The big question of whether one can become a champion, in this day of dedicated performers and Spartan training, and still enjoy life has been brought sharply into focus in the career of Alejandro Olmedo y Rodriguez, the brilliant Peruvian tennis prodigy who is now on the Davis Cup team. Whatever else may be said about Olmedo's game—he has one of the softest second serves in tennis—he enjoys it. Watching him in the Pacific Southwest tournament, where he defeated Vic Seixas but bowed in the finals to Ham Richardson, one felt that he was not so much winning as having a good time, sporting about the court with the effortless speed and grace of a cat playing with a string, but liable, if the effort ever bored him, to stretch out and relax in the sun. The legendary will to win, the killer instinct, the fierce, glittering eye, the burning determination, the ceaseless hours of preparation, the feverish tension of the great moment, the whole stern Puritanical tradition of North American champions appeared to be lacking in this good-natured descendant of the Incas: he had a good time, and he beat everybody he met except Richardson.
Tennis has never been hard for Olmedo. In the rarefied atmosphere of Arequipa, Peru, where his father was pro of the tennis club, Olmedo played soccer and ran the 100-meter dash; tennis was too much a part of daily life to be taken too seriously.
He was in boarding school in Lima when a Los Angeles professional, imported by the government to teach Peruvian youngsters the game, spotted him and arranged for his trip to the United States. That was four years ago, when Olmedo was 18. He traveled by boat to Cuba, by plane to Miami and by bus to Los Angeles, where he began playing tennis with the likes of Pancho Gonzales, Tony Trabert and Jack Kramer before he knew enough English to murmur "Well played." With a scholarship at USC, where he makes straight C's in business administration, and a job answering the telephone a couple of times a week at the Peruvian consulate to provide him with a living, Olmedo was perhaps in a better position to enjoy life than any gifted amateur at a comparable stage of his career. Slight, with classic features and a pleasantly picturesque broken English that goes to the heart of female fans, he found nothing about tennis difficult enough to justify hard training in preparation for a match.
Two years ago, when he shifted from Modesto Junior College to USC and became No. 1 on the tennis team immediately, a Southern California tennis enthusiast named Myron MacNamara caught him on the way to a dance before the finals of the Pacific Coast Conference tournament.
"Go home and get to bed," ordered Volunteer Coach MacNamara.
"Just three dances?" asked Olmedo.
MacNamara shook his head. Olmedo held up two fingers, pleadingly. Mac shook his head again. Olmedo held up one finger in reduced appeal, but MacNamara again shook his head.
Next day Olmedo raced out on the court and blasted his opponent with a ferocious display of offensive tennis, beamed at Coach MacNamara and went dancing.