Re: Linda Tuero
A wonderful interview from the Oregonian-and source for the photos.
By Douglas Perry | The Oregonian/OregonLive
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on May 12, 2015 at 7:15 AM, updated May 12, 2015 at 6:25 PM
Linda Tuero could feel the excitement all around her the first time she walked the grounds at the Foro Italico.
"There was a lot of commotion everywhere," she recalled last week from her home in Sea Island, Georgia. "There were big upheavals with Hoad and Nastase. Fans were very passionate about the Italians. I remember all this arguing about it getting dark, displays of tempers and emotions. It was incredible."
This was the Italian Open in 1972, Tuero's first appearance at the prestigious clay-court tournament. The volatile Romanian champion Ilie Nastase, at the peak of his powers, blitzed his first-round opponent -- in between tantrums and screaming debates with fans. But the veteran Australian Lew Hoad, looking for one last hurrah, fell to the young Italian Corrado Barazzutti, causing spectators to scream as if the Azzurri had just won the World Cup.
Tuero, a little-known player out of Tulane University, didn't want the men to produce all the excitement. The next day, the 21-year-old New Orleans native knocked out Czech national champion Denisa Vopickova, the sister of French Open king Jan Kodes. It would prove to be the start of something special for her in Rome.
"I was an underdog," Tuero said. "Virginia Wade was in the tournament. Helga Niessen Masthoff was in the tournament."
Wade had opened the year by winning the Australian Open. Masthoff, the 1970 Roland Garros finalist, beat Tuero to take the German Open title. And those two were just for starters. The draw was full of top-notch clay-court players, such as Gail Chanfreau and Lesley Hunt.
But Tuero had something that none of the tournament favorites could count on: the crowd was with her on every point. Her surname is Spanish, but it apparently sounded Italian enough that the local fans roared for her as if she was one of them. "Tuero -- they liked that," she recalled, her voice lilting dreamily. "They liked it a lot."
Linda Tuero was new to Rome in 1972 but not to the tennis scene. The U.S. press had first noticed her seven years earlier, when she was all of 14 years old. "I hate to talk about this year," she told an Associated Press reporter in 1965. "Most of the girls I've played against are a year or two older, and I haven't done as well as I should have."
The adolescent wasn't talking about experiencing the agony of defeat; she was referring to the margin of her victories. That summer of '65 she won junior tournaments in Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana -- all in the 16- and- 18-year-old age brackets. By the time she turned 18 she had won six junior national titles and the girls' National Interscholastic Championship.
To be sure, the competition would get tougher in college -- because now she was playing against men.
When, that is, she was allowed on the court.
In the 1960s, it was still widely believed that the fairer sex shouldn't play sports seriously. But Tulane University tennis coach Emmett Pare had trained Tuero for years. He knew how good she was -- and how hard she worked at becoming even better. He offered her an athletic scholarship, a first at Tulane for a woman. Problem was, the university didn't have a women's tennis team. (This was before the Title IX federal law that opened up collegiate sports for women.) So Tuero would have to play on the men's team. Her father, an airline pilot who had taught her the game, encouraged her to go for it.
One of Tuero's first opponents was Florida State's number-three player, Bobby Marcher, who surely thought he was in for an easy day at the office when the pretty blond girl took the court across from him. He quickly realized he'd miscalculated. The 5'4", 110-pound Tulane freshman pushed Marcher around the court with her looping top-spun forehand.
The players' teammates watched the battle with sucked-in breaths, whooping and applauding between points. In the third set, Tuero had two match points, but Marcher fought them off and ultimately won the contest.
When it was finally over, Florida State coach Lex Wood chalked up the close call to the psychological advantage Tuero supposedly enjoyed. "She'll score on my man and he's had it," he lamented. "He starts a subconscious wheel in motion that startles his masculinity, and that's the game."
Such rationalizations only carried so far, of course, and her fellow players knew it. One time, Tuero snapped a shot beyond the reach of an opponent who was charging the net. "He just smiled and swore at me," she said after the match. "I just smiled back. I guess it was a compliment."
It was, but the compliments soon dried up -- because teams started ducking her. Pare had to be careful; seeing as he was the head coach of the men's squad, he couldn't force Tuero on Tulane's opponents.
The teams from Georgia Tech, Northwestern and many other prominent schools refused to play against her. Northwestern cited an ancient Big Ten rule forbidding women athletes.
"Maybe they were just using that as an excuse," Tuero told a reporter after sitting on the sidelines during the Northwestern matches. She couldn't help adding: "I also heard they felt they'd be so embarrassed if they lost to a girl. Well, I also happen to be a pretty good tennis player."
Reporters, both male and female, weren't sure how to write about Tulane's unique tennis player. One asked her if she'd "dump" a match to a boy she liked. "No," Tuero said, leaving it at that.
Well, then, how about dating one of her Tulane teammates?
Tuero shook her head. "When the competition is very close and the girl can beat the boy, it's probably better not to date," she said.
She surely was right about that. Her teammates "get a lot of rattling when I beat them in practice," she told a local reporter. "I hear it. But they understand. They don't look at me as a girl, but just as another player."
One of those teammates, Pierce Kelley, admitted that "she gives us all fits with her game," and Tuero would have to be satisfied with that. Over three seasons, she played only nine matches for Tulane, winning eight of them. (Take a bow, Bobby Marcher!) More than 40 years later, she remains sanguine about the resistance she faced. "This was something new and different," she said, "and Coach Pare didn't want to raise a ruckus."
Tuero -- who now uses her married name, Lindsley -- was happier out on the international circuit, and not just because she could play more often. The competition was even tougher in the pros, but unlike American collegiate tennis, the tour offered lots of tournaments on clay. Tuero's game was made for slow, heavy clay courts.
She was so suited to the dirt, in fact, that she almost "put an end to televised tennis," she once joked. She was referring to the women's final of the 1969 National Amateur Clay Court Championships, which were held in Rochester, New York, and shown on national TV. This was a big deal: it was still a rare thing for tennis to get prominent -- or any -- network airtime. Tuero was playing Cleveland's Gwyneth Thomas, who, like Tuero, prided herself on her patient, steady baseline game. One point lasted 12 minutes -- 326 strokes.
The endless rallying infuriated the legendary champion Pancho Gonalzes, who was watching from the stands. He finally bellowed like a speared lion, threw his hands in the air and stormed out. "He was having a fit, saying women should stay in the kitchen, that kind of thing," Tuero said with a laugh.
That decided it for tournament referee Ernie Oberlaender. When the second set ended, he pulled the women off the main court, the only one with cameras, and sent them to the club's farthest reaches to finish the match. He replaced them with the men's finalists.
"What else could I do?" Oberlaender said afterward. "Two fine players, but they got locked into pat-balling and neither would give. The crowd and the TV people were getting restless."
"Women's libbers," if they'd been aware of the move, would have stormed the Rochester tennis club. Tuero, however, didn't mind. She found the extended points mind-numbing herself, but she couldn't hit the ball past the speedy Thomas. She believed her only viable option was to be even more consistent than her opponent. "I knew it was a boring match, but that was the only way I was going to win it," she said.
And she was right. By the time they were banished to that lonely outside court, Tuero had settled into metronomic bliss. She outlasted Thomas 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. The match took nearly four hours. When the women finally shook hands and headed into the clubhouse, the net-charging men's finalists were long gone.
On Rome's slow clay courts, Tuero rolled on. In the semifinals, she faced Mastoff, a heavy favorite. The big German could hit anyone off the court, but when she got a hot hand in the second set, Tuero simply backed up and started scrambling, forcing Mastoff to come up with ever-better shots, ever closer to the line. The American ultimately broke Mastoff's spell and pulled away for the win, 7-5, 0-6, 6-2.
That put her into the final against the Soviet Union's star player, Olga Morozova. The Russian was popular in the locker room, but she nevertheless carried an Iron Curtain mystique with her. "She was one of the top players. She was strong and quick, liked attacking tennis," Tuero remembered.
But this only meant that, on clay, Morozova played right into Tuero's strengths. "I could pass her when she came to the net, and I could force an error (when she didn't)," Tuero said. The American won the match in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, setting off an explosion of cheers in the packed stadium. The win earned her $1,600, her biggest payday ever. World Tennis magazine heralded her as the conquering "pixie from Dixie."
Tuero would finish the season ranked tenth in the world, the best showing of her career. Yet, to her surprise, the 22-year-old found that the high from her big win in Rome didn't last long. Already, the fun and thrill of traveling the globe to hit a fuzzy little ball had begun to pale.
"1973 was my last year. Honestly, I kind of lost interest," she admitted. "I would go out on court and I wasn't nervous. When I wasn't nervous I knew something was wrong. The desire, the will to win: I'd always had that. It was why I won, not that I was faster or stronger than anyone else. But it just wasn't there anymore."
Part of the reason she'd lost her drive: she had fallen in love.
Six months after her Italian Open triumph, she happened to be in Washington, D.C., when the horror movie "The Exorcist" was filming in the Georgetown neighborhood. "Some friends told me they were looking for extras who played tennis, so I went over there," she said. "They picked me right away, because they could tell I wasn't going to miss a ton of balls. I'm in (the movie) for a brief 15 seconds at most. One backhand or so."
Tuero was ready to get back out on the tennis tour, but after hitting that backhand, she was introduced to acclaimed screenwriter and novelist William Peter Blatty, who wrote "The Exorcist." They started dating almost immediately.
Of course, there was also another reason she lost her drive: Chris Evert.
"You would bring that up," Tuero said, laughing.
Evert, then a teen phenom, was hitting her stride in 1973. This was bad news for Tuero.
She faced Evert in a tournament final in Cleveland and lost 6-0, 6-0. A month later, Tuero again took the court against tennis' new "darling," this time in Indianapolis at the U.S. Clay Court Championships, Tuero's favorite tournament. Tuero had reached the final four years in a row, from 1968 through 1971, winning it in 1970. She always expected to do well in Indy.
Evert again wouldn't let her win a game. The Associated Press described the 18-year-old rising star as playing "almost flawless tennis."
"I know, that was a nightmare," Tuero recalled. "She had the same game as me but she was better. I figured, 'I'm never going to get anywhere with her.' I was too embarrassed to keep losing love and love. I kind of lost heart." (Evert would go on to win seven titles at the French Open, the world's most prestigious clay-court tournament, as well as five at the Italian Open.)
After finishing out her Fed Cup and Wightman Cup duties in 1973, Tuero quit the circuit. She and Blatty got married two years later.
She had a small but key part as a spunky biker-bar waitress in Blatty's next movie, 1980's "The Ninth Configuration" -- you can see her in the clip below. "It's kind of a cult classic," Tuero said of the movie. "It certainly doesn't have the reputation of 'The Exorcist.'" (Tuero was putting it nicely. Blatty suffered writer's block while working on the original novel; the author's note in the book includes a warning to readers: "It is the best that I can do.")
Though producers told her she had the looks for it, Tuero had no interest in a movie career; acting was just something to do because she was on the set with her husband. She eventually put Hollywood behind her -- she and Blatty had two children together before divorcing in the 1980s. She is now married to her third husband, retired business school professor and dean William Lindsley. In the early 2000s, after her kids had left the house, Tuero went to graduate school and became an anthropologist.
It's been a long time since tennis defined Linda Tuero Lindsley's life, but her win in Rome more than four decades ago stays with her. She returned to the Foro Italico a few years ago and noted with satisfaction that it was still full of commotion and passion. "On the stadium wall is a plaque of all the past champions," she said. "To see my name was almost unbelievable."
-- Douglas Perry