Back out on the
court, the favorite was having difficulty retaining his foothold. He glared
down at the shoes which he was paid for wearing—shoes which a group of experts
had spent hundreds of hours designing to meet just this kind of crisis.
At this moment, an
Australian player who had bet on the favorite shoved into the competitors'
seats in front of the press box and leaned back to me and said, "I could
have got 50 to 1 on this also-ran, but I'm still sure I did the right thing.
Just wait till he starts to think how much money winning this will mean to him,
and then watch him crack."
This is amateur
lawn tennis, the sport in which it is always "advantage, receiver!"
once a player gets out of the novice class. None of the payoffs to amateurs are
new; they had been going on for 20 years before I stumbled on the game of lawn
tennis. The outstanding English tennis critic, John Olliff, used to tell us in
the pressrooms how officials bet Suzanne Lenglen's father �1,000 that she would
not turn up for a tournament. Suzanne would show up and her father would pocket
the �1,000. There is not a present-day official who would not be glad to pay if
they could find a woman player worth �1,000 at the box office.
In the last few
years, however, I think the players have become more candid than they have ever
been about the illegal payments they receive for playing in amateur
tournaments. These days they will tell you the sums they are paid, how they get
it to their bank accounts back home, and they will joke about the dodges they
use to delude officials, if any deluding is necessary.
In French daily
newspapers they even publish accurate lists each year of the amounts paid
players in the French championships at the Roland Garros. They make good
reading. For example, one year I read that Maureen Connolly's price was 400,000
francs (about $1,100). Outside the French Federation offices at Roland Garros
there were queues of players each year collecting daily allowances in excess of
what the rules permit—if they had not already received a lump sum. When we
asked Rene Mathieu, the Federation press officer, or Guy de Bazillac, the
Federation president, if the figures in the papers were true, they looked at us
as if we were crazy and said, "but of course, Messieurs."
Each year I would
dutifully cable the figures to my Australian newspaper, and each year they
would not publish them. They argued that we would not be able to prove a player
received a certain sum if we were challenged in court. That will be a rare and
entertaining court case, the first time a top-line amateur player gets into the
witness box and faces cross examination on oath about his expenses.
Here and there
over the years a player has admitted for publication that he received a big
slice of money for playing a tournament, but the amateur officials are
compelled to bury their heads in the sand until the fuss passes. Lew Hoad said
in a television show in Sydney in November 1958 that he had once received �300
($840) from the secretary of the All-England Club, Duncan Macaulay, for playing
at Wimbledon. His sports equipment firm met most of Lew's bills that year, so
he had plenty of change from the �300 after a fortnight's play. Neither
Macaulay nor Lawn Tennis Association of Australia President Don Ferguson knew
anything about the �300 when questioned. Not many players are good enough to
command �300 but there are few who last beyond the second round who do not
receive sums far above first-class expenses.
The officials do
not refuse to comment because they are diehards but because they appreciate the
difficulties in relaxing amateur standards. In England, the proceeds of
Wimbledon are vital to the Lawn Tennis Association and provide the major part
of its revenue. Wimbledon pays no entertainment tax because it uses players
who, technically at least, are amateurs. But it would be taxed if it used
professionals, and this would drastically reduce profits, which run into the
tens of thousands.
In America, the
USLTA legally ranks as a charity and is leniently treated by the income tax
people. This is achieved by the use of the patrons system, which brings in
generous donations, and the system would be hit heavily if the patrons could
not get tax relief for their donations. In Australia, most officials don't
think at all about the question of using professionals instead of amateurs. The
one or two who have thought about it believe there is not enough money in lawn
tennis for everyone to be paid, and thus the LTAA attitude in keeping
professionals out is justified.
Wimbledon is the
means for testing an amateur's drawing power. Play well there and you can cover
all your expenses and make a little extra for the rest of the year. Win a title
there and you can make a handsome profit for the next year. Perhaps because it
sets this stamp on a player's value I was always surprised to discover the
All-England Club paid illegal sums to players. It did not seem necessary to pay
a man to play there when he had to anyhow. But somebody has to pay the players'
travel costs and other bills for the Wimbledon fortnight. Thus when South
African Eric Sturgess found it beyond his purse to make the trek to Wimbledon
one year, the problem was overcome by a grant to the South African LTA.