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Dick Phelan
February 24, 1958
His professionals drew the biggest crowd in U.S. tennis history last week. Their boss holds more power and stirs up more controversy than anyone else in the game
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February 24, 1958

The Small Green Empire Of Jack Kramer

His professionals drew the biggest crowd in U.S. tennis history last week. Their boss holds more power and stirs up more controversy than anyone else in the game

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World Tennis, Inc. is a small, neat business organization whose basic personnel consists of three people: a champion, a challenger and a promoter. The promoter is Jack Kramer, the owner of World Tennis, Inc. and the nearest thing to a capitalist ever produced by revenue from tennis. His champion is Pancho Gonzales, a rangy, 29-year-old Californian who since 1955 has been knocking off, almost casually, the best amateur tennis players Kramer's money could buy for him.

The two men are not precisely friends. For years they have kept their mutual regard to a dry minimum, and their feuds, usually about money, have entertained newspaper readers as dependably as Pogo. But the two are linked by handcuffs of gold: Gonzales is champion, Kramer owns his contract. Neither can operate full throttle without the other, though both have tried. The irritating, profit-making arrangement must continue until someone defeats Gonzales.

This year someone may. The challenger is Lew Hoad, a 23-year-old Australian with a stubby, quarter-horse physique and by far the best early-season record anyone has yet made against Gonzales. They played the first 13 of their 100-match series in Australia and Hoad won eight.

Gonzales started out against Hoad in Australia with a little overconfidence and a lot of overweight—195 pounds instead of 176. Now he has lost both. He has months of inactivity behind him and can probably get a little sharper, a little surer. Hoad has months of touring behind him and can easily go a little stale.

Two weeks ago the tour came to the United States, where it will zigzag around the country until June, making one-and two-night stands. Gonzales was expected to have an advantage on the indoor courts of the U.S. which are his special territory. (In Australia all the matches were played on grass.) But Hoad won their first indoor match, in San Francisco, 6-4, 20-18. "I see the ball pretty good," said Hoad, when someone asked if the lights bothered him.

The next day, however, in Los Angeles, Gonzales took over: 3-6, 24-22, 6-1. The second set lasted an hour and 55 minutes. Hoad broke Gonzales' service in the first game, but Gonzales pulled even at 5-5 and then broke through in the 46th game. "I like to win in Los Angeles," said Pancho, who grew up there.

The third U.S. match was played in Madison Square Garden in New York last Wednesday. With Hoad leading now by 9 matches to 6, a crowd of 15,237 turned up to see what would happen. It was the biggest tennis crowd ever assembled in the United States. What happened was that Gonzales won 7-9, 6-0, 6-4, 6-4. (This was the only best-of-five-sets match of the U.S. tour.) Only the Hoad of the first set was the Hoad people had come to see, but it was clear that his best is as good as advertised. When the match was over Gonzales looked pleased, Hoad looked glum and Promoter Kramer looked enchanted. The show had grossed $50,000, and World Tennis, Inc. seemed certain of a big year, artistically and financially.

Seven months ago it didn't look good at all. Jack Kramer seemed to have got himself into a promoter's nightmare. Hoad had just won the Wimbledon singles championship, and Kramer had paid the highest price for him ever offered a tennis amateur to turn pro: $125,000 for a 25-month contract, plus extras. Flown to the U.S. like a crate of strawberries, morning-fresh from his Wimbledon triumph, Hoad was installed in a professional tournament at Forest Hills and finished drably in a tie for third, defeated by Gonzales, Ken Rosewall and Tony Trabert. In a second tournament, played a week later in Los Angeles, he finished seventh and last.

Gonzales won both tournaments and retired to his Los Angeles residence to count his money and his grievances against Kramer.

Minus the champion, World Tennis, Inc. set out on its annual migration. The troupe consisted of Hoad, Ken Rosewall (Gonzales' unsuccessful challenger in the 1957 matches) and Pancho Segura. Kramer played tennis too, thereby functioning as both labor and management. For spare-time activity, he set himself a third job as well: to make Lew Hoad into worthy competition for Gonzales, if possible.

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