not having a computer ranking makes one a non-person in tennis because the fields of all important tournaments are drawn from the rankings. To reestablish herself, Redondo entered the qualifying round of the first Avon tournament of the year in San Diego. From there she made her way into the main draw and from there she went on to win. Whereupon she became eligible for the Virginia Slims tournament of Hollywood, Fla. the next week, and that was the last the Avon people saw of her until last week's championship. She played eight Slims tournaments, reached the semis once and the quarters twice, won $28,000 all told and qualified for the Virginia Slims Championship this week in Oakland.
Until this year no one who began in pre-qualifying had ever made it through all three tiers to win an Avon tournament. But two months ago, in the midst of two of the worst blizzards in the history of Ohio, Pam Shriver, the 6-foot, 143-pound 15-year-old from Baltimore, played 12 matches in 14 days, losing only one set, and won the Avon Futures of Columbus. Three weeks later in the Slims of Dallas she reached the semifinal, where she was beaten by the eventual winner, Evonne Goolagong, 6-4, 7-5.
Shriver is coached by a former Australian Davis Cupper, Don Candy. She is ranked just behind Tracy Austin in the national 16-and-unders, but she has not beaten Austin in any of their six encounters. While Austin is pig-tailed, pinafored, cute and controlled, Shriver is long-legged and gangly, like a sweet-faced crane. She is also uninhibited. After she had lost in three sets to Renee Richards on Friday night she buried her face in a towel for a while, obviously bitterly disappointed. But minutes later, when it was time for winner and loser to meet the press, Shriver bounded into the interview room, antelope-like this time, and hurled herself full-length onto a couch, from which she then faced the reporters, her eyebrows raised expectantly. On another occasion, after a little goading from an Atlanta reporter, she referred to Tracy Austin, good-naturedly, as "that little twerp," and said, "She won't beat me forever. I'll get her this summer."
When Austin, a deadly baseliner, is beaten by a serve-and-volley player, as she was last Friday night by Virginia Wade in a Slims tournament in Philadelphia, Shriver counts it as a point for the home team. One minute she will admit she gets jealous of the attention devoted to Austin, and the next she will say, "Let her have the publicity. Then I'll come in as the underdog."
Shriver is 1) too good and 2) too big to be the underdog very often, even if she is only 15. Only when age is the main contrast, as against Richards, is she likely to carry the crowds. She has a big serve, a big reach and she uses a big Prince racket. What Richards did to even the odds with somebody 28 years younger was to serve a little better and think a lot better. "The only thing you don't do as well at 16 as when you're older," says Richards, "is pick up what's going on during a match and adjust accordingly."
As Don Candy told his star pupil the morning after her loss to Richards, "Well, Pam, you'll be around for at least another 20 years." Happily, so will a lot of the other young twerps, and the Avon Futures Circuit is likely to be the place to see them first.