The town of Princeton, N.J. lies roughly on a great-circle route between Los Angeles, Calif. and Wimbledon, England. Since most of the young California college boys playing last week in the 79th National Collegiate Athletic Association tennis championships either were bound for Wimbledon or should have been, it seemed logical to hold the tournament at Princeton. It might have been even more logical to move right on and hold the college tournament at the capital of world tennis, for the field of amateurs gathered at the NCAA was the best since the tournament was started in 1883—on the courts of an insane asylum in Hartford, Conn. Many of the early-round losers left immediately and flew right on to England.
The team from the University of Southern California not only is the best college tennis team in the world today but probably the best in history. Its top man is U.S. Davis Cupper Dennis Ralston, U.S. doubles champion in 1961 and still only a Trojan junior. He won the singles impressively. One of his teammates was Mexican Davis Cupper Rafael Osuna. They needed five sets to win the doubles, but the team they beat—Ramsey Earnhart and Bill Bond—also were Trojans and probably the second best doubles team in the country.
George Toley, the Trojan coach, had hoped to make not only the doubles but the singles an all-Trojan affair, but a young Davis Cupper from Northwestern named Marty Riessen spoiled it for him. Riessen, whose father is tennis coach at Northwestern, took on Osuna in the semifinal round of the singles and with a pressing, rushing game knocked the young Mexican out of play 6-4, 2-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Next day Riessen was duly, and predictably, scrambled in the finals by Ralston with a fine mixture of passing shots and tantalizing lobs.
The most exciting match of the tournament, however, was neither of these. It was a semifinal match between Ralston and UCLA's Arthur Ashe, whose skill on the courts generally has been clouded in print by a qualifying phrase that runs, "the first Negro ever to...." Currently the phrase concludes with, "... play in the men's singles at Wimbledon," a fact of little significance in that Mecca of international and interracial competition. What is significant is Ashe's tennis.
At Princeton, Ralston came out as if to blow Ashe off the court with a puff or two. He rambled through a 6-2 set and went to 4-0 in the second. But Ashe is a streak, player, and suddenly he streaked. Ralston hung on to win the set 8-6, but lost the next one 5-7, and Ashe's powerful serve bombed him to a 5-1 lead in the fourth set. Ralston managed to turn the match here. He lost the set 3-6, but Ashe's momentum was spent. "Arthur was so glad to finally be even," said his coach, J. D. Morgan, "that he took a real deep breath, and when he exhaled it was 3-love against him." Ralston finished him off at 6-1, displaying in a burst of all-round brilliance the kind of singles play that will be needed to bring the Davis Cup back home.
But it was doubles play, rather than singles, that made the Trojans truly memorable as a team at the NCAA, and they permitted no outsiders like Riessen and Ashe to spoil the fun. Coach Toley has an array of doubles talent as complex and impressive as the couples whose divorces and remarriages are listed in Modern Screen. Consider, for brevity, just the four who played with and against each other in the NCAA finals. The winners—Ralston and Osuna—are former Wimbledon champs, and each is half of a U.S. championship doubles team. The losers—Earnhart and Bond—beat Osuna and Ralston last time out in the West Coast's AAWU conference tourney. Now, take one winner, Osuna, with a loser, Earnhart. Together, they won the NCAA doubles title in the previous two years. Now, take the other winner, Ralston, and the other loser, Bond. They held several junior titles together. Earnhart, with Riessen as his partner, is the national clay-court doubles champ and, with Osuna, the national hard-court champ.
Last week, as this imposing family engaged in good-natured fratricide at Princeton, George Toley hardly bothered to watch. He just ambled around taking home movies, like a tourist at Niagara Falls. "They only allow two teams per school in the NCAA," he said. "But I can put together a third team that would win this thing 50% of the time." His fellow coaches might well consider scheduling a separate tournament of their own at that asylum in Hartford.