If things had been a little bit different, New Yorkers last week might have been able to see the greatest indoor tennis in the world. But things are seldom different in the world of tennis. Divided by a lot more than just Fifth Avenue, Jack Kramer's troupe of touring professionals at Madison Square Garden and the National Indoor Championships at a Park Avenue armory were each going their separate ways to the benefit of neither.
The trouble at the armory was that Kramer's champions were not there to play. (The closest approximation, Italy's Orlando Sirola, was eliminated in the very first round.) The trouble at the Garden was that there was nothing much to play for. In a rough school of sleeper jumps and one-night stands, Kramer's tennis players have learned to become real pros, but they produce a show without a final act, just a long series of scenes that vary only slightly. And yet it is a plucky show they put on, sometimes under hideous conditions. In Muncie, Ind. their court was warped. In Scranton it sagged—"like playing on a double bed," one player said. In Philadelphia the hockey ice over which the green canvas was laid began to melt, soaking the playing surface. Some arenas are too short, others too narrow. Practically all of them have inadequate lighting so that lobs disappear into a smoky haze. But to the touring pros such hazards are routine. After all, no one expects Muncie to be Wimbledon.
Their tour began in New Zealand, moved on to Hawaii and then California. Early this month it was in the East, fighting its way through heavy snows from Utica and Buffalo and Corning to Manhattan's Garden. Later this month the tour will depart for a five-week stay in Europe, then return again to this country for more barnstorming.
There are six players in the troupe: Richard (Pancho) Gonzales, the durable world champion, now recovered from his recent stomach injury (SI, Feb. 6); Lew Hoad, the heir apparent; Barry MacKay and Earl Buchholz, two green apples from the amateur field; Alex Olmedo, hero of the United States 1958 Davis Cup victory; and the young Spaniard, Andres Gimeno, whose name should be—but seldom is—pronounced "he may know."
Of the six, Gonzales, of course, is the main attraction. Tall, dark and explosive, he is still, at 32, the best tennis player in the world and looks it. But he hates the touring life, the constant traveling, the irregular hours and the endless succession of hotels. He plays on for the most part just to pay his bills.
"Poor Gorgo," said a friend recently. "How he'd like to quit. But he has those alimony payments to Henrietta and the kids—$15,000 a year—and the mortgage on that huge house in Pacific Palisades he bought for Madelyn [nee Darrow, a Hollywood model and former Miss Rheingold, whom Gonzales married in 1960]. He'll be back next year."
Lew Hoad, the No. 2 man on the tour, is no longer the iceberg personality he was when he first came to this country as a 17-year-old amateur. Now, at 26, out from under the stern tutelage of Australian captain Harry Hopman, Lew, off court, is relaxed and friendly, "a real gentleman," says Myron McNamara, a Kramer lieutenant. But he is married and has three children, all of whom are in Melbourne, and he misses them. Because he has invested his money wisely, this may be Hoad's last tour, especially if he wins it—and he plans to win it.
"Hoady wants to win as badly as any man I ever saw," says McNamara. "Some men rage visibly. Lew dies hard inside. He's the sort who will walk the streets until 5 in the morning after losing a tough match."
It is Lew's fiercely combative spirit, coupled with Pancho's economic need to win, that generates the kind of competitive excitement that is the pro tour's only approximation of real tournament spirit. In Hoad, Gonzales sees the one real threat to his top ranking and, hence, his top money. Thus when Hoad and Gonzales are playing, the crowd senses their desire and great tennis becomes a great contest.