It was amid tropical autumn splendor and under the aegis of social awareness and family entertainment that the grand old, bland old game of mixed doubles made a genteel return to the tennis tour last week. As luck would have it, nobody got killed.
This is not to say that feelings weren't hurt or dreams shattered or idols leveled right there in the friendly confines between the Atlantic Ocean and the palm trees on Hilton Head Island, S.C. It's just that when somebody puts up enough booty, such as $108,000 in prize money, and invites enough hardened doubles gunslingers, such as Stan Smith and Billie Jean King, to compete for it, there is going to be some of what you might call cultural violence. In these circumstances "the mixed," as the event was known long before the game was taken over by Italian haberdashers and Pat Summerall, graduates from a friendly exercise between cocktails into a jamboree of crazed headhunters.
Mixed doubles, as most club players and their main squeezes know it and play it, is mostly an endeavor in restraint. Push and lob, be nice, grin and bear it, patty-cake stuff. Transgressions on one side of the net or the other have been known to result in a quick trip to the marriage counselor, if not the hospital.
At the world-class level, however, where the objective is to win and sexual politics be damned, the game boils down to...uh, huh...Get the Girl. Whip Up on the Woman. Maul the Maiden. Overhead smashes at her ankles. Searing volleys toward her, ahem, middle. Lobs, drops, angles. Make her run. Force her shots. Work her over. Male chauvinistic ecstasy. Oink, oink. "You aim for the weak link," King says, "and the woman is almost always that link."
Roy Emerson, the ancient Australian mariner, the charmer, old jaunty Emmo himself, calls mixed doubles "Beat the bird." On the other hand, the key shots in mixed are invariably WWs—women's winners—and the successful team is the one whose distaff member holds her own most consistently.
So it was last week for the first World Couples tournament at Hilton Head Island, with real live players on the scene. Smith and Evonne Cawley, the former Ms. Goolagong and current Wimbledon champion, both live on Hilton Head; they were the hometown No. 1 seed. King and Emerson were the nostalgia pairing, in Emmo's phrase, "the dead legends." Redheads were represented by Kathy Jordan, who teamed up with another parttime Hilton Head resident. A lefthander. Funny hat, freckles, hook nose. Name of Rod Laver. Then there was the Bollettieri memorial tiny-tot brigade, 15-year-olds Jimmy Arias and Kathleen Horvath, both coached by the swarthy slave master, Nick Bollettieri; the Wimbledon finalists entry, John Austin and Dianne Fromholtz (Austin won the Wimbledon mixed with sister Tracy, defeating Fromholtz and partner Mark Edmondson); and the pickup tandem of Dick Stockton, a former U.S. Open mixed champion, and the wondrous Andrea Jaeger, another teen-ager of whom Stockton had heard but to whom he had never been introduced. "She's a millionaire already," he said. "What do I call her, Andrea or Ms. Jaeger?"
Another unique aspect of the tournament was a pair of wild-card berths, for winners of a qualifier open to anyone off the beach, uh, street. "Even you could make it," Pat Grafton, one of the tournament's organizers, said to an inquiring reporter. Not really. One of the wild-card teams, local teaching pros Doc Malloy and Jean Mills, piled up all of six points in the first set of their 6-0, 6-2 loss to Smith-Goolagong. "The sun was in my eyes," said Malloy.
The relaxed nature of World Couples was never so apparent as when the effervescent Jaeger, tennis' Rapunzel in designer braces, spent time answering the clubhouse phones when she wasn't buzzing the premises on her red motor scooter. "This is nothin'," she announced to a bemused Emerson one morning. "My Yamaha at home does 80. It's got four gears, too." In a practice session one day Emerson was stunned to observe Jaeger wearing full warmups in the 90° heat. "I was sweating like a pig," said Emmo. "I was hoping the girl would take something off so I'd know she had blood in her veins. Andrea hit the ball so hard I started calling her Andrè."
Stockton and Jaeger made short work of Arias-Horvath, 6-1, 6-2. The slender Arias became the youngest male ever to win a match in the U.S. Open last month, and he already possesses a forehand that could bring down a stone wall. Yet Jaeger kept standing in and reflex-volleying some of his heavy artillery, once actually returning a shot from between her legs. "I'm there protecting my crotch and she's whaling away," Stockton said. "It's intimidating being on court with three kids who play so well so young. But Andrea outhit Arias from the backcourt all day. She's amazing. In two years it's all over for Tracy [Austin]."
Stockton saw enough of his infant partner in that match to notice she relished doing the one thing women must do to survive in mixed: play on the opposing man when necessary. "Traditionally, women have been afraid because they were supposed to be afraid," King said. "But Andrea is the new role model. She nails the ball right at the guys."
Which is precisely what she did in the semifinals against none other than Emerson. This appeared to be a replay of Holmes-Ali early on as Jaeger, showing little respect for her beer-guzzling elder, rained drives at a beleaguered and out-of-shape Emerson, challenging his backhand volley, which once was the most feared in the game. On almost every exchange the pigtailed child beat the 43-year-old Aussie to the punch.
Emmo recovered late in the second set to thrash a swinging volley directly into Stockton's neck—"a fuzz sandwich," the pros say—sending him down for the count. Up to that point Stockton, playing marvelously, had served five straight games at love, but in the next game he was broken at 30 for the set and the match was tied.
But Stockton recovered and Jaeger kept finding holes in the Emmo-King opposition defense. Serving at 5-2 in the third, Jaeger nearly added injury to insult by airmailing, special delivery, a backhand that whirled Emerson around at the net like some windup doll. Wind Emmo up and he'll drink a Foster's Lager. "She gives it a nudge, doesn't she?" he said after the younger team's 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory.
In the other half of the draw, the team of Smith-Goolagong was having things easier, while much of the attention was focused on Laver. The Rocket plays only occasionally these days, in some of the Immortals Invitationals or whatever they are. Never in mixed.
"Tell you what," Laver told his partner, Jordan. "The last mixed I won was 20 years ago: Wimbledon with Darlene Hard. You know the name? I always found myself backing up my partner too far, stretching for too much court, covering too often."
In Australia that kind of poaching is called "sharking." Goolagong had another description. "Getting in the way," she called it. "I don't think Rod yet realizes how well some of the women can play."
Before their first-round match Fromholtz mentioned to Austin that Laver also had a tendency to "flash-out," to over-hit in mixed. Subsequently, the redheads found themselves constantly out of position even as Austin-Fromholtz blew six set points. But on the seventh, Laver, looking at a balloon two feet from the tape, wound up and flashed out an overhead into the bottom of the net. "Play the Aussie anthem, this one's history," Emerson muttered in the stands. And it was: 7-6, 6-1 to Austin-Fromholtz.
"I never told you this," the newlywed Austin said to his lefthanded partner, "but Edmondson blew the Wimbledon final for you guys by doing just what Rocket did. Leaving the court three-fourths open."
"Men," Fromholtz sighed. "You didn't have to tell me."
Austin-Fromholtz jumped ahead of Smith-Goolagong in their semifinal before another significant play by a woman turned the match: a reflex half-volley winner from her shoe tops off an Austin smash that Evonne managed in the 10th game. It interrupted one of her walkabouts—after all, the drapes had to be hung in the new addition to her home up the beach, and husband Roger had scraped his knee on one of those bull-riding machines at a country and western speakeasy—and propelled her team to a 6-4, 6-2 victory.
Because of the reluctance of Smith, ever the gentleman, to pound at the feminine half of the opposition—"I tell Stan to get mean and blast the girls, but he just doesn't have it in him," says his wife, Margie—it remained for Goolagong to shine again in the finals.
On Sunday, Smith-Goolagong survived the loss of a 32-point game (Stockton finally holding serve), then broke Jaeger at love and won the first set 7-5. Goolagong's dashing elegance at net—"She poaches more than [Bob] Lutz on my serve," Smith said—was the difference in the second set as well, which ended 6-4, championship and $30,000 to the home team. "All you can do is go watch Evonne play," Smith told the appreciative crowd afterward. "I'm the one who gets to play with her. She was all over the place out there."
Women. Even in mixed doubles, always sharking the spotlight.