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Discussion Starter #1
I will scrub this and move it to Off Topic Land if it offends, but I have so much stuff about the gents that I can't easily work into one of the Year threads.

Perry the new champion
The Times
London, England
07 July 1934

A fine career was crowned on the Centre Court at Wimbledon yesterday when F. J. Perry beat J. H. Crawford, of Australia, in the final round of the Singles to become virtually the champion of the world. A high-sounding title this, but one for which Perry fully proved his fitness by his brilliance against a player who last year took a high place in the company of past giants of the game.

Perry not only won in straight sets; he took 12 games running from an adversary who often was at his best, and later he withstood an attack which was intensified as defeat approached. Perry played the game of his life, a game in which was the perfection of a day-dream; and incidentally he brought the championship back to Great Britain, as he helped to win back the Davis Cup last year, after a lapse of a quarter of a century. We must go back to the playing days of A. W. Gore to find the last British champion, and there has been a mighty host of Dominion, American, and French champions since then.

The match was ended by perhaps the most costly foot-fault in the history of Wimbledon. At match point Crawford served and, too eager to run in on the volley, was foot-faulted for the first time; shaken by surprise he put his second service into the net. It was a sad ending to a gallant fight; but how every one wished that the foot-fault judge could have been looking the other way. However, the fact remained that a fault at this moment was no less a fault than at any other, harmless though it seemed.

It is no new thing for Perry to beat Crawford. During the last year he has won the American and the Australian championships from him, and only recently he was yet again the winner at Bournemouth. One great year made Crawford champion of the world; the next has seen him lose all he gained, lacking perhaps a touch of consistency in the delicacy of his strokes. Still, in reaching the final round at Wimbledon he had well won matches that were going against him, in spite of sickness, and against Perry his chances were favoured; yet Perry won by the astonishing score of 6-3, 6-0 7-5, without the match ever having been one-sided.

The day was glorious sunny with a light breeze and the house was packed, ready to see a British victory at last, but in full sympathy with such a likeable loser. Perhaps no one was prepared for the brilliance of Perry's game. Here was lawn tennis that only wizards play fast, deep, accurate, and, above all, supremely confident. The number of times he miss-hit an easy ball could be counted on both hands, and his treatment of Crawford's really fine shots may have suggested that the champion was playing below himself. This was not true, at any rate until Perry had obtained a commanding grip of the match. Some of his drives on both hands were bounding in the corners of the base-line in the old familiar way, yet such was Perry's speed of foot that he not only returned the ball but made an attacking stroke off it.

Crawford's leisurely style, for all its grace and poise, seemed to lead to his undoing. Perry was extremely fast about the court, and his shorter back swing allowed him to hit the ball more quickly.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
Bitsy Grant, tennis great, dies
The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
Thursday, June 5, 1986
By Gregg Jones, Special to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Bryan "Bitsy" Grant, the diminutive giant-killer of amateur tennis for seven decades who won the hearts of fans from Boston to Britain, died of cancer shortly after 1 p.m. today at his home. He was 75.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

At 5 feet 4 and 125 pounds, Grant was one of the smallest tennis players ever to make the big time, yet he won more than 50 national titles. He overcame his deficiences in size and strength and forged his success by playing a patient game built on endurance and an extraordinary desire to win.

Grant combined speed, strategy and a reputation as a human backboard. He was ranked number two in the world in 1936; was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon twice; and a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1935-37.

He continued playing the game he loved until his death, overcoming in his later years a cataract operation and a bout with cancer.

Grant won his first major title, the Southern championship, at the age of 16 in 1927, and was ranked among the top ten players in the United States nine times between 1930 and 1941.

One of his best years was 1935, when he won eight of 11 tournaments and never lost on clay courts, which were suited to his patented baseline game and repertoire of maddening lob and drop shots.

Grant's titles included four U.S. National Clay Courts championships, the Eastern Grass championship, four River Oaks (Houston, Tex.) championships, three Bermuda titles and 12 Southern championships.

Bryan Morrell Grant Jr. was born Christmas day 1910 in Atlanta and grew up in a house on 11th Street. His father, B.M. Grant Sr., was a former Southern tennis champion.

For obvious reasons, the 5-foot 4-inch was nicknamed "Bitsy."

His father thought Grant was too small ever to be a success in tennis, and concentrated on teaching Bitsy's older brother, Berry, who became a captain of the Georgia Tech tennis team. It was Grant's mother, meanwhile, who taught him the rudiments of the game on a court in their back yard.

Grant because one of the South's top juniors, and a star in college at the University of North Carolina, where he graduated in 1933.

After graduation, he travelled the tennis circuit worldwide, and began to forge a legend as a pint-sized scrapper with an insatiable appetite for winning.

Perhaps his greatest victory came in the U.S. National Championships at Forest Hills in 1933. He beat the world's top player at the time, Ellsworth Vines, in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Grant lost to the eventual champion, Fred Perry, in the semifinals.

Grant's fighting spirit was never more in evidence than in 1935 when, after winning Davis Cup matches on clay for his country against Mexico and Canada, he was left home by U.S. tennis officials for the Cup final against Britain. The officials had doubted Grant's ability on the fast, slick grass courts of the All-England Club, and the U.S. was represented instead by Don Budge, Wilmer Allison and Frank Shields.

Grant got his revenge before the summer was over.

After the Davis Cup team returned to the states, Grant beat Allison and Shields while winning the Eastern Grass Courts Championship. Then he eliminated Budge in the quarterfinals of the U.S. championships on the grass of Forest Hills. An appreciative and affectionate crowd responded by covering the green courts with hats and cushions.

In 1936, United Press writer Henry McLemore called Grant "one part greyhound, one part marathon runner, two parts mechanical man." Grant would later say of himself: "I had to learn to fight and claw. I was so little that I was a roadrunner. I was a counterpunch player."

Grant was 2-0 against Bill Tilden. He beat Baron Gottfried von Cramm of Germany, ranked number two in the world, in 1937 as Nazi leader Herman Goerring watched. By the time the U.S. entered World War II, Grant had established himself as one of the top players in the world.

His tennis travels took him far from Georgia, yet he never left the state far behind. He recalled the time he was coached to say, "Yes, your majesty" during an introduction to England's Queen Mary. When the moment of truth came, Bitsy got excited and responded to the Queen like a proper Georgian: "Yes'm."

On another occasion, Grant amused the normally stoic British crowds by shucking his shoes during a match and plying Wimbledon's hallowed turf on bare feet.

He volunteered for the Army Air Corps, and was sent to New Guinea. During a furlough, he flew to Australia and practiced for three weeks with former Davis Cup rivals Jack Crawford, Denny Pails and Jack Bromwich.

Grant had a bout with malaria during the war that he later said "took the spring out of my legs."

He claimed to have retired from competitive tennis after the war. He retired several more times thereafter, but never for long. He continued to make an annual pilgrimage to Forest Hills and the men's national competition, until the tennis hierarchy wouldn't let him play anymore.

Grant was trying to get into the 1956 U.S. Nationals when officials adopted a policy that banned from men's singles those men who had reached their 45th birthday in the calendar year. Thus, Grant was forced to join the seniors.

A 1957 article in The Atlanta Journal mentioned Grant's "aging but sturdy legs." They were sturdy enough in 1959, when Grant was 49, for him to beat a young Stan Smith 6-1, 6-1 in the Atlanta Invitational.

During the 1960s, Grant notched one national championship after another. They included the national 55-and-over championship in 1969 -which threatened to be his last.

He began having trouble seeing the ball late that year, he recalled later, and in 1970 began losing matches he shouldn't have lost, Grant said. The diagnosis: a cataract in his left eye, which made the ball appear a blur.

"You can't imagine how it feels to lie awake at night and be afraid to drop off to sleep because you're scared you'll wake up blind," Grant said.

A few days before undergoing surgery, Grant vowed: "I'll be back out playing again just as quick as the doctor will let me. By next year, I can get back in competition, I figure."

The next July, six months after bandages had been removed from his eyes, Grant won the Georgia state senior singles and doubles titles.

A couple months after Billie Jean King humbled Bobby Riggs in a celebrated match in the Astrodome in 1973, Grant competed in his own "Battle of the Sexes." He played a 19-year-old woman for a $500 prize offered by an Atlanta racquet club. Grant lost, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, and gave this postmortem: "When a tennis player gets to be 62 years old, he's just a fool to play singles and I'm the biggest fool around."

Still, Grant couldn't resist the lure of one-on-one competition. In 1982, when he was 71 and five years after he was inducted into the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame, Grant entered the singles draw of the tough Atlanta City Open. He lost to the number two seed, 46 years his junior, 6-1, 6-0.

Along the way Grant has offered his suggestions about the game to which he has devoted a lifetime. He said in 1961: "Let's have some noise and enthusiasm. That's what tennis needs - some people who'll boo and cheer and some players who'll shout and cuss."

That same year he called for the elimination of grass courts. "They're like strawberry patches," he said. "It's a farce to play on them." He also proposed one serve instead of two. "That would cut out this net-rushing stuff and create more rallies," Grant said.

Grant's longtime adversary - and doubles partner - Larry Shippey, offered this insight: "Bitsy's got a world of little tricks. He'll act like he's bored, sometimes he'll even look over at the other courts like he couldn't care less about his own match. Other days, he'll make you think he's about to collapse, just so tired he can't go another step. Either way, his opponent let's up, and that's it. Bitsy's in the showers, thinking about tomorrow's opponent."

Grant was still playing the same tune in 1977 when he said: "I'm like that old song they had back in the thirties, `Don't get around much any more.' " That Grant was ranked number one among 65-and-over players in the U.S.

Although he was feared as a clay court legend, and more of his successes came on that playing surface, Grant in recent years confessed: "I really didn't like slow clay much, and I never let on. I'd just let 'em think that and they'd be beat before they started... Actually, I liked a fast surface better."

Grant never played tennis professionally - his career came during an era when only a few top players declared themselves to be pros. Grant made a living selling insurance for 33 years.

He never achieved what he said was his greatest dream - to become a professional baseball shortstop. He could field like a demon but couldn't find a bat light enough, he later explained. He was the quintessential Chicago White Sox fan, and would sneak off to the ball park whenever a tournament coincided with a Sox home game in a baseball city.

He told a story a few years ago about how a "snobbish social kid" at a country club party asked him what living was all about. He replied: "Well, in the summer you put on a sport shirt and no tie and head for a ball park. Get a Coke in one hand, a hot dog in the other, and have a good baseball game to watch. That, to me, is really living. If it should be Comiskey Park in Chicago and Billy Pierce pitching for the White Sox, then that'd be all this and heaven, too."

Although Grant's endurance on the tennis court and his longevity in the game were legendary, he was a chain-smoker for most of his life and never much of a stickler for training rules.

For years he was a fixture at the tennis center on Northside Drive named for him, playing daily matches on the green courts, and between matches, playing checkers and cards.

It was there that he could reminisce about those glory days on the circuit with his longtime pals and tennis and checkers partners such as retired Georgia Tech football coach and athletic director Bobby Dodd.

Grant's stories included the one about the only time he spent a night in jail, in Boston after he several other tennis players had been arrested for disturbing the peace. Making the best of the situation, Grant recalled, he started a crap game and had "a helluva good time."

He recalled, "If you were a good amateur player in the thirties, it was a fabulous ten years. We got all our expenses, played in swanky places, traveled."

He debunked notions of purity maintained by former players of that era. "Back in the thirties the top amateurs were real turncoats," Grant said. "We played under the amateur banner, but under the table we were making a pretty good living."

He was embarassed that the city of Atlanta honored him by naming a tennis center for him. "You're not supposed to have anything named for you unless you've achieved something great or unless you're dead. I've never achieved anything great and at the latest reports I wasn't dead."

Surviving are his son, Brian M. Grant III of Atlanta; a daughter, Mrs. Mary McDonald of Newberry, S.C.; a sister, Miss Harriet Grant of Atlanta; and three grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requested that donations be made to the American Cancer Society.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Grant's most famous match was upset of national champion Vines
The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
Friday, June 6, 1986
By Grantland Rice

This is the account of Bitsy Grant's upset of national champion Ellsworth Vines at Forest Hills on Sept. 6, 1933. Written by the legendary Grantland Rice, who earlier was on the staff of The Atlanta Journal, the story covers perhaps Grant's finest hour in tennis. Rice was established as this country's finest writer of sports.

FOREST HILLS, N.Y., Sept. 7 - A Georgia jack rabbit has taken his place in the halls of sporting fame with Ty Cobb and Bobby Jones.

No wonder the red clay hills are reverberating with the old Georgia chorus that once greeted Cobb, Jones, Nap Rucker and Bobby Walthour on their day of victory.

For in the fourth round at Forest Hills, Bryan "Bitsy" Grant of Atlanta - 5 feet 4 inches tall, weight 118 pounds, 22 years old - swept Ellsworth Vines, the national champion, from the courts in straight sets.

For the first time in sporting history, the Jack Rabbit won a decision from the Greyhound in one of the most remarkable tennis performances ever known. Little Bitsy Grant, who at times looked like a tennis ball bounding around the court, beat Vines, the tall, angular and tired champion, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

More important still, the fourth-round proceedings have brought about the new Davis Cup order of training in the United States. For just before Bitsy Grant eliminated Vines in straight sets, Adrian Quist of Australia stopped Wilmer Allison by the same straight-set march.

Taking no credit from Quist and Grant, who played extremely well, fine, aggressive tennis, the Vines and Allison of today were far from the Vines and Allison seen on these same courts a year ago. They were not only fighting two brilliant opponents, but they also were fighting against competitive mental fatigue of 19 months of hard tennis with little rest along the road.

Ninteen months of almost unbroken competition is more than the human brain can stand. The physical system can hold up, but when concentration has to be forced to the final limit, the answer is simple enough.

And yet this diagnosis, while true in many respects, is hardly fair to Bitsy Grant, the Georgia jack rabbit, this mighty midget, who gave an exhibition of covering the court, of getting the ball back into play, that has never been surpassed, not even by the fast, long-legged Bill Tilden at his best.

Little Grant started in a snow-white suit. He finished with a mottled garment covered with mud, grass stains and common dirt. He reminded you of a ballplayer who had been sliding to second or the plate for a week.

There were streaks when Vines played fine tennis, when he whipped the ball back with his old-time skill. But no matter where he placed the ball, there was the Georgia jack rabbit waiting for the return - always getting the ball back - missing nothing - fighting like a tiger cub -scratching, clawing, hustling against superior force that was not quite coordinated.

And sooner or later, against this machinelike return, Vines the champion would break down and make some simple error. The tennis player who ranked No. 1 in 1932 never had enough to beat an opponent who could cover the entire sweep of Long Island, much less Forest Hills.

Don't make the mistake of thinking Bryan "Bitsy" Grant is any fluke. So far this year, the flaming atom has beaten Shields, Wood, Mangin and Parker, which is no soft assignment.

Grant has this rarer faculty: Not much bigger than a tennis ball, he is never going to beat himself. Someone has to beat him and beat him with greater physical force. No one here will outspeed or outgame him, for there are no such words as quit or fear in his Southern vocabulary. He doesn't know what they mean, and what a factor this is when it is man to man, even against heavier and superior artillery.

I had a talk with Ellsworth Vines before this match started. It was easy enough to see then that his crown was falling away. "Let's talk about golf," he said. "I'm sick of tennis. I hope I don't see another tennis racket in a year."

This was no advance alibi. Vines isn't that type. He can take it without a whimper. The champion simply never had the keenness and the concentration to match an opponent who refused to make any mistakes, who was all over the place, a human centipede and not much larger. And there were times when I thought a cricket had been turned loose on the courts.

As a result of this victory, little Grant, 5 feet 4, earned his right to meet Lester Stoefen, 6 feet 4, in one of the oddest semifinals ever played.

The big blond Californian has been playing the finest tennis in the championship with harnessed power under full control and a sweeping stroke that showed little effort and yet carried a tremendous thrust. Stoefen has come a long, long way from a year ago, but he will have to crush a hornet Friday, and hornets are never pleasant company, even for a potential champion.

He will find Bitsy Grant under his feet, in his hair, in his eyebrows, popping up from the most unexpected places, always thumping the ball back somewhere, sliding, sprinting, skidding, using everything but a motorcycle or roller skates to reach that ball and thump it back over the net. Stoefen will tower over Grant like Mount Everest over a molehill. But it will be one of the liveliest molehills that ever moved into action.

And yet with all the excitement that took place in the downfall of the American champion and the elimination of the United States Davis Cup team, the greatest tennis of the day was played by Frank Shields in his defeat of Nunoi, the Japanese champion, and the amazing twilight battle between Jack Crawford, Australian, British and French champion, and Sidney Wood, the finest stylist on this side of the Atlantic.

The gray dusk battle of Crawford and Wood at the darkening edge of twilight was a tennis classic, something the lingering, keyed-up crowd will never forget when it comes to a combination of thrills, skill and the highest form of art. It was magnificent to look at, for here were two who had won at Wimbledon to prove their class.

Wood played exceptional tennis, but Crawford proved his high place in the new tennis sun against the hardest, finest tennis any competitor had to meet. He had everything in this match that a champion needs, including heart.

(The next day, Grant lost to Stoefen 8-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-5.)

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
'Pound for pound, he was the best player to ever live'
The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
Friday, June 6, 1986
Earnest Reese, Staff Writer

Bitsy Grant, who died Thursday at the age of 75, is remembered by most tennis enthusiasts as one of the most prolific clay-court baseline players of his era.

It was a rainy day in 1934, about four years before Don Budge would become the first person to win the Grand Slam of tennis. In the U.S. Grass Court Championship at Forest Hills, Budge would face a small Atlantan who had come to be known as the "giant killer."

Budge learned just why his 5-foot-4, 130-pound opponent - Bryan "Bitsy" Grant - had earned the moniker. Grant was no pushover for Budge, one of only four people twice named U.S. Athlete of the Year and the only player to win singles, doubles and mixed doubles at Wimbledon .

"The match was 2-2, and I had him match point in the fifth set," said Budge. "I hit the ball to Bitsy, and he slipped and lost his racket. It had rained that day. When I saw him go down, I threw my racket into the air. I was sure I had beaten him."

Not so. Grant, 23 at the time, frantically crawled on his knees after the ball, like a baby trying to retrieve a lost rattler.

"Somehow, he got to his racket and feebly got the ball back over the net," said Budge, now 70. "I couldn't believe it. There I was without a racket. If I had had mine, I could've beaten him right there."

Grant won the point, and rain postponed play until the next day. Budge, after a sleepless night, did manage to win the fifth set, but Grant had won his respect.

Grant, who died Thursday at the age of 75, is remembered by most tennis enthusiasts as one of the most prolific clay-court baseline players of his era. "A lot of people didn't know that Bitsy was a great net player, too," said Budge. "But since he was short, he was forced to play back. He was vulnerable to lobs."

Another fried of Grant was Bobby Riggs, who began his rise to prominence during the mid-1930's.

Riggs remembers Grant as "one of the most tenacious and big-hearted players to ever play the game. He had great style, a great touch and he was a great fighter."

"Budge was the greatest player to ever live, and Bitsy would kill him on the clay courts," Riggs said. "The only player to come close to Bitsy on the clay w as (Bjorn) Borg. Bitsy would stay out there and run you all day. Pound for pound, he was the best player to ever live."

Pancho Segura, twice a U.S. Pro Champion and an outstanding pro during the late '40s and the 1950s, said he never found a flaw in Grant's game.

"When I came to this country (from Mexico) in '41, Bitsy defeated me on grass at Forest Hills in the biggest match of my career at the time," said Segura, 65. "He had all the shots. He had ball control, great angles and great anticipation.

"Bitsy was underrated because the bigger boys with the big serves overshadowed him. He had to work harder."

"He had the great legs and the heart of a lion," said Georgia tennis coach Dan Magill, who followed Grant's career first as a hero-worshipper, then as a reporter and later as a senior's competitor. "You couldn't knock the ball through him.

"Bitsy could run, and play forever. That was his advantage over a lot of players. I'm sure he had a great influence on me, the way he helped dramatize tennis."

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Why I often say performance enhancing drugs cast shadows in all directions.

Net result for Kramer: Back pain no problem
Chicago Sun-Times
Friday, November 13, 1987
Len Ziehm

Jack Kramer was one of the greatest tennis players of all time. He also was one of the first to try what he calls "exotic drugs."

Fortunately, Kramer lived to tell about it and - at 66 - is traveling the country to proclaim hope for many athletes with persistent lower back pain.

Lower back pain is nothing unusual for athletes, regardless of ability. Kramer encountered it at the age of 29, after he had won one singles and two doubles titles at Wimbledon.

In 1947 he defeated Bobby Riggs for the world's professional championship. A year later he defended against Pancho Gonzalez, then learned the lower back pain he thought was from a heavy tennis schedule actually was caused by arthritis.

"I would get a stiff lower back and spasms in the neck and shoulders," Kramer said.

"The timing was bad. I had seven weeks to correct it before I had to defend my pro title against Pancho Segura."

Kramer tried the usual remedies prescribed by athletic trainers - heat, diathermy, rest - but had no luck until he turned to various steroids, all derivatives of cortisone.

"They got me through Segura, but my doctor started to notice strange things and wanted me to get off of them," said Kramer, whose weight soared from 168 to 192 pounds.

"Cortizone saved my career for awhile," he said. "But my doctor waved me off it because it was linked with ulcers, diabetes and liver problems. Anything I took was under a doctor's supervision, but I still became a risk in my own business.

"I'd take two pills a day, and they'd make me high. Then I'd end up taking a sleeping pill to go to bed at night, and then another pill so I could get up in the morning."

After defending his world title against Frank Sedgeman in 1953, Kramer turned to sports promotion, bought a California golf course and tried to cope with his back pain by living a less stressful life. But the pain didn't go away.

"I didn't think about the pain much, because a shower and good night's sleep usually took care of the problems," he said. "I was completely surprised when I learned I had arthritis. I had never even heard of it before."

Arthritis means joint inflammation, and side effects include swelling, redness, pain and stiffness. Lower back pain is part of the problem in more than 100 types of arthritis that afflict 36 million Americans.

What Kramer did - go to a more sedentary lifestyle - was the wrong approach to fight arthritis.

"You need aggressive treatment," he said. "You don't sit back and see what happens."

All lower back pain is not caused by arthritis, but - according to Kramer and Terri Aagaard, a doctor accompanying him on his promotion tour - 80 percent of arthritics have to deal with it.

"If back pain persists six weeks, you ought to see a physician," said Aagaard, director of emergency medicine at Brigham Young. "In the 1950s and 1960s, there were not good alternatives for people with arthritis. A lot of people got discouraged and gave up on the medical profession. Now we have drugs that do help."

Kramer found Feldene, an anti-inflammatory drug that doesn't have the side effects of cortisone.

He used Feldene for seven months and lost 12 pounds - not from the drug, but because it enabled him to exercise again - even though he underwent a hip replacement operation in 1983.

Feldene is a prescription drug taken in pill form once a day. It costs $1.30 per pill. That may sound expensive, but Kramer said it's not - because it works. He said Americans spend $1 billion per year on other remedies for arthritis, most of which don't work.

Last year Kramer put Feldene to the test. He was in the process of introducing a new Jack Kramer model tennis racquet for Wilson Sporting Goods and needed to test several prototypes before deciding which one to endorse.

"For six weeks I hit tennis balls every day for 2 1/2 hours," he said. "I had no side effects."

He also found out four former Wimbledon champions had learned about Feldene before he did and were using it to combat similar problems.

Feldene is one of 12 to 15 members of a class of non-steroidal drugs. The only undesirable side effect that surfaced, according to Aagaard, was some minor stomach problems.

"And we don't see that too often," she said.

Kramer said the drug must be used in conjunction with an exercise program to be effective. Without it, exercise was impossible.

"Swimming was about all I could do," he said. "It was pretty dull swimming laps, but it did the job with no joint damage. But I can do anything now."

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
Smell of success
August 8, 1997
Sydney Morning Herald

Rod Laver remains the greatest tennis player the world has seen. One of only five players to win the coveted Grand Slam*, and the only one to win twice. PETER FITZSIMONS visited him at his Californian home.

OK, SO maybe I did smell a bit. And maybe I was unshaven too, with bags under my eyes that could have been hanging off a saddle. But that was still no reason for the guard at the gate of the Rancho Mirage in Palm Springs, California, to look at me in the back of the taxi in quite the way he did - like he couldn't possibly believe that anyone inside this closed community of extremely wealthy people would ever agree to have a person looking like me, visiting a place like this.

"Just call Mr Laver," I said. "I PROMISE you he's expecting me."

And he bloody well was too, so suck on that Igor. I'd like to see how you'd look if you'd criss-crossed America twice in 48 hours, been marooned overnight in a New York train station, fought your way through a blizzard to Boston, and then had to haul your arse backwards over the same ground in half the time to get right here, right now.

Anyway ... this looks like it must be Rod Laver's place now, not so much Californian Bungalow as Californian Castle - one enormous luxury car in the garage has the number plate AUZZE, while the other has AUZZE 2. The gardens around have been manicured with every bit the amount of care usually reserved for Liz Taylor's nails.

Ding dong - and this certainly ain't Avon calling.

At the door, Rod Laver, rising 60, is small in height, wiry in physique, ruddy of complexion and ushers me straight to the spacious backyard, quite possibly to keep me in the open air, but that's OK. It's about as classically beautiful a backyard as ever I saw, with a large swimming pool, a golf course backing onto it, delicate flowers all around, and towering mountains at just the right scenic distance away.

The wall that separates us from the riff-raff in the rest of America has abundant greenery all around it so you barely notice it, and just on the other side is the expansive estate where Frank Sinatra lived for 30 years, on Frank Sinatra Drive (and I'm not making this up).

Rod Laver Lane, no less, is just a little to the east of that, not far from Dinah Shore Avenue. This is that kind of community, something close to the capital of Celebritocracy Inc.


Mr Laver. What's a nice Rockhampton lad like you, third son of a Queensland farmer, doing in a place like this? Like the old joke goes, just where exactly did you go wrong?

In reply, Rod Laver smiles lightly and quietly replies: "It's a long story, but really it's just the way things turned out ..."

He's a softly spoken sort of bloke this'un, and no mistake. His accent, after more than 30 years of living around and about America, with his American wife, is not quite "midPacific" - as it is with, say, Greg Norman - but it certainly lies at least a few thousand kilometres east of Rockhampton.

"I started playing tennis on the farm ..." he begins as we both settle back a little to traverse the terrain of his life and times, with him driving.

He was born and bred in central Queensland, about 100km inland from Rockhampton, in a place where the farms grow as big as the families, where the days are long, and from horizon to horizon is blue sky.

In that kind of rural life, tennis was not only the family game, but also close to the social glue with which the farming community out that way held together, with constant weekend tennis parties. Whatever else, young Rod was into the game ...

"I just loved to play," he says simply, "and was always wanting to get out on to the court so I could hit the ball some more. I used to always be after my two older brothers to play with me ..."

His brothers were not only six and seven years older than he, they were also two of the best players in central Queensland. In those circumstances, one thing was obvious early to young Rod - he was never going to be able to blow them off the court with his sheer physical power because, in comparison, he didn't have any. No, if he was going to compete, he was going to have to outsmart them with guile, deft stroke-play, an ability to keep the ball in play whatever else happened, and a will to win that would kill a big brown dog.

"I would also say my timing was naturally pretty good," Laver says. "It always came off my racquet well."

Put together it made an impressive armoury, and it wasn't long before he came to the attention of Rockhampton tennis coach Charlie Hollis. This vastly experienced tennis man wanted the young Laver to move from the farm to Rocky so as to devote himself to training and fulfil his potential. His parents declined, thinking 10-year-old Rod was far too young to leave home. But Hollis got his wish within 12 months when, by happenstance, the family sold the station and moved to Rockhampton anyway.

"So I got more involved with Charlie," Laver recalls with a wry grin at those long-ago times, "and started playing in a lot of different mini-tournaments. Bit by bit I got more and more involved in competing, and I came to understand the way to win was to concentrate and play within my own element. The main thing I learnt was that you didn't make the errors. If you make the errors you are the one who is going to lose the match."

LAVER didn't lose many and, just as a youngster he had come to the attention of Hollis, now as a successful teenager he was noticed by Australia's most famous tennis coach of all, Harry Hopman. When Laver was just 17, Hopman picked him to represent Australia at the junior level, even though he was ranked only fifth in Australia for his age.

"Harry picked me as being potentially one who had an opportunity to improve, and he thought that that would give me a chance even though other people were ahead of me .. ," Laver says.

Hopman was still unsure about the kid, facetiously nicknaming him "Rocket", because "he always thought I was lackadaisical", but the upshot was the same: Rod Laver, serious tennis player, was away. Within short order he had won the United States and Canadian junior titles and had worked his way up the rankings, junior and then adult.

If Rockhampton was starting to drift a little into the background, the young Laver at least made regular trips home and kept in touch best he could, even though he was now away from Australia for six-seven months at a stretch, trying to conquer as many overseas tournaments as possible, none more so than Wimbledon.

He lost to Neale Fraser in the 1960 Wimbledon final, but in 1961 had achieved his and Hollis's cherished dream by winning it, at the expense of American Chuck McKinley. This did not necessarily mean, though, that he was universally acclaimed as the best player in the world, because at that stage of tennis history a lot of the world's best players had moved over to the professional ranks. But no matter ... "I was very, very pleased with the Wimbledon win," says Laver now. As were, apparently, his parents, though as he recalls: "They were quite reserved, and said, 'Well done'."

Quite. It was even better done, though, in 1962 - Laver's own season to end reason, when our man Rod won it all. Not only did he win Wimbledon again, but he also triumphed in the Australian, US and French championships. It meant he'd won the grand slam, a feat of near-mythological proportions in the tennis world. For all the glory of it, though, Laver remembers also a slightly sanguine feeling.

"Everyone needs a challenge and maybe having won the grand slam I felt, 'Now what?' he says. "After winning the grand slam, there was nowhere else to go."

Except, of course, to the professional ranks. Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall had jumped ship to the professionals several years before and now wanted him to join them.

"I initially spoke to them," he recalls, "and said, 'Well, what is the future of pro tennis?' And they said, 'Well, the future is pretty dim without you, so we are really prepared to work with you - whatever you want'." When Laver signed, he was on a deal, as he recalls, "For $110,000 over three years. It was one of the better contracts at that stage, that meant $30-40,000 a year and it meant also playing 10-11 months of the year."

For all his impressive credentials in the amateur world though, it did not translate into immediate success among the professionals. Far from it.

"It was much more difficult than in the amateur ranks and Hoad and Rosewall beat me probably 12 or 13 times (each) before I understood the mechanics of what pro tennis was all about. In pro tennis, they hit harder, the percentage of errors is down, their first serves go in, their volleys go deep, and a little bit more power all over, so I wasn't used to that.

"I learnt a lot in 1963 and, by the end of 1963, I started to feel I could hold mine with all the guys ..."

The truth is, by the end of '63 "the guys" were mostly incapable of holding their own with him. For, after finding his feet, Laver proceeded to reel off four successive wins in the professional world's answer to Wimbledon, the World Professional Indoor Tournament, played at Wembley from 1964 to 1967, and also won the majority of all other professional tournaments he entered.

"Rod Laver" and "unbeatable" began ever more often to be mentioned in the same sentence. So did "ice-like". In forging the path that Bjorn Borg would travel down a decade later, Laver was always notable for his seeming lack of emotions, for his totally calm concentration on the task at hand, whatever the circumstances.

"It was just the way I played," he says simply. "I was always taught to be calm, to be controlled, not to let anything get under my skin. It worked for me."

By 1968, the amateur and professional worlds of tennis had combined into the Open era. Laver won Wimbledon for the third time.

And then he won Wimbledon again in 1969, famously beating fellow Australian John Newcombe in the final, before going on that year to scale his career summit by again winning a grand slam, the only male ever to achieve the feat twice.

Somehow or other, the young lad from Rockhampton had turned into the finest player the world had seen, and he had become rich in the process.

In 1971, he became the first player to amass $1 million in prize money and - just quietly between us - it's obvious from the surroundings he hasn't squandered it since. For not only was tennis kind to his bankbook, so too has the world of business been kind to it since.

From when he retired from serious tennis in the mid-'70s "because I didn't want to play against the kids any more", Laver has been busy setting up tennis camps, making astute investments, playing the odd "Legends" game and making celebrity appearances.

Do you like that sort of work?

"Yes, I do. I also still play some senior tournaments, and they can be charity events a lot of times," he says.

"Between times, my wife and I often get in our motor home and go and visit our son in California, or just go driving and visiting to various lovely places around the States ..."

LAST question, Mr Laver, before I call the taxi and me and my smell can leave you to it. Do you ever sit here on this million-dollar porch with this wonderful view and think: "Gee, I tell you what, I fair dinkum have come an awful long way!"?

"Yes I do. We do. Sometimes Fred Stolle or Roy Emerson or the guys will come out here and we chat and have a few beers and we say, 'This is a long way from Rocky, isn't it?' "

It certainly is, and thank you Mr Laver. Don't mind me, I'll find my own way out, but if I miss him, please tell Igor to get knotted from me.

And if it wouldn't be too much trouble, could you also tell a tiny fib, and tell him that you really enjoyed having me around and hope to see me again soon ...

* The other Grand Slam winners are Steffi Graf, Margaret Court, Maureen Connolly and Don Budge.

This has been adapted from Everyone But Phar Lap, Face To Face With The Best Of Australian Sport, by Peter Fitzsimons. HarperSports. $29.95

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
We are fine with this one thread. I want to go back now and read about Don Budge-who finally cemented the concept of "The Grand Slam".
Lots and lots of Budge.

Don Budge's historic Grand Slam recalled in 50th anniversary year
Monday, June 13, 1988
Jack Longworth, Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Tennis is abuzz with talk of the Grand Slam. It's a fitting year for it.

Mats Wilander and Steffi Graf have won two of the four major singles championships in 1988, the Australian and French Opens. Now it's on to Wimbledon next week, with the US Open completing the slam roster in September.

Fifty years ago this season, Don Budge became the first player to win the Grand Slam, capturing the game's four most important titles in the same year.

Now 73, Budge still plays social tennis two or three times a week and enjoys thoroughly his place in posterity. The Pennsylvania license tag on his large old car unabashedly reads ``G SLAM.''

Only three other players could qualify for that catchy automotive accessory. The late Maureen Connolly won all four titles in 1953; Rod Laver, the only two-time Grand Slammer, accomplished the feat in 1962 and again in 1969; and Margaret Court Smith stands as the last player to do it, in 1970.

But it was the rangy redhead from Oakland, Calif., J. Donald Budge, who broke through the psychological barrier in 1938. The golden anniversary of his wondrous feat gives tennis, a game that can use it, a renewed sense of its proud history.

After he won the US championship in 1937, Budge confided in his best friend and doubles partner, Gene Mako, his unheard-of goal of winning the four majors the following year. He counted on Mako's companionship and counsel.

Budge and Mako together made the three-week voyage to Australia by ship for the first leg of the Slam. Budge then sailed into the final match, where he dominated ambidextrous young Aussie John Bromwich. The trip was somewhat notable for Budge, since he temporarily lost his voice and had to communicate with pad and pencil.

Next came the French, on clay, which no American had won. Budge and Mako practiced hard on the Forest Hills clay courts in New York before leaving, and Budge vowed to make up for his inexperience on the slow surface by being extra patient.

He encountered only one tough match in the French, beating Yugoslavia's Franjo Kukuljevich, a left-hander, in five sets in the third round. In the final he destroyed big Roderich Menzel of Czechoslovakia in less than an hour.

A highlight of Budge's trip to France was a private performance by the great cello player Pablo Casals, a tennis fan who admired the American star. Budge long has been a music buff, and sat in on drums with the big bands of Benny Goodman and Count Basie. He listened to jazz records before tournaments to energize his tennis.

Budge waded through the Wimbledon field without losing a set, thrashing Bunny Austin at the finish, and also won the doubles with Mako and the mixed doubles with Alice Marble. Only the US championships stood in the way of a Grand Slam.

As irony would have it, Budge's opponent in the last match on grass at Forest Hills was his old pal Mako, whose practicing and playing doubles with Budge had elevated his own game to a higher level.

Until Mako did it, no unseeded player had reached the US final. His match against Budge was put off after a hurricane hit the East Coast, intensifying the tension.

Budge won the first set, 6-3, but Mako took the second, 8-6. Budge was overpowering in the next two sets, losing only three games, and the glorious goal he had told only to Mako was accomplished: Budge had won the Grand Slam, or to put it more accurately, he had invented it.

``People said I let Gene win a set because we were friends,'' Budge says today. ``I wouldn't have thrown a set to my mother!''

Budge, perhaps the most consistent great player ever, believes a big reason he won the Slam was his enjoyment of all different playing surfaces. Raised on hard courts, he told himself early in his career he was not going to have mental or physical problems on grass or clay.

He also points to his ability to pace himself and prepare assiduously for the big tournaments. Every year he took off six or seven weeks at the end of the schedule and did not so much as glance at a racket.

``Today's players are competing too much,'' he contends. ``They don't take time off to relax or to work on their weaknesses.''

Budge had no weakness. His greatest strength was his backhand, arguably the finest of all time. He says the left-handed baseball swing of his boyhood made for a natural right-handed topspin backhand.

The gentlemanly Budge enjoys talking about the Slam today with journalists or just casual fans. An unknown fan came up to him not long ago and left him almost speechless, though.

``He said he saw the last match I played at Forest Lawn,'' laughs Budge. ''I told him I'm not nearly ready for that.''

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #9
THE BEST EVER? : Strong Case Made for Don Budge, Who Won Tennis Grand Slam 50 Years Ago
May 29, 1988
Los Angeles Times

DINGMANS FERRY, Pa. — The ferry is gone, but the town is still on the map. Honest. And this is where you'll find the tall, trim tennis player who ranks as perhaps the best of all time.

Going on 73, he lives quietly these days up the hill from the embankment where Andrew Dingman used to bring in his ferry after crossing the Delaware River from New Jersey.

That was long ago, and today, Don Budge lives a long way from nowhere.

Best of all time, you say?

Well, some folks don't think so, of course, but a lot do, and there are some compelling reasons to take Budge in his prime over Bill Tilden or Rod Laver or Pancho Gonzalez, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl or anyone else who has played tennis.

Jack Kramer, a former world champion himself who still rates in the top four or five, was asked for an analysis.

"If everybody is 25 years old today, I can't see anybody beating Budge," said Kramer, who has made a closer study of his sport than probably any athlete. "Whenever you played him . . . he made us all change our game.

"The great tennis champions have been alike in many ways. They all had speed, heart and stamina under pressure. The difference is simply that Budge had the most equipment--the most complete offense, the most complete defense."

Ellsworth Vines, also a former champion, is one who leans toward Tilden, whom Vines lists with Budge in his top two. But Gene Mako, Budge's former Davis Cup doubles partner, is among the many who pick Budge in what will always be a futile if stimulating exercise--comparing champions of different eras.

They have been doing it again lately because 1988 is the 50th anniversary year of a landmark tennis achievement--Budge's Grand Slam. In 1938, the squire of Dingmans Ferry became the first tennis player to win the national championships of England, France, Australia and the United States in a single calendar year.

Few athletes have ever dominated any sport the way Budge ruled tennis a half-century ago, when, in the last two years before World War II, he:

--Won six consecutive major tournaments, the only six he entered in 1937-38 while competing on three continents.

--Won all 12 of the Davis Cup matches he played, leading the U.S. team that brought the Cup home after an 11-year lapse, then leading it to victory again in 1938, after which he gave up the amateurs for pro tennis.

A few months later war was breaking out, and instantly, Budge's luck changed. At 23 he was sitting squarely on top of the world just as it collapsed. Although he made $148,000 as a pro in 1939--more than Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams ever made in one year in that era--and although he was tennis' ranking pro until 1946, few noticed.

The people of his world were watching a war instead. During most of Budge's peak years as an athlete, he wore Army khaki, not tennis whites.

What's more, he was the most conspicuous victim of the nature of the tennis of his day, before and after the war, when amateurs were segregated from pros.

Strange as it sounds now, there were no open tournaments, anywhere, until Budge was 53, at which time Wimbledon finally overruled the amateur game's die-hard reactionaries. That was in 1968.

In Budge's day:

--Admission to all the big tournaments from Wimbledon to Forest Hills was limited to men and women who were, ostensibly, amateurs.

--Players had to turn pro and go on tour to make an honest dollar out of the sport in which they excelled.

The upshot is that Borg, for example, as a post-1968 open champion, has a current net worth of $40 million, and Budge lives in Dingmans Ferry.

Any photo of the immensely gifted Budge playing amateur tennis is incomplete without a footnote that should read something like this: "He was blind-sided in his prime."

Considering four things--his tournament skills, his Grand Slam performance, the war that began when he was No. 1, and the fortune that didn't materialize while he lived on expense money in the infamous age of the shamateurs--Budge wasn't merely the finest but the unluckiest of the tennis champions.

But never, then or now, the unhappiest.


Tennis people who call on Budge in Dingmans Ferry agree that he seems happier with his present lot than, say, John McEnroe, who has made up to $4 million a year. In any case, Budge looks happier.

He remains as jovial as he was 50 years ago, when he was one of the most readily identifiable world-class athletes--a red string bean in long white flannels. As the 1930s king of tennis, he always preferred pants to shorts. Ruddy-faced, freckled, with a full head of bright red hair, Budge weighed only 155 pounds then, although he stood almost 6 feet 2 inches.

He has filled out to 170 in recent years, and what's left of the red hair is now a pinkish white. He is in excellent health.

Budge was born in Oakland the second son and third red-haired child of two Linotype operators--one of them red-haired, both of Scottish descent--who worked side-by-side at a Bay Area newspaper, the San Francisco Call.

Today, Budge is about to become a grandfather for the first time. He has two married sons. His second wife, Lori, a minister's daughter who became a New York model, also has a son.

Don and Lori and the family's three other couples are sometimes together for Christmas at Dingmans Ferry, which has a 50-cent toll bridge--one of the world's few privately owned toll bridges--plus a post office, and not much else. But when it's snowing, it would be hard to find a more idyllic holiday site.

Their place is in a cluster of summer cottages on a lake. Dingmans Ferry is a Pennsylvania resort area in the Pocono Mountains, and the 2-acre Budge estate, known as Firethorn for its abundant wild roses, is on a hill with a stately forest behind and the shimmering lake in front. This is Lake Sylvandale, which is 1,000 feet above sea level.

The surrounding cottages are all shuttered and uninhabited during the winter except for the Budges', which is actually a wooden mansion with many rooms, though it began as a log cabin. After Don and Lori bought it from her parents 20 years ago, they added some touches of civilization, including eight telephones and a king-sized master bedroom with picture windows on all four walls, each with its own electrically powered drape.

"There may not be a room like it in the L.A. area, even Bel-Air," said Budge, who once lived in Bel-Air. In those years, Deirdre, his late first wife, was a Los Angeles writer and editor. They moved East in the '60s when she accepted a job with Look magazine in New York.

"The climate is better in L.A. than it is here," Budge said. "But not the scenery."

In both respects, this was most noticeable the first time that Don and Lori were snowbound at Firethorn. That year, early in their residency, trying to escape the nuisance of phones, they didn't have even one. Instead they kept a log fire going all day for several days, hoping to attract someone's attention with the spiraling smoke.

When that failed, they put on snow shoes one morning and mushed out to their mail box, which is about a block in front of the house. There, they left a note for the mailman, who, they knew, would be sleighing by eventually: "Help! Come plow us out."

Just in time, Budge said, someone did.

Budge is a hands-on hobbyist with a well-equipped workroom in his next-door guest house, and he built much of Firethorn's furniture himself. He also built the long, curving flagstone walls that line three of the four patios, which offer views either down at the lake or up into the mountain-top forest.

You can do almost anything at Firethorn but play tennis. The nearest tennis court, which Budge seldom visits, is 5 miles away. He still plays the game much of the year, though, when on the road. His traveling schedule includes speaking engagements--his fee is $1,000 plus expenses--and pro-celebrity tournaments, among other functions. One year he and Lori were home only six weeks.

By car, Dingmans Ferry is 90 minutes northwest of the New York airports, where the Budges take off for either Down Under or Over There. In the States, they usually drive, even to California, in a nicely maintained 1976 Cadillac that has already seen 227,000 miles.

Budge's license plate is G SLAM, which is particularly fitting in this 50th anniversary year of his grand slam. He has been, or will be, the guest of honor at all four slam stadiums, starting in Australia last January and continuing last week in France. Next month, Wimbledon.

Andrew Dingman never had it so good.


When the Davis Cup matches had all been played in 1937 and the trophy was safely back where, in the view of the U.S. team, it belonged, Don Budge headed for Oakland and a six-week vacation at home. Between tournaments in those days, Budge, a Cal tennis dropout, lived with his parents.

Today, a Davis Cup champion would be more likely to visit the Riviera or West Indies, where he could stretch out for a day or two and count his money. During Budge's tennis years, champions earned not millions, nor even thousands, but train tickets home. So they went home.

There one afternoon in the fall of 1937, swinging lazily on the front porch with his nose in a book--a record book--Budge noticed that Tilden had never won the championship of France. Reading on, he discovered that more than one Wimbledon champion had failed to win in Australia. And some American champions, he knew, had never won anywhere else.

As Budge swung on and read on, a light went on. Nobody had ever won all four majors the same year, he marveled. Why not be the first?

That night he dreamed about it and decided to invade Australia immediately, and the next day he talked Gene Mako into going along.

And so while Cal was getting ready to beat Alabama in the 1938 Rose Bowl, Budge was sailing toward another kind of destiny on the high seas.

Fifty years later when Budge and his wife left for Australia this winter, they went in a jet, getting there in hours. In the '30s it was three weeks on a boat.

Of his re-visit, he said: "It was nostalgia time."

Asked what he had remembered most vividly about 1938 when he was back in Australia this year, Budge said: "Playing the most nervous tennis player I ever saw, (an Australian) named Everod Ballieu."

For an early round match against Wimbledon champion Budge at 2 p.m., Ballieu had been fully dressed and on the court at 10 a.m., when his friends managed to get him back into street clothes. At noon Ballieu came trotting out in tennis whites again, and was again persuaded to put on his street clothes.

Finally, as Budge peered across at Ballieu at 2 o'clock, everything seemed to be ready at last but wasn't. As Budge tells it, he called time, and led his opponent off the court before a perplexed crowd of 5,000 Australians, making sure Ballieu kept closely behind.

"What's the big idea?" Ballieu whispered nervously.

"Don't look now," said Budge, "but your fly is open."

The strangest thing about Budge's Grand Slam is that he won the championships of four countries in an elapsed time of scarcely four hours.

In 1938, in order, he:

--Won the Australian final in January at Adelaide in 47 minutes, defeating John Bromwich of Australia, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.

--Became the first American to take the French title, beating Czechoslovakia's Roderich Menzel in 58 minutes at Roland Garros in June. The scores were 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

--Turned a hat trick at Wimbledon in July, winning the men's doubles title with Mako and the mixed doubles with Alice Marble. In well under an hour of actual tennis in a rain-marred singles final, Budge knocked out Briton Bunny Austin, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

--Managed another hat trick with the same partners in September at Forest Hills. In the singles final, after losing a set, Budge raced through Mako in the end, 6-3, 6-8, 6-2, 6-1. The first unseeded player to reach the last round at Forest Hills, Mako, like Budge, played the best tennis of his career as an amateur champion in 1938.

Only one other man has won tennis' four majors in one year--Rod Laver, who did it as an amateur in 1962 and repeated as an open champion in 1969. In spite of that, Budge's Grand Slam is sometimes minimized. Some say that Budge didn't have much to beat in 1938.

During a question-and-answer period after a speech by Budge the other day, a man about age 25 asked: "Come, now, Mr. Budge, admit it. Wasn't it easier to win the Grand Slam in your day?"

Mildly, smiling, Budge replied: "If it was so all-fired easy in the '30s and '40s, how come no one else ever did it?"

Good question. One answer, Budge said later, is that nobody else ever thought of it, apparently. "I didn't just win the Grand Slam," he said. "I invented it."

Another answer is that in the '30s and '40s, not to mention the '50s and early '60s, few good players could afford to stick around, winning amateur loving cups year after year. They had to get into pro tennis to make a living.

Champions Fred Perry and Vines, to name two who had turned pro earlier in the '30s, might have given Budge some problems in 1938 amateur--or open--tennis.

It is in the records, however, that a year later, when all three toured as pros, Budge beat both. First, in a series of 39 cross-country matches, Budge beat Vines, 22-17. Then in 36 matches with Perry, also in 1939, Budge won, 28-8.

It is also in the records that in 1940, when Budge was 25 and still in the form that made him famous, there wasn't a tennis player in the world who could give him a game. The 1940 tour was canceled because of lack of opponents. That was 40 years before a 25-year-old athlete with Budge's talent could have expected to easily make $4 million or $5 million--in open tennis purses and endorsements alone--in a 12-month period.

As 1941 dawned, Budge at 26 still outclassed the world but had only two options. He could sit around the house in Oakland or he could tour the country with Tilden--who was 48 that year. He took Tilden.


In the opinion of some tennis people, Budge's great achievement wasn't the Grand Slam but winning over Vines and then Perry as a pro rookie in 1939, his first season on tour. By contrast, most amateur champions have begun their pro careers as losers, as Gonzalez and Perry did, and as Riggs, Rosewall, Hoad and Laver did, among others.

Kramer, Vines and Tilden didn't. Those three and Budge were all immediate winners in pro tennis, but Laver, for instance, coming off his first Grand Slam, lost his first 10 or 12 pro matches to Gonzalez.

On a day early in the 1937 tour, when asked to umpire a Vines-Perry match, Budge got the lesson that shaped the rest of his career.

Vines, who had won at Forest Hills at 19, was the hardest hitter in tennis. He was also several years younger than Perry, who most of the time, nevertheless, matched Vines shot for shot.

"I couldn't believe it," Budge recalls. "I had thought Vines would kill him. Then I looked at where they were standing, and Vines was 5 feet behind the base line, Perry only one foot. That was the equalizer."

That was the year before Budge's Grand Slam.

"I decided to change my game," he said. "My goal after umpiring that match was to hit as hard as Vines, and take the ball as early as Perry."

The key was taking it early, on the rise.

This remains, in fact, the key to Budge's dominant position in the history of tennis--his ability to hit a rising ball squarely with either backhand or forehand, and, putting topspin on the return from either side, smashing it low into the backcourt. The requirements for this are uncanny quickness, near-perfect strokes and the nerve to stand inside the base line.

"People talk about Budge's backhand," said Kramer, who ran the pro tour for many years before the arrival of open tennis. "And it's true that he had the best-ever backhand.

"But the thing that made him so hard to beat was his return of serve--first or second serve--from either side. He stood inside the base line--even against Vines--and intimidated you with that return."

How could anyone intimidate Vines or Kramer with a backhand return of first serve from inside the base line?

"I was born ambidextrous," said Budge, who as a boy in Oakland had preferred baseball and football, largely ignoring tennis until he was 15.

He remembers that when he was 9, he discovered one afternoon that he was most productive when he threw right and batted left.

He threw a kid out that first day, throwing right-handed, and got a hit left-handed. And when his pals applauded, he slipped into a permanent lefty-righty groove.

"I play tennis right-handed, of course," Budge said. "But my backhand is based on my left-handed stance as a (baseball) hitter. Backhanded, what I did was hit the (tennis ball) the way I batted--except I took my left hand off the racket before I hit it."

He argues against the two-handed backhand.

"I feel sorry for the kids who are stuck with it," he said. "They just can't cover enough ground."


Tommy Dorsey's big swing band, with Frank Sinatra as the young vocalist, was on the bandstand of the New Yorker Hotel the night that Budge, a sellout at Madison Square Garden, began his pro tennis career with a win over Vines.

It was the first night of what was to be a celebrated tour, and Budge celebrated early. As he arrived at the New Yorker's Madhattan Room at midnight, Dorsey, a good friend, turned the band over to him; and Budge, an amateur drummer since age 12, led it the rest of the night.

"When a girl danced up and asked for 'Body and Soul,' Tommy shrugged and told her: 'Ask Budge--it's his band,' " Budge said.

The swing era is gone but not forgotten by the squire of Dingmans Ferry, whose era it was. He hobnobbed with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, the Dorseys and other prominent band leaders, and once when Shaw was a hospital patient in New York, Budge, then in Los Angeles, sent him a get-well present--a word puzzle.

As Budge tells it, Shaw phoned frantically a night or two later from his hospital room.

"I can't get one word, and it's driving me crazy," Shaw said. "It says: 'Make one word out of new door .' How the hell do I do that?"

"You don't want me to tell you the answer," Budge said.

"Yes, I want you to tell me the answer," Shaw yelled.

"This is very disappointing," Budge said. "The answer is one word ."

Like most good athletes, Budge is a problem solver. He attacks opponents and puzzles the same way, trying for quick solutions. It follows that one of his favorite games is backgammon, which he plays almost every afternoon in his game room over the garage.

The backgammon table, which he made himself, is permanently set up next to a big window overlooking Lake Sylvandale, and he plays Lori for $1 a game.

"We settle up at the end of the month," he said, adding bitterly: "Last month I had to pay her."

He refused to say how much.

Of the two chairs at the backgammon table, one is better placed than the other for listening to the jazz that is always coming out of the loudspeakers in Budge's house--and that's where Budge sits.

Downstairs as well, no matter how many guests he's entertaining, he sits in the same place--squarely in the middle of the biggest sofa. After getting up to show off his flagstone walls, or, say, the dining room table he built, he invariably returns to the same seat.

It has taken perceptive visitors as long as half a day to discover that in Budge's sprawling living room, that's where the jazz sounds best.

The loudspeakers are high on one of his densely packed trophy shelves--each speaker in a place of honor next to his two well-polished Wimbledon championship trophies.

On the wall underneath, there is a gallery of 1940s sports photos, with Joe DiMaggio in a couple of them, reminding guests that Budge was a contemporary of some of the greatest American athletes--DiMaggio, Williams and Bob Feller in baseball, Joe Louis in boxing, Hank Luisetti in basketball, and Sammy Baugh and Bob Waterfield in football, among others.

On tennis courts, Budge said, Tilden was a problem solver like DiMaggio, whereas Vines was like Williams.

"Vines was the best hitter we've ever had," Budge said. "But if his serve was missing by 4 inches, he'd keep blasting away anyhow.

"Tilden was different. Tilden would do anything to beat you."

And so would Budge.


Tilden and Budge. Probably the all-time top two. Who's third?

Only one other player of the last 50 years, McEnroe, could play them even, Budge said. McEnroe could, that is, Budge emphasized, if he had been born with more desire for tennis, and if he were in better condition.

Budge won some of his biggest matches as a well-conditioned fifth-set aggressor against tiring opponents.

Who would have won if Tilden and Budge had met at the same age?

"Budge would have beaten Tilden at the net," said Kramer, who was the game's top player for eight years, in 1946-47 as an amateur and 1948-53 as a pro.

"Tilden liked to win from the backcourt, moving you around from back there. That was his game. But Budge could play that game, too. He could play Tilden's game without Tilden being able to hurt him.

"Then, the first shot that landed short, Budge would be on it and coming in. That would be the difference. Tilden played his game beautifully. Budge played several games beautifully."

Budge, in other words, was a versatile tennis player. In his prime, Kramer said, Budge would have beaten anyone because he could put up an effective defense against any kind of tennis, and because few could cope with his attacking offense.

"He had the equipment to control the play against either a great defensive player or a great aggressive player," Kramer said. "(Even in his late 30s), you couldn't serve and come in on Budge because of the depth he got on his return--from either side.

"And when he was serving, his game was so sound that he could either beat you from the backcourt or serve and come in."

Budge, reminiscing, said that he perfected all this by taking three months off every year to practice whatever strokes and moves were weakening him as a competitor.

"My game was to mix things up," he said. "For instance, no matter who I played, I went in some and stayed back some. I've always thought that mixing it up is the secret to success in every sport, except, I guess, golf and billiards, and maybe horseshoes.

"(In tennis,) it takes hours and months of practice to work out your weaknesses and get an all-around game. But there are so many tournaments today that nobody practices anymore.

"Of course, you can't really blame (today's players) for playing too often and practicing too little. There's all that money to be had."

As Kramer said, this leaves only one thing for Budge: He's still No. 1.

Times researcher Doug Conner contributed to this story.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #10
Budge: `It was a great thrill'
Monday, August 29, 1988
Doug Smith

Don Budge knew he was the best tennis player in the world in 1937 - and he wanted to prove it.

``I noticed that no one had ever won all four of the major national titles - the Australian, the French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals,'' says Budge.

``It occurred to me if I could win them all in one calendar year I would have done something no one else had done.''

The next year, Budge achieved what came to be called the grand slam. Only two men and two women have done it since.

Today, 50 years later, the U.S. Open kicks off in Flushing Meadow, N.Y., with Don Budge Day.

``We thought it would be appropriate for him to be here this year to watch Steffi Graf attempt to join that exclusive club,'' says Gordon Jorgensen, president of the United States Tennis Association.

In recent years, Budge has been resident pro at a club in Acapulco, Mexico. He lives in Dingman's Ferry, Pa.

``It was a great thrill to be the first to do it,'' he says, ``and I think Steffi is going to do it, too.''

Budge says today's top players aren't as skilled as those of his era. ``They play so many tournaments now they don't have time to work on their weaknesses,'' he says. ``Look at Ivan Lendl. He doesn't play the net well, but he's No. 1.''

The pay, he says, doesn't compare either.

``When I turned pro I made about $148,000 a year, which is worth about $1 million today.''

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
The Stealth Slam.

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Sunday, August 28, 1988
Rick Warner, Associated Press

When Don Budge won the four major tennis championships in 1938, New York Times reporter Allison Danzig compared the feat to Bobby Jones' similar sweep in golf eight years earlier.

"That was the first time anyone called it the "grand slam," Budge recalled.

The term has become commonplace since then, but the achievement has not.

In the last half-century, only three other players have won the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. championships in the same year. Maureen Connolly did it in 1953, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969 and Margaret Court in 1970.

If Steffi Graf of West Germany wins this year's U.S. Open, she will add her name to the most elite list in tennis.

"I hope she does it," said Budge, 73. "It would be great for her and great for the sport."

Tennis has changed dramatically since Budge won tennis' first grand slam, moving from an era of long flannel pants, wood rackets and amateur competition to a world of denim shorts, graphite rackets and multimillion dollar endorsements.

Even the surfaces have changed. In Budge's day, the French was played on clay and the other three majors were on grass. Today, the Australian and U.S. championships have switched to hardcourts.

But the slam remains the ultimate achievement.

"I wanted to do something that no one else had ever done," Budge said. "When I was looking through the record books in 1937, I discovered that no one had ever won the four major championships in one year. Jack Crawford was one set away in 1933, but Fred Perry came back to beat him in the U.S. championships."

Budge started his historic journey with a 23-day boat trip from San Francisco to Australia. Accompanying him on the voyage was his doubles partner, Gene Mako, the only man who knew of Budge's dream.

"I didn't tell anyone else because it would have put more pressure on me," he said. "If I had started blabbering about winning all four tournaments, everyone would have tried to beat me."

There was another reason Budge didn't talk much after arriving in Australia. He lost his voice.

That was all he lost. Budge swept through the tournament without losing a set, defeating Australian John Bromwich 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 in the final.

At the French championships that spring, he struggled past Franjo Kukuljevich of Yugoslavia in a five-set quarterfinal, then breezed to the title with straight-set victories in the semifinals and finals.

One of the spectators in Paris was Pablo Casals, the famous cellist.

"He came out every day to watch me play and we would have tea together," Budge said. "After I won the tournament, he invited me and some friends to his apartment near the Eiffel Tower for a private concert. He said, `You played for me, now I will play for you.'"

Budge put on another classic show at Wimbledon, steamrolling to the title without dropping a set.

Then he returned to the United States to play in the Davis Cup final against Australia. On the eve of the showdown, Budge came down with the flu and a toothache. He went to the dentist and discovered his problem - an abscess.

"That's why I had been having all those physical problems, including losing my voice in Australia," Budge said. "The tooth was poisoning me."

After the dentist pulled the tooth, Budge led the United States to victory over Australia. Next up was the final leg of the Slam - the U.S. championships at Forest Hills.

Budge cruised into the final against his friend Mako, but a hurricane flooded the area and forced the championship match to be postponed six days.

But nobody could stop him that year, including Mako. After losing the second set, Budge powered his way to a 6-3, 6-8, 6-2, 6-1 victory.

The grand slam was complete.

Budge later turned professional and became a successful businessman. But to this day, he is best remembered for winning the grand slam.

"It's nice to be a part of history," he said.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #12
A Tennis Great Recalls His Slam
THE Baltimore Sun
Tuesday, August 30, 1988

New York - To a generation of youngsters growing up in New York, Don Budge was a shrewd businessman taking advantage of the post-World War II baby boom.

All over the city during the 1950s and '60s, trucks rumbled through the streets with a sign reading "Budge-Wood Laundry Service" and a picture of two storks holding up a clothesline.

"Our slogan was `Grime Doesn't Pay,' " Budge, who later sold the company to golfer Arnold Palmer, said recently with a laugh.

But to a generation of tennis fans from Brooklyn to Brisbane, and to the sport's historians, Budge was a player with few equals, the first man to win all four major championships in the same year.

It was 50 years ago that Budge, then 23, closed out doubles partner Gene Mako in a hurricane-delayed final at Forest Hills in what then was called the U.S. Nationals. There was no mention made of the Grand Slam.

Until the next day.

"Allison Danzig of The New York Times compared it to Bobby Jones winning golf's Grand Slam in 1930," said Budge, who, along with Mako had won the doubles titles at Wimbledon and Forest Hills. "I don't know if people were aware of it before. It's a household word now."

Budge, who was honored for that achievement by the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., earlier this summer, was honored again yesterday at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow by the United States Tennis Association.


The memories Budge carries with him from that year are not solely of those championships, but also of the events surrounding them. They speak of a different time, both on the court and off.

There was the 23-day voyage to and from Australia that Budge took with Mako. They shared not only the journey, but also a secret. "I told Gene that I wanted to become the first player to win all four majors," Budge recalled.

There was the private dinner concert that legendary cellist Pablo Casals gave at his Paris apartment in Budge's honor hours after Budge had won his first and only French Open championship.

There was the week of waiting he and Mako endured for the final day at Forest Hills, as New York dried out from a hurricane. The singles final between them was delayed from Sunday to the following Saturday.

"It wasn't so bad," Budge said. "Tommy Dorsey's band was in town, and we went to hear them every night."

And then, finally, there was the 6-3, 6-8, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Mako. The second set was the only one Budge dropped in the majors the entire year. "I think Gene had a feeling I was going to win, but he played a pretty good match himself," Budge said.


It was to be Budge's last U.S. National. Having helped his American teammates win the Davis Cup a few weeks before, Budge turned pro the following year. The Grand Slam helped Budge's guaranteed contract go up from $50,000 to $75,000, and he ended up making $148,000 in 1939.

"It was not difficult to turn pro in those days," Budge said. "Ellsworth Vines was the pro champion for five straight years, and I had a lot of respect for Elly. There was no money to be made in tennis, except on the pro circuits. I was the first person that turned pro whose decision was fully accepted by the USTA."

During World War II, at the height of his career, Budge spent three years in the Army Air Force. He retired from competition in 1954. He and his wife, Lori, raised three sons: David, a free-lance writer in Los Angeles; Peter, a recording engineer in New York, and Jeffrey, an architect-turned-investor in Boston.

Budge, who lives with his wife in Dingmans Ferry, Pa., doesn't watch or play much tennis these days. He is bored with the number of players who rarely stray from the baseline, and tired of the tantrums thrown by the likes of John McEnroe.

"I'm not impressed with the way most of them hit the ball," Budge said. "When McEnroe was playing well, the racket was like a wand in his hand. Lendl is a marvelous player, but he can't seem to play on grass. If three of the major championships still were being played on grass, he'd be a sorry guy."

Impressed With Graf

Steffi Graf is another story. Graf is seeking to become the first player in 18 years to win the Grand Slam and only the fifth overall. She would follow Budge, Maureen Connolly (1952), Rod Laver (1962, 1969) and Margaret Court (1970).

"I'm very impressed with Steffi," Budge said. "She's all business out there. I hope she wins the Grand Slam."

During the annual champions' ball at Wimbledon this year, Budge gave the 19-year-old from West Germany a kiss on the cheek and told her he wanted to present her with the trophy should she win the Open. "Just like I did when Rod Laver won it (in 1962)," Budge said.

Budge has been to the National Tennis Center "14, 15, 16 times" since it opened in 1978. It isn't one of his favorite places.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #13
SPORTS OF THE TIMES; Budge, Graf And the Slam
July 9, 1988
New York Times

In baseball, a grand slam is as common as a rhinestone. But in tennis or golf, a Grand Slam is a velvet pouch with four different precious jewels. As the Australian and French champion, Mats Wilander had an opportunity for a tennis Grand Slam this year. But even as Wilander advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals, Don Budge doubted that the sturdy Swede would win the title.

''Mats is a good player,'' he said. ''But he's not a Jack Kramer or a Pancho Gonzalez or a Rod Laver or a Fred Perry.''

Or a Don Budge. Now 73 years old, the original Grand Slammer and his wife, Lori, live in tiny Dingmans Ferry, Pa., near the Delaware Water Gap, when he's not taking bows all over the world on the 50th anniversary of winning the Australian, French, Wimbledon and United States tennis championships in the same calendar year. Rod Laver later did it twice, in 1962 and 1969. Maureen Connolly did it in 1953, Margaret Court in 1970. And now Budge believes Steffi Graf will do it.

''I saw Steffi at the Wimbledon champions dinner,'' Budge said. ''I told her, 'When, not if, but when you win the U.S. Open for your Grand Slam, I hope they'll let me present the trophy to you.''

Budge will also complete his ceremonial Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows in September. He has already been applauded at the Australian, French and Wimbledon tournaments. And tomorrow he'll be honored in Newport, R.I., at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, where Evonne Goolagong Cawley will be inducted today.

''I thought John McEnroe might get the Slam a few years ago,'' Budge was saying now. ''He has more natural talent than anyone, but he never won the French and then he had some problems. And it's tougher now to do it than when I did it. There are six fellows now who can win any of the four Grand Slam tournaments.''

His six were Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Pat Cash, Wilander and McEnroe.

''Even though Edberg won Wimbledon, I wouldn't pick him to get the Grand Slam some year,'' Budge said. ''You can't rule him out, but he's not quite as solid on clay as he is on grass or hard courts. Lendl has never won at Wimbledon, but maybe he's dogmatic enough to do it. He's going to build a grass court at his Greenwich home.''

Budge sounded as if he liked Becker's chances the best.

''He's so young and he's having such a good time, but he's got to realize that he must do something different,'' Budge said. ''His coach, Ion Tiriac, told me that he's told Boris, 'Your game is serve well and get into that net,' but Boris fights him on it. Boris likes to stay on the baseline. The baseline is all right if you don't want to hit every ball hard.'' According to Budge, the Grand

Slam is tougher now because of ''so many more good players'' in a tournament draw of 128.

''You have players ranked 15th or 20th or 30th, each capable of beating any of the top players on a given day,'' he said. ''Back when Fred Perry was the best, there was no one else in contention. Ellsworth Vines, the same thing. And I was a little bit above everybody else. But the kids today don't take time off to work on their game, to move it up a level.''

Bjorn Borg, for example, won five consecutive titles on Wimbledon's grass, but never won the United States Open.

''Nine times Bjorn played in the Open, nine times he didn't win,'' Budge said. ''To me, that means something's wrong. Bjorn had good discipline. He didn't lose because he wasn't in condition. But if you're great, you win anywhere on any surface, like Rod Laver did. Laver was really one of the super players. And when I was at the top of my game, I never had any hang-ups about the surface. I'd never been to the French until I went over there in 1938, but I knew I could win on clay.''

As the Wimbledon and United States champion in 1937, Budge had been offered $50,000 plus one-third of the gross to turn pro.

''But I turned down Jack Harris's offer,'' he said. ''I told him we had won the Davis Cup that year and I wanted to defend the cup. And by then I also wanted to try to win all four major titles in the same year. Looking through a record book, I had noticed that not even Bill Tilden had done that. What surprised me was that Tilden had never won the French.''

In those years, people went to Australia by ocean liner, as Budge and his doubles partner, Gene Mako, did.

''We had a 23-day voyage from Los Angeles,'' he said. ''When we stopped at Honolulu for 10 hours, we got off the boat and played a few sets. We also played when we stopped in Pago Pago, and in Fiji and in Auckland, New Zealand.''

Budge defeated John Bromwich in the Australian final, then sailed home.

''I had another six-day voyage to Europe for the French and Wimbledon, but those trips agreed with me,'' he said. ''I beat everybody quickly. I'd beaten Bromwich in 47 minutes. I beat Roderick Menzel of Czechoslovakia in 58 minutes at the French and then I beat Bunny Austin at Wimbledon in under an hour of actual playing time but we had a 20-minute rain delay.''

In the Forest Hills final, Budge defeated Mako in four sets.

''The next day Allison Danzig wrote in The New York Times that I had completed a 'grand slam,' the tennis equivalent of what Bobby Jones had done in golf in 1930. The Slam helped me get a $75,000 guarantee to turn pro. I made $148,000 in 1939 and had to pay only $2,080 in taxes.

''And that Forest Hills final in 1938 took only about an hour and three-quarters. That's another thing I like about Steffi Graf. No delays. She doesn't fuss around. She plays with a purpose. Most of these players today, by the time the match is over, your clothes could go out of style.''

But because of Don Budge, the tennis Grand Slam will never go out of style.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #14
Love of the game shows at appearance by Laver
The San Diego Union-Tribune
Tuesday, October 3, 1995

The woman, who would end up giving a clinic on volleying, was having trouble with her serve. The first one was long. So was the second. "I can't play with my knees shaking," said Narelle Pettee.

The reason for her nerves?

Standing across the net was arguably tennis' greatest player ever, "The Rocket," Rod Laver.

Laver would end up making Pettee and everyone else at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club feel at ease.

When Laver's partner stood still at the net like a statue, he said, "Just get the ones you like, Barbara."

Later, Laver was playing with an older male partner. San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club pro Angel Lopez continually fed the elderly gentleman easy volleys. Laver's partner nailed at least four in a row before finding the net. To which Laver replied, "We win. He got four back in a row."

When Laver crushed a crosscourt forehand winner, a fan yelled "Rocket." Never one to show up an opponent, the 57-year-old Laver said, with a hint of embarrassment, "The racket's willing, but the body isn't."

When another player stepped to the service line at game point, set to face Laver, the event's emcee said, "There's no pressure. All your friends and family are out here. And you're only facing the greatest player of all time."

To the guy's credit, he didn't double fault.

The event Saturday was a chance for fans to come out, pose questions to Laver, play a point against him and use the racket he endorses, the ProKennex Kinetic.

Tennis is enjoying a rebirth. Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario played one of the most memorable Wimbledon finals ever. Monica Seles returned after a forced 2-year-plus sabbatical and grunted and groaned into New Yorkers' hearts, all the way to the U.S. Open final. But she's not good enough to beat Graf, whose heart is aching for her father but whose pride and game is intact.

The men's game features a rivalry that captivates fans inside and outside the sport. Hard-serving Pete Sampras against the game's best returner of serve, Andre Agassi. The serve and volleyer against the baseliner. The classy, boy-next-door Sampras against the droopy-drawered, shaven-headed, celebrity-dating Agassi.

Salesman wanted

But what tennis really needs to continue its upswing after years of decline are salesmen. Salesmen like Laver. "The Rocket" is not some slick polished product, marketed by Madison Avenue like the NFL's United Way spots. He is not handsome, urbane and the athlete of his generation, like Michael Jordan. He is not young and brash and in his prime, like Ken Griffey Jr.

Laver is 57. He may be the sport's only two-time Grand Slam champion but, physically, he's rather non-descript. A pale, red-headed tennis star? Laver still plays on the senior circuit, but he hardly dominates, partially because the circuit doesn't have a 55 division. He sometimes must spot players 12 years, which can be a bit much.

"When you get right down to it," Laver said, "I think I've run out of freeway."

But few players speak as eloquently about their love of the game. He talks about competition, the one-on-one stage and how you don't have to round up an entire neighborhood to play the game.

When asked what he enjoys about the game, Laver said, "I just like the feel of the ball on the string."

The sweet feeling

What a beautiful response. Anybody who has played this sport with a passion knows of what Laver speaks. When you turn your shoulders on that backhand, pull the racket back and whip your arm through like you were slapping someone with the back of your hand, and the ball arcs over the net, then dips deep into the backcourt, it is a sweet, sweet feeling.

Of his appearance here and another later Saturday at Dana Point, Laver said, "I don't think it's giving back (to the sport). I've enjoyed the sport and what I received from it. I'd like others to enjoy it as I did."

So when Laver was out there Saturday playing a point against kids, against young studs who wanted to crush the balls and adults whose knees were shaking, he was accommodating, volleying shots that otherwise would have landed five feet out.

When a player rushed to the net for a volley, Laver forced him to hang a U-turn by placing a lob, which he followed with a query.

"How're your legs?"

During the doubles segment, when an opponent's shot caught Laver out of position, Laver turned to his partner and said, "Yours." As in, "The ball's yours."

And when Lopez used his racket frame to hit a winner, Laver played the gracious winner, saying, "A San Diego winner. It only sounded like a mishit."

No doubt, there was a fan or two Saturday who went out and plucked down $249 for a new Kinetic because they liked the racket and because, hey, "If it's good enough for 'The Rocket' . . . "

Quite a salesman, Laver.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #15
Another tennis player who would be right at home as a Wodehouse character, probably one in a Ukridge story.

Bobby Riggs, tennis player, died on October 25 aged 77. He was born in Los Angeles on February 25, 1918.

The Times
London, England
October 27, 1995

ALTHOUGH, by his own confession, the world's greatest chauvinist, the tennis player Bobby Riggs placed the ball in the feminist's court when he challenged Billie-Jean King to a battle of the sexes, and lost. With Riggs's defiant proclamations that it was man's superiority over woman in the field of sports which was at stake, the Pounds 40,000 winner-take-all purse was the least of the reasons that this contest was to muscle its way into sporting history.

The 1973 match between the 29-year-old Wimbledon women's singles champion and the 55-year-old Riggs, himself a former Wimbledon and US Open champion, was billed as ''the battle between the lobber and the libber''. It became the most publicised tennis match of the century, drawing a crowd of more than 30,000 to the Houston Astrodome in Texas, and a television audience estimated at 50 million.

''When I get through with Billie she might just go home and stay there and start raising a family,'' proclaimed the notoriously loudmouthed Riggs. ''That's where women should be. Barefoot and pregnant. Then they can't get out.''

Yet Riggs was the very antithesis of the archetypal bronzed macho man. Only 5 ft 5ins tall, he was slight, bespectacled and occasionally to be seen sporting a toupee. In his youth he enjoyed the world's number one ranking and was known by the press as ''The Retriever'', for his extraordinary capacity to return even the most perplexing shots. A master of the lob, he was also fast and agile and would force his opponents into over offensive tactics and hence errors.

But perhaps his years as a bon vivant, dining at the most expensive restaurants, making passes at every willing girl in sight, had taken their tole on Riggs. Though he felt assured of his success, making his entrance for the match in a rickshaw drawn by six professional models, King, an ardent feminist, was not to be outdone. She arrived in a palanquin drawn by athletes and beat him in straight sets. Sororities the world over danced round the bonfires of their bras.

But Riggs gained a great deal of publicity and money from the match and these were as important to him as tennis. He earned himself a formidable reputation as a hustler, offering eccentric propositions to the unwary. He would accept their wagers, counting on the fact that they would assume certain handicaps were insurmountable. Riggs would play tennis with handcuffs on, or with a raincoat and galoshes and open umbrella. He even went so far as to play with a poodle lashed to each leg. Almost invariably he emerged a richer man.

Robert Larrimore Riggs was born in Los Angeles. His father was an evangelist who travelled the South spreading the word of the Lord. Riggs and his five elder brothers and sister had a God-fearing middle-class upbringing with regular church attendance, evening Bible readings and grace before every meal. But a competitive spirit was instilled in him young. ''I was actually programmed to be a champion,'' he said. ''My older brothers insisted I beat all the kids in the neighbourhood at anything I played. Sometimes I think I was born in a contest. I grew up believing I was going to be a champion. At something, I didn't know what.''

At the age of 12 Riggs fleeced a friend at marbles and then traded back everything he had just won in return for his victim's tennis racket. Having got it, he said, he went straight down on his knees, not for any reason his father might have approved, but to win back all his marbles again. This was to be the start of a career which combined a cheeky manipulative hustling with a breathtaking sporting prowess.

Despite his small size and the fact that tennis was considered by his peers a sissy's game, Riggs began to play, barefoot at first because he had no shoes. It was not long before his talent was spotted by a university sports instructor.

From the age of 12 to 17 Riggs pursued the sport with obsessive dedication. ''Nobody gets to the top who hasn't played at least ten years, 300 days a year, six hours a day,'' he later said.

In 1934 he won his first national junior's singles title, but refused to defend it the following year. He wanted only to compete against men.

In 1936 he won the national clay court championships in Chicago beating Frankie Parker, the then ''boy wonder'' of American tennis. But later that year, while playing on the circuit, he found himself involved for the first time in a highrolling game of craps and, after staying up all night, he was beaten at Forest Hills the next day. This mistake was to cost him the number two national ranking that year. He was placed only fourth.

For the next two years he was knocked out in the semi finals at Forest Hills, but by 1939 he seemed to have picked up again. He entered Wimbledon as something of a dark horse, but with characteristic nerve bet on himself with local bookmakers and went on to take first the mens singles final in five sets, and then the doubles and mixed doubles titles.

It was the only time he was to win at Wimbledon. During the Blitz, there was no tennis there, and afterwards Riggs turned professional, at a time when Wimbledon was only open to amateurs.

In 1941 Riggs won at Forest Hills before being drafted into the Navy. He hated his conscription because it interfered with his sport, although travelling in the Pacific and Australia he continued to play exhibition matches and take on anyone who was prepared to wager on the game. One young man played him, without realising who he was, and was relieved by Riggs of a vast sum of money, a car and a bungalow outside Honolulu. Riggs chivalrously restored almost everything later, keeping only $500 for himself a fitting fee for teaching so valuable a lesson, he later declared.

The first professional world tennis championship was held in Los Angeles in December 1945. Riggs played Don Budge, then considered the most awesome player in the world. Budge lost the game because he hurt his arm, but a rematch was staged a month later. ''No one could believe a little runt like me had a chance,'' said Riggs. ''The last time had been a fluke.'' The night before the match Errol Flynn, one of his old gambling cronies, had wagered Riggs $2500 that he would lose. But on the day Riggs played a cunning game. Lining up his shots against a clock on the back wall, he lobbed high balls with immaculate precision to land a few inches from the baseline. Budge could not quite reach to return them with his devastatingly powerful smash and his renownedly heavy racket became a deadweight in his hand as Riggs forced him to play overarm for 90 per cent of the game. Even after the first set which was taken 6-4 by Budge, Riggs was confident, running up into the box seats between sets to place bets on himself. He kept on lobbing with breathtaking calculation and suddenly the match was all downhill for Budge. Though the press muttered about ''cheap tricks'', Riggs was acknowledged the best player in the world.

For the next two years Riggs went on playing, winning himself a following of devoted fans. On December 27, 1947, in what was to be his last big professional match, a crowd of 16,000 turned up despite the snow to watch him pit his wits against Jack Kramer whose powerful serve and volley had earned him the reputation as the hottest player on the circuit. Riggs returned to his hustler's techniques. Counting on the fact that Kramer saw him as a baseliner, he spent his time at the net, cruising up and down like a shark circling its prey. He won comfortably in four sets.

But by this time his heart was beginning to drop out of the game. In 1951 he retired from professional tennis altogether and turned his hand to golf with the same determination he had once applied to tennis. And his betting on the sport was equally outrageous.

Throughout the early fifties he played at all the clubs where the big action was the Seminole in Miami Beach, La Gorse outside Fort Lauderdale. He was proud of having once ''clobbered'' Bing Crosby for a wad of money using a rake, a hoe and a baseball bat while Crosby was allowed to use his regular clubs. ''I love millionaires,'' he said. ''They're the salt of the earth. Wherever I go, they're lining up waiting for me.''

In 1973 he returned briefly to high profile tennis when, in the wake of his customary disparaging remarks about women's tennis, he challenged Margaret Court to a match and conquered her 6-2, 6-1. ''She did not merely lose, she disintegrated,'' Riggs bragged. Four months later Billie-Jean King threw down her gauntlet and battling off his drops, spins and lobs she pushed him into long rallies which wore him down. Thus she successfully defended the honour of her sport and her sex. But she was to remain a close friend of Riggs. In 1988 Riggs was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In 1994 he formed the Bobby Riggs Tennis Museum Foundation, to promote the awareness and the prevention of this disease.

Riggs married and divorced twice. He is survived by his five children.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #16
Star-Turned Hustler Bobby Riggs Is Dead
Tennis: Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion who lost to Billie Jean King in the 'Battle of the Sexes' succumbs at 77 after long bout with cancer.

October 26, 1995
Los Angeles Times

Onetime national tennis champion Bobby Riggs, a Wimbledon winner at 21, died Wednesday night. He was 77.

Discovered eight years ago to have prostate cancer, Riggs died about 9:30 p.m. at his home in suburban Leucadia, said Lornie Kuhle, a longtime friend and executive director of the Bobby Riggs Tennis Museum Foundation.

A Southern California resident most of his life, Riggs remained a tennis and golf enthusiast and winner into his mid-70s.

His great interest lately had been the Riggs Tennis Museum, which will adjoin the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club at Cardiff by the Sea. The museum, scheduled for a December opening, will feature the memorabilia and artifacts that he and many of his friends have collected over the years.

Among those contributing are men's champions Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez and Pancho Segura and women's champions Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Margaret Court.

In April, Riggs was honored by them and others at his Cardiff club, where there was an unveiling of a half-size sculpture of the veteran champion by John Petek of Montana.

Riggs as a tournament tennis player is remembered as a pre-television champion. Thus he gained his largest share of U.S. attention in 1973 when, at 55, he promoted the nationally televised Riggs-King match. She beat him in three straight sets.

A tongue-in-cheek, self-styled male chauvinist, he had first challenged, and defeated, women's champion Court. But at the Houston Astrodome, before a record tennis crowd of 30,472, King was too much for him.

"Billie Jean just caught me on a bad day," Riggs said years later.

Finding that there was life after King, he stepped up his sports career, continuing to win in seniors' tennis but also succeeding as a self-styled hustler.

After teaching himself to play golf, he hustled bets, he said, in both golf and tennis for decades.

He said he played either tennis or golf nearly every day for more than a half century--even during his 20 years as a vice president in a photography business owned by his wife, Patricia, who died last March.

His first wife, Kay, lives in St. Louis.

Son of a minister, Riggs was born in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles and practically grew up at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, where he was a boys' champion.

His proudest recollection late in life was that he was always the best tennis player in the world for his age--from his early teens to his 70s.

At 20, for example, he was a Davis Cup winner on the U.S. team that beat Australia in 1938. In 1939 he chose not to play on the Davis Cup team and competed at Wimbledon, where he became the only player to win the triple crown in his first appearance there--he teamed with his singles title victim, Elwood Cooke, to win the doubles, then joined Alice Marble to win mixed doubles.

A gambler from boyhood to the end, Riggs said he made a three-way parlay on himself and his 1939 Wimbledon partners in England, where bookmaking is legal. Betting 100 pounds, he said he collected 21,600 pounds, or $108,000.

He climaxed his days as a world champion by winning two national titles at the U.S. tournament (later called the U.S. Open) at Forest Hills, N.Y., defeating Wayne Saban in 1939 finals and Frank Kovacs in 1941.

After three years in the Navy, Riggs won three world professional championships, beating Don Budge each time, in 1946, '47 and '49. It is a measure of that era in pro tennis, Riggs said, that Kramer, who eliminated him in 1948, spent 1949 in Europe.

Riggs said the only tennis player he couldn't beat when he put his mind to it was Kramer, who finally suggested that Riggs should go into promoting. Thereupon, Riggs originated the pro tour--a barnstorming series of one-night events--which preceded the present era of pro tournaments.

But, on the side, Riggs said, "I never quit hustling."

It was his competitive nature that kept him going.

"Bobby was the fiercest competitor of his time," said his friend and executor, Lornie Kuhle, owner of the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club and tennis director of Las Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel.

Said Kramer Wednesday night: "Bobby Riggs wasn't just a funny guy walking around looking like a duck and playing girls. He was a true world champion. He more than anything wanted to be remembered as one fantastic player."

Said Rosie Casals, who did commentary on the Riggs-King match: "For a male chauvinist, he did a lot of good for us. We'll always remember him in the best possible way. I always said he did the most for women's tennis."

Riggs is survived by two sons from his first marriage, three children from his second marriage, two brothers and four grandchildren.

At Riggs' direction, he will be cremated and his ashes spread over a tennis court.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #17
Tennis Star Bobby Riggs Dies; Won Wimbledon, Lost to King
Bart Barnes
The Washington Post
October 27, 1995

Bobby Riggs, 77, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis champion who helped make women's tennis a major spectator and money sport by losing a widely promoted 1973 match to Billie Jean King, died of prostate cancer Oct. 25 at his home in Leucadia, Calif.

Mr. Riggs was ranked as the No. 1 player in the world in 1939 when he won the tournament at Wimbledon, and he subsequently won three U.S. Open championships. But he faded from the public eye in the 1950s and 1960s, only to reenter the spotlight for his 1973 match with King, which was aggressively publicized as "the battle of the sexes."

At 55, Mr. Riggs was no match for the 29-year-old King, who trounced him in consecutive sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, before a crowd of 30,472 at the Houston Astrodome. An estimated 50 million people watched on television as King wore down the bespectacled Mr. Riggs with long rallies, while he retaliated with a combination of spins, drop shots and lobs.

Their contest was played in the early years of the women's liberation movement, and it attracted the attention of fans from a broad spectrum of society who saw in it a significance that transcended the boundaries of sport. Some called the match "the libber versus the lobber."

An accomplished showman, Mr. Riggs hyped the match by practicing in a "men's liberation" T-shirt and declaring, "If I am to be a chauvinist pig, I want to be the number one pig."

Rosie Casals, a tennis colleague of King's, responded by calling Mr. Riggs "an old man who walks like a duck, can't see, can't hear and besides, he's an idiot."

In the circus atmosphere of the Astrodome on the night of the match, Mr. Riggs made his grand entrance in a chariot pulled by women. King rode in on a red velvet-covered litter carried by University of Houston football players clad in mini-togas. But King was all business once play began, and she methodically overpowered Mr. Riggs, whom oddsmakers had made an 8 to 5 prematch favorite.

"She was too good, too fast. She returned all my passing shots and made great plays off them. . . . I was trying to play my game, but I couldn't," Mr. Riggs said at a news conference after the $100,000, winner-take-all match.

"I feel this is the culmination of my 19 years in tennis," King said after the match. In a statement yesterday, she said: "Bobby Riggs was a true friend for the last 25 years. . . . Our 'Battle of the Sexes' match helped to advance the game of tennis and women everywhere."

Said Casals, "For a male chauvinist, he did a lot of good for us."

In the years since 1973, women's tennis has grown exponentially, with six-figure purses, top television ratings and lucrative product endorsements for the best players. Mr. Riggs once joked: "Billie and I did wonders for women's tennis. They owe me a piece of their checks."

Mr. Riggs was born in Los Angeles and began playing tennis at age 12. He won U.S. titles in 1946, 1947 and 1949. He played on the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1938-39, and he won Wimbledon doubles and mixed doubles in 1939. In 1940, he won U.S. mixed doubles.

In 1949, he wrote a tennis autobiography, "Tennis Is My Racquet."

Beginning in 1950, he began to taper off as a player. During the ensuing years, he worked in a variety of promotional endeavors.

But in May 1973, he seized center court in the tennis community by defeating Margaret Court, who was then the world's first-ranked female tennis player, 6-2, 6-1, in a match at Ramona, Calif. "I want Billie Jean King. . . . I want the women's lib leader," Mr. Riggs declared after that match, four months before his meeting with King.

Mr. Riggs was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988. He formed the Bobby Riggs Tennis Museum Foundation last year to promote awareness of the disease.

Both of his marriages ended in divorce.

Survivors include five children.

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #18
Bobby Riggs, Brash Impresario Of Tennis World, Is Dead at 77
The New York Times
October 27, 1995

The irrepressible chauvinist Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon champion who in 1973 reached a dual zenith of tennis fame and infamy as the 55-year-old braggart who was throttled by Billie Jean King in their landmark Battle of the Sexes match, died Wednesday night in Leucadia, Calif., a suburb of San Diego. He was 77.

Riggs had battled prostate cancer for the past decade and improved after a 1989 operation, but he had been in failing health for several months. He died at his home, said Lornie Kuhle, a longtime friend and the executive director of the Bobby Riggs Tennis Museum Foundation in Encinitas, Calif.

For half a century, Riggs made, and routinely manipulated, tennis into a unique career that never kept him far from the spotlight. Fittingly, he made his last appearance in a tennis exhibition with King two years ago; playing for charity rather than pay, and playing as doubles partners rather than adversaries, the disparate duo tackled Elton John and Martina Navratilova in an AIDS benefit.

According to King, who became a good friend of the brash impresario who loved to typecast himself as the world's greatest chauvinist, their ballyhooed and controversial 1973 battle "helped put women's tennis on the map and lifted all of tennis to a whole new level of acceptance."

Riggs first put himself on the tennis map in 1939 as a 21-year-old American upstart making his Wimbledon debut. Riggs, unsung despite being a French Open finalist the previous month, nearly caused a scandal among the London bookmakers when he hit a trifecta of sorts on the lawns of the staid All England Club: he defeated Elwood Cooke in a five-set all-American singles final, teamed with Cooke to win the men's doubles and partnered the celebrated Alice Marble to capture the mixed-doubles crown in the last Wimbledon played before the event was interrupted by World War II from 1940-45.

After his Wimbledon sweep, he went home and conquered 19-year-old Welby Van Horn in straight sets to win the United States National Championships at Forest Hills.

Robert Lorimer Riggs was born in Los Angeles on Feb. 25, 1918. He took up tennis when he was 12 at the request of an older brother who needed a practice partner, and quickly distinguished himself as a prodigy with a flair for exotic playmaking. Within a month, he entered southern California's competitive junior circuit and reached the final of the region's boys 13-and-under competition on his first attempt.

By 16, he was the nation's junior singles champion but incurred the wrath of the establishment by electing not to defend his title. Instead, in 1935, armed with the prediction that he would be the nation's top amateur within five years, he hopped in his jalopy and went cross-country to compete against adult amateurs. In the course of his trip, his clothes and his wallet were stolen, and just after selling his spare tires and extra racquet for gas money, he also lost the car -- but no calamity was sufficient to deter him from his goal.

To everyone's surprise but his own, he hit No. 1 in 1939, just as he had predicted.

According to J. Donald Budge, the man he supplanted as Wimbledon and United States National champion in 1939, Riggs's small stature -- he stood 5 feet 8 inches and weighed 140 pounds -- belied a lion's heart and a magician's bag of tricks. He never flinched at a match point, whether it was for or against him.

"He had supreme self-confidence," said Budge, who also recalled that Riggs was supremely unpredictable on and off the court. Just before he was scheduled to play a pivotal Davis Cup match in 1938, Riggs went AWOL; after a search by Davis Cup officials and teammates, Budge said he was discovered in the country club's basement, pool cue in hand, happily immersed in a game of billiards.

After sinking his shot in the side pocket, recalled Budge, Riggs went onto the tennis court and helped the United States win the Davis Cup against Australia.

Riggs turned professional in 1941 and teamed with Budge to capture the national doubles title in 1942 and 1947 and prevailed in singles in 1946, 1947 and 1949. He held the post of executive vice president with the New York-based American Photograph Corporation from 1953-71, but Riggs, inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1967, remained a fixture in the sport. In 1982, he was ranked second in men's 60 singles and won the men's 60 grass court championships for the third time.

Riggs earned his date with King by defeating another women's champion, Margaret Court, in a 1973 exhibition that turned out to be the harbinger of several decades' worth of gender-driven contests.

He thought that King was forced into competing against him at the Astrodome because his victory over Court created a feminist furor.

"The women's liberation movement was growing and it was embarrassing, a 55-year-old man beating one of their star players," Riggs said.

King said: "People need to understand that he was the No. 1 player in the world at one time, and not just a great hustler. He hustled and got Margaret Court to play him, and when I said yes to that Battle of the Sexes, I knew my life would never be the same again."

Riggs was sincerely stunned when King beat him, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

"I underestimated Billie Jean and overestimated myself," he said. "But I think it helped give women's tennis credibility."

What Riggs remembered most about his encounter with King at the Astrodome, where he arrived in a chariot and wore his signature Sugar Daddy jacket, was that it drew a record-setting crowd of 30,472, was watched by 50 million television viewers, and earned him an impressive $1.5 million.

Win or lose it was, he recalled, the stunt of a lifetime. And Riggs, a minister's son who chose the tennis court for his own personal pulpit, spent a lifetime concocting and performing stunts, most of them irreverent. At various times in his very variegated tennis career, Riggs selected such unorthodox doubles partners as a donkey, an elephant and a lion cub.

He is survived by five children, Robert Jr. and John of St. Louis, Lawrence of Miami, Dorothy of Encinitas, and William of Los Angeles; two brothers, John of Chula Vista, Calif., and Luke of Palm Springs, Calif., and a sister, Mary Lee, of Riverside, Calif., and three grandchildren.

4,995 Posts
IMHO, Ken Rosewall is one of the very greatest players of all time. Certainly, he is the longevity GOAT, winning 2 slams at 18, one on clay one on grass. He won his last two slams at 36 and 37. On the pro tour he lead Laver 6-4 in their slam finals. He beat Hoad in 4 finals, never losing a final to him. He won more pro tour slams than anyone, including Gonzalez. He won slams on clay, grass, carptet and wood. Gonzalez never won a clay pro tour slam at RG. Rosewall won 4 at RG. Ken beat Gonzalez twice at RG, once in a final, one in a semi. When the French pro went indoors on a very fast surface, he beat Laver in 4 consecutive finals. When the open era began he was 33.5 years old. Between 33-37, Ken played 8 slam finals, winning 4. He played his last two slam finals at Wimbledon and USO, losing badly to Connors. At the USO final, he was 2 months short of turning 40. Laver won his last slam at 31, never coming close again. Rosewall won his first slam in 53 and last in 72

9,514 Posts
Discussion Starter #20
He kept fun in the game
Bud Collins, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
September 25, 1994

GOTEBORG, Sweden -- Seldom were there teeth in the vibrant roaring of the boulevardiering Lithuanian Lion, Vitas Gerulaitis. He was a lover, as countless comely lionesses would attest -- but also a fighter, as his record proclaims.

But there was bite in his hoarse voice when last heard in Goteborg, within the drab walls of a crunched tin can of an arena called the Scandinavium. Vitas was "fighting for my good name," he hooted and grimaced self-mockingly at the memory not long ago.

He has left us with wonderful memories and just about as good a name as there was in tennis, despite the early obits crammed with references to the bad years, the drug years. Vitas fought his way through that, too, the toughest fight of anybody's life. He'd been clean for at least 2 1/2 years, though nonetheless high-spirited, when he died in a freaky accident a week ago. Asphyxiated by a faulty heating system in a friend's house, he was one more testimonial to the inexact science that is life. Vitas would pick up on the awful irony of it. You could see him rolling the devilish blue eyes and screeching, "Can you believe this? Drugs didn't get me, but I get gassed after a little good deed, giving a charity clinic to benefit cancer research! How crazy is this?"

Dead at 40, when he was starting to succeed at a new career, TV babbler. During US Open shows, he was on that rarefied height (with CBS colleague Mary Carillo) of fun-creating jock-mouth who clearly loves and knows his sport, but doesn't regard it as high Mass. It was a very good last look at a kind, generous, funny guy who relished life. A guy who remembered where he came from, and appreciated the long, dangerous walk his parents took -- not many steps ahead of rapacious Soviets -- to flee Lithuania and start a family in Brooklyn.

Here was a guy who wanted everybody to enjoy his birthday. Twenty years ago, playing for Pittsburgh in World Team Tennis, he grabbed a microphone to tell the home crowd: "It's my birthday. You're all invited to the party -- on me," and he announced his his room number. Fifteen-hundred celebrants showed up, and the fete lasted two days.

Vitas got through his troubles, upright and once again as sunny of mane and personality as in the days when he captured and captivated Rome: the welcome American barbarian, the leonine roarer at the gates of Dolce Vita and Il Foro Italico, who could fiddle like an emperor (another strings player, Nero) as he burned up the Italian Open in 1977 and 1979.

Rome's turgid clay, and xenophobic, thumbs-down tennis patrons, had made the Foro a dusty trap for American guys for 17 years. Vitas busted the jinx in the final, and a native, Tonino Zugarelli. And he made the home folks like it. No baseline drudge, he did it with irresistible speed, lightning volleying and an obvious zest and playfulness at play.

Though in his best days, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe were ahead of him, Vitas had the good humor and flamboyance edge. Don't doubt that he could play with anybody. He won the Australian Open in 1977, rebounded from two sets and a break down to beat Roscoe Tanner in the US Open semis of 1979 and arrange the all-New York final won by McEnroe, and helped the US win two Davis Cups.

They were still chanting his name at the Foro two years after his first title, even when the foe was the soulful poet, Guillermo Vilas, virtually insuperable on red earth. The winner, Vitas and Rome were made for each other, and I will think of him as an eternal citizen of the Eternal City.

"I laugh when I think about this new thing the players have, the bathroom break," he was saying. "Guillermo Vilas and I played the longest final they ever had in Rome, over five hours, and never thought about going to the bathroom. I guess we didn't have bladders in our day. Or groins. There was no such thing as a groin pull in the '70s."

This judgment was made during an uproarious dinner four months ago in a tiny, backstreet trattoria near the Tiber. Vitas was also talking about "defending my name" in Goteborg. At the 1978 Davis Cup semifinal stage, same as this weekend, the US, in the persons of Gerulaitis, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith and Bob Lutz, was stacked against Borg, a k a Sweden.

"The proposition was simple," Vitas said. "Me and Arthur to beat the other guy, Sjell Johansson. Smith and Lutz to win the doubles -- a lock -- and we win, 3-2. Nobody was going to beat Borg, a given. But the lock wasn't closing. I beat Johansson easy the first day. But then Smith and Lutz were losing, two sets to one, to Ove Bengtson and Borg, who was playing like a madman.

"At the intermission I went crazy in the dressing room."

That day there were incisors in his growl.

"I started screaming at Smith and Lutz: `How can you lose to these guys? You've never lost a Davis Cup match -- so get going! You're killing me!'

"Tony Trabert, the captain, looked a little startled at that one, but he let me keep going. `Stan, Bob, how can you do this to me? Remember this: If you lose, it's all up to me in the fifth match against Borg. I can't beat Borg. I've never beaten Borg. Geez, I can see the headlines in the New York Times -- GERULATIS BLOWS DAVIS CUP. Please, guys, don't let this happen to me.'

"Thank God they didn't," he smiled, recalling possibly the greatest pep talk since "Win one for the Gipper!" His was "Win one to avoid a ripper -- of me!"

Vitas' words may still be reverberating in a remote corner of this building, the Scandinavium. Wherever tennis happens, there will be Vitas Kevin Gerulaitis, hanging out, if only in our memories. And he will make us smile.
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