Notes and quotes and rumors and tumors from tennis' latest war zones:
•John McEnroe qualified for the World Championship Tennis (WCT) Finals in Dallas last week without playing in one WCT tournament in 1982. He gained admission to Dallas by filing an entry for WCT-Strasbourg, played in March. McEnroe may or may not have got a $400,000 guarantee for agreeing to play in the French event. If he did, he broke Grand Prix rules. Of course, WCT isn't part of the Grand Prix and isn't subject to its regulations. But McEnroe missed Strasbourg because of an ankle injury. "I feel a little guilty," he said in Dallas. "But at least I entered Strasbourg. I didn't totally chintz my way in here." If McEnroe had lost his first WCT match in Dallas, he would have won at least $50,000 in bonus money and other prizes. If he had defaulted with an injury, who can imagine what awesome riches in the bulging vaults that surround Reunion Arena would have been his for the taking?
•Bjorn (the Big Q, for qualifier) Borg, a martyr for all seasons, now plays tournaments only in those countries or at those hotels to which he is contractually obligated. That may or may not be against Grand Prix rules. He appears in Monte Carlo as a condition of his tax-exempt citizenship there. He plays Vegas—Caesars Palace, the Big Room, outdoors—so he can wear the hostelry's cute little patch on his shirt all over the universe. Before last week's qualifying at the Caesars Palace-Alan King Tennis Classic and celebrity orgy, King said jokingly of Borg, "The s.o.b.'s gonna have to play me to play Cosby." Instead, Borg lost in the first round of the qualifying to Dick Stockton, who's ranked 91 in the world. Throughout the match Borg disinterestedly served with two balls in his hand. He was last seen discussing strokes and perusing the baccarat tables with such other King tournament immortals as Walter Cronkite and Barbi Benton.
•Ivan Lendl, the defending champion in Las Vegas, relinquished his title by playing in Dallas. He undoubtedly showed up at the WCT finals to justify the—hold on to your Czech books—$753,000 in tournament winnings he had withdrawn from Lamar Hunt's bank account in barely four months on the WCT tour. That's not counting the $125,000 appearance money—which may or may not be against the Grand Prix rules—offered by a Grand Prix tournament promoter in Milan, which Lendl had to turn down because he was extremely busy doing a commercial for Ben Gay. At the WCT finals Lendl broke precedent by inviting the international press, with whom he had previously communicated as if it were the KGB, to a cocktail party in his hotel suite to celebrate the glories of tennis or Texas or capitalism or something. The canapés may or may not have included Ben Gay on Ritz crackers.
May 2, 1982
•Jimmy Connors, who has won Dallas twice and Las Vegas twice, chose the desert this time primarily because he was designated to play there by the Men's International Professional Tennis Council (MIPTC). Designations, of course, may or may not be illegal. "I told WCT I'd play Dallas if they'd pay the cost of my lawsuit in Vegas," said Connors. Connors may or may not play these days only if he is guaranteed a gargantuan appearance allowance or an unlimited wardrobe of Oshkosh overalls for his son, Brett. The local promoters of this week's WCT-Shipyard Classic in Hilton Head, S.C. wanted to offer a $250,000 condominium to a player if he should win both their event and the WCT-Tournament of Champions at Forest Hills in New York City the next week. WCT officials agreed that was a nice incentive, but then said they would rather see the condo given to Connors for merely showing up in Hilton Head. The local Islanders laughed and laughed...until they cried because they realized that the WCT was serious.
•Jose-Luis Clerc, behind 1-2 in sets but ahead 4-1 in the fourth against Lendl in the championship match of WCT-Houston two weeks ago, refused to adjourn to a lighted court with evening approaching. As an alternative, Clerc walked out on the River Oaks Country Club spectators, thus settling for the $32,000 runner-up money instead of competing for the $100,000 first prize. Lendl, who had threatened a similar conclusion when the match was delayed by rain twice in the third set, may or may not have been beaten to the walkout by his more resourceful opponent. "My assessment is that all of them are under the horrendous pressure of the game today," said WCT Executive Director Owen Williams in explaining Clerc's decision to blow the 68 thou. "There's too much pressure. Jose-Luis is going through that." During last week's opening ceremonies in Dallas, at which all players were required to appear, Clerc was nowhere to be found. As it turned out, he was at the Brookhaven Country Club seeking relief from the horrendous pressure of pro tennis. Playing golf.
•Vitas Gerulaitis made the finals of WCT-Zurich a month ago. If he had won the tournament, he would have been fined and/or suspended by somebody last week. Why? According to the terms of his contract with WCT, he would have been obligated to play Dallas, but by a Grand Prix designation he was obligated to play Las Vegas. "If I'd won Zurich, maybe I'd have hired a plane and made both tournaments," said Gerulaitis. Luckily, he lost to Bill Scanlon in Zurich. "You think they agreed to split the purse?" said Connors with a laugh. "Naw, tennis players don't do that." In Vegas Gerulaitis lost to Jeff Borowiak in the first round.
•Volvo sponsors the year-round Grand Prix tour. Mercedes-Benz is the local promoter of a Grand Prix event in Stuttgart in July. At present Mercedes-Benz is under investigation by the MIPTC for allegedly giving fabulously discounted automobiles to players and agents of players to entice these pros to play Stuttgart. One player, Sashi Menon, may or may not have already received his Mercedes and may or may not have already sold it at a huge profit. Whatever the case, Menon has let his ranking drop so low on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) computer that he can't even get into the tournament anymore. The promoters may or may not wish they had given Menon a Jeep. Sashi Menon!
Is international tennis truly real? Or is it Memorex?
McEnroe in Dallas: "People are getting mad at us tennis players because they think we go around the world getting handed huge piles of money for doing nothing."
Connors in Las Vegas: "There are too many rules and regulations and politicians everywhere, including on the court. The fun and thrills are going out of tennis; the game is an embarrassment. Whoever says the agents are the whores has got it wrong. The agents are the pimps. The players are the whores."
Let's not beat around the bush now, guys. The fact is, tennis and tennis politics have been wallowing in confusion ever since the game was momentarily struck by a bolt of enlightenment and opened itself up to the professionals in 1968. Everybody in the game rushes to explain that pro tennis is still in puberty, still "a growing child," and that it shouldn't be compared in its troubles with, say, ancient, hallowed golf. But did Francis Ouimet ever storm about the greensward, thrashing at the flags and branding St. Andrews "the pits"? Would he have gotten away with it? Did Hogan ever walk out on Snead, saying, "You can have it, Slammer" and lose 4 and 14? Does Nicklaus have to qualify for the Masters? Certainly golf is a wholly different animal. However, efficient administration is efficient administration; common sense is the same on the fairway as at the baseline. The golf tour works because it is organized correctly and cared for by people who aren't constantly grasping after personal aggrandizement or plainly out to get the other guy.
Ego, greed and chaos have always been pro tennis' legacy to itself, but this year, when stupidity made a fourth partner, a terrific mixed doubles fiasco was launched. In this case, the result was the application of what has become known as "the Borg Rule," and even the public could scent the foulness of the deed. The irony is that Borg is trapped in the middle of the raging war between the Grand Prix, administered by the MIPTC and its president, Philippe Chatrier of France, and WCT, whose benefactor, Hunt, has always been anathema—a Texas slicker just in from the oil fields—to the worldly council and its member national federations. "Total control is their game," says Hunt. "I'm in a private business. What is involved here is called the free-enterprise system."
Before Hunt-WCT broke away from the Grand Prix in 1981 after four years of reasonably peaceful partnership within the circuit, nearly all the top players averaged some 12 tournaments a year. Looking ahead to 1982, with the threat of Hunt's $7.9 million, 22-event tour lying fallow out there beyond its jurisdiction, the MIPTC panicked and imposed the 10-tournament minimum commitment on the players—"the Borg Rule." The council feared that the players might pass up much of the $17 million, 87-event Grand Prix circuit and flock to Hunt's higher-paying ($100,000 first prizes vs. a range of $12,000 to $90,000 for the Grand Prix), smaller-draw (in some cases 16-man fields vs. the 32s to 128s in the Grand Prix) tournaments.
What ultimately took place was that Hunt signed 57 of the top 64 players in the world for at least a few of his tournaments. But the two player-agent colossi, Mark McCormack's International Management Group (IMG) and Donald Dell's ProServ (no initials as yet, thank God), who together wield more power in the game than Hunt, Chatrier, McEnroe, Bud Collins and all of Billie Jean King's lawyers put together, also contributed their leverage. Borg and Connors, both former WCT champions and current IMG clients, didn't sign with Hunt. The other five of the Top 64—Gene Mayer, Brian Gottfried, Stan Smith, Raul Ramirez and Yannick Noah—were held out of WCT by ProServ. It is instructive—and perhaps a clarion call for the future of player-agent relations—that Lendl is also a Dell client, but Dell, anti-WCT to the core, isn't able to tell Lendl, the king of the WCT road show, what to do. So much for looking out for the best interests of....
A major problem with the MIPTC, which is composed of three members each from the International Tennis Federation, the ATP and the tournament directors, is that it has lost the respect of the players, and deservedly so. The Borg sham and McEnroe's escape from punishment for last year's Wimbledon shenanigans are only the council's more public farces. Chatrier is considered by many to be a puppet creation of Dell and the old pro-pol, Jack Kramer. Chatrier, you may recall, barred Connors from the French Open in 1974 because Jimbo had played World Team Tennis.
Kramer long ago forfeited his credibility because of his absolute obsession to drive Hunt out of the game, as if that were possible. "Jack still resents being born too soon," says one top player. "He'd be much better off leaving tennis so he wouldn't have to watch Hunt make a million dollars a month and McEnroe five million a week."
In February the ATP announced that to maintain neutrality in the Grand Prix-WCT battle it would be withdrawing from the MIPTC at the end of this year. In addition, the ATP has proposed that it and the MIPTC enter a contractual relationship. Among the ATP's demands are the elimination of the designated system, a share of TV revenues and the right to administer the Code of Conduct by itself; that is, players policing fellow players. These proposals are still under discussion in the halls of the alphabet agencies, but, whatever the outcome, the players are clearly fed up with kowtowing to the Gilbert and Sullivan-orchestrated MIPTC.
"The council is a bigger laugh than ever because now even the public is laughing," says Vijay Amritraj, who attempted something of a joke on his own last week by calling Vegas to offer his services in the pro-celebrity on Saturday if he lost in Dallas on Friday. Ho ho. A Caesars official, sensitive to the WCT-Grand Prix malevolence, got word back to Amritraj telling him to take a hike. After Amritraj upset Clerc, however, Vijay's parents left Dallas for Vegas and Saturday night were at King's famous bacchanal pool party enjoying the live tigers and the spectacular fireworks as their son faced Lendl in the Dallas semis. Anand Amritraj was asked poolside in Vegas if he had watched any of his brother's losing match on TV. "No, not really," said Anand.
Do the ATP brothers stick together in their union the way the sisters of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) do? Guillermo Vilas and Gerulaitis aren't even members of the ATP. Borg and McEnroe reportedly were pressured to join. Connors sometimes refers to the ATP as "A-T-Penis" and disdains many of its actions. "Designations? Pathetic, useless," he says. "How can we be told where to play, how much to play? Guarantees? Guarantees have been legal since the game was invented. The worst thing is to be told what to do all the time. If the council or the ATP or whoever said, 'Hey, look, try to squeeze in 10 tournaments, just try,' we'd probably play 12. When they say, 'You will play 10,' we think of every excuse to play eight."
Et tu, Bjorn Borg. Now a brooding Ingmar Bergman antihero, Borg is so disgusted with the state of affairs that he may not enter another tournament until late fall. No Wimbledon. No Davis Cup. No U.S. Open. "I'm in Vegas to figure out how to get Bjorn work," said Bob Kain of IMG. "Four-mans, eight-mans, whatever. The Borg tour."
Hunt hasn't exactly endeared himself to Borg by calling him, time and again, "an exhibition player." In turn, Hunt's circuit is considered nothing more than special events and exhibitions by the ATP, which, hardly neutral, refuses to recognize WCT events on its ranking computer. Soon, touché, Hunt will unveil WCT's own computer—"based on all events, not just ours," he says. The WCT machine, which conceivably will award points to everybody and everything, including the Bulgarian Davis Cup team playing exhibitions at Jane Fonda's dancercize spa, is to be called the Nixdorf computer. Honest.
Hunt was the first to pour millions into tennis. His contributions to the sport are immense. But as in his old AFL-NFL foxhole days, Hunt has been intransigent in his dealings with the players' union. Tampering with the players' sacred computer is like cop-killing to the ATP.
"By cooperating with us, Lamar had a chance to legitimize his circuit, to achieve something good, to put the Grand Prix on the run," says ATP president Harold Solomon. "Instead he's balked at any input we might want to have on his circuit. At the same time the Grand Prix agrees to keep talking to us. How can we remain neutral under those circumstances?"
Having flown from Vegas to Dallas last week, Mike Davies, the new marketing director of ATP, met with Hunt to thrash out the differences between WCT and the Grand Prix and to try to come to some accommodation for 1983 before it's too late. For 13 years the strong-willed Davies was executive director of none other than WCT. Now he has flip-flopped, and if anyone can be tennis' Kissinger, he's the one. "I've been blunt with Lamar, and we're having good chats," Davies said as Lendl and McEnroe prepared to square off for the WCT title. "The ATP is the last hope, the only motivating factor to get these two tours to work separately but together in peace."
Meanwhile, back in Vegas, as Connors was winning the tournament and Borg was trying to figure out whose life was this anyway, King presented a more realistic point of view. "Sorry I'm late," he announced to a meeting of tournament directors. "Did I miss anything or did we set back tennis another 10 years?"