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Roger Williams
May 07, 1962
Because of his antics both on and off the courts, this not-too-flattering term fits Whitney Reed even better than it does most tournament players. But it is his deft touch with a racket that has made him No. 1
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May 07, 1962

Hallelujah, He's The No. 1 Tennis Bum

Because of his antics both on and off the courts, this not-too-flattering term fits Whitney Reed even better than it does most tournament players. But it is his deft touch with a racket that has made him No. 1

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If there is such a thing as a tennis bum," says Whitney Reed with characteristically disarming frankness, "I guess I'm it." The hypocritical rules of amateur tennis have made the term bum almost synonymous with tournament player, and certainly this attractive 29-year-old Californian, now America's No. 1 amateur, seems to have all the credentials to fit it: no steady job, a dozen years of tournament tennis, no wife, attendance at three colleges without a degree from any, and a deep fondness for girls, gambling and late parties.

Like most ranking players, Reed leads a life of moneyed luxury far beyond his visible means of support. As an amateur he achieves only decent comfort via expense money, but the fringe benefits of amateurism enable him to mingle with the rich in party after party at country clubs wherever he goes, and his itinerary would bring envy to the hearts of the most sophisticated travelers. Last year, for example, Reed and his rackets touched down at Mexico City, Kingston, Caracas, Barranquilla, San Juan, Montego Bay, Naples, Turin, Berlin, Bielefeld, Barcelona, Bristol, London, Dublin, Toronto, New Delhi, Teheran, Rome, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, not to mention such local watering spots as Miami, La Jolla and Newport and, of course, the fashionable suburbs and exurbs of New York City.

This kind of life is understandably hard to give up. Yet last November, when he finished eight straight months of tennis and traveling, Whitney Reed was ready to call it quits. "1 was just plain tired of tennis," he recalls. "I'd made up my mind I wasn't going to the Caribbean again, and I was considering passing up Europe and the eastern grass circuit too." Whitney was even pondering the square life of marriage and job. Then, largely because he beat Chuck McKinley in the third round of the nationals at Forest Hills in September, Reed was moved up to the No. 1 ranking. No one was more startled than Reed himself. He had never been higher than No. 8 and his 1961 record had been spotty. Still, there it was, and how could a guy quit when he'd just reached the top? First of all, people were saying he didn't deserve it, that he was the weakest No. 1 player in years, so he had to prove himself. Secondly, and perhaps more to the point, he had been playing all those years for nickels; now that he was officially rated No. 1, he would be foolish not to capitalize on it.

So Whitney Reed pushed the square life a bit further into the background and in mid-March took off for Barranquilla. Flexing his No. 1 ranking, he promptly lost in the early rounds of three straight tournaments, but no matter. The losses were all to foreigners (therefore not considered too important by the U.S. ranking committee), and the Caribbean circuit was still the happiest hunting ground for expense money, parties and a general good time.

The endless round of tournament tennis has equipped Reed admirably for the life it provides. A modest, reserved young man by nature, he—like most other circuit players—has acquired a buoyant suit of social ease that floats him along in the best of circles. He is friendly to strangers and will talk about his tennis in a modest, relaxed way. He can consume very sizable quantities of alcohol (Scotch by preference, beer by custom) without becoming wild or even loud. And his manly, curiously handsome features make him, for lady tennis buffs, one of the top attractions among the touring players.

It is Reed's liking for parties and high life, even in a low-pressure way, that has built the legend of loose living that surrounds him. Sportswriters have harped on his unconventional training habits so much that he now bristles at the mere mention of training. One can hardly blame him. The legend has far outgrown the man. Reed smokes, but so do all the other players who enjoy it. Reed drinks, perhaps more than the others, but he can hold it better than they can. Reed stays up late, usually until 3 or 4 or 5, but once in bed he never fails to get the approved eight hours of sleep. Reed gives an appearance of not caring about tennis, rarely practices between matches or tournaments and seldom watches other people play. But, actually, he is devoted to tennis, and is known among the players as a fierce competitor in match play and one of the best behaved on court.

The only part of the Whitney Reed legend not exaggerated is his gambling. He plays hearts for hours on end, at 10� a point, usually with the same players: Mike Sangster from England, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson from Australia, and his closest friend on the circuit, Ed Rubinoff from Miami Beach. He is also adept at bridge, gin rummy and poker—though regular poker games have vanished since the influx of younger players on the circuit. He would rather not play any of these games if there is no betting.

When the Caribbean tour reached San Juan at 3 o'clock one morning last month, Reed promptly headed for the craps table at the Caribe Hilton Casino. A half an hour later he walked away richer by $20.

"I've been reading a book by the guy who runs Harold's Club," he explained, "and I followed his system. Keep betting $1 and if you get ahead bet $2—just once. If you lose, go back to $1."

The following night the new system won him $65 more at blackjack, but on the third night he took a bath and spent all the rest of the week catching up. On the last night, just before the celebration ball, Reed downed three Scotch and waters and marched resolutely to the craps table. He blew $10, then $20, then $20 more. He deliberated for a moment, then pulled out all his remaining tennis earnings and slapped them on the come. The point came up nine, and for the next minute or so he showed more emotion than any tennis match had ever produced. When the nine finally arrived ahead of the seven, Reed cashed in his chips, pocketed a $90 profit and staggered out a true believer.

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