It is a sad thing to watch the fall of a great champion, and sadder still when the fall occurs in an atmosphere of petty bickering and name-calling. Had Pancho Gonzalez been the athlete he once was, the schism dividing him and the rest of the pros might have made the U.S. Professional Grass Court Championships at Forest Hills last week the most exciting tournament yet. It might even have made Pancho a bigger hero than ever. But Pancho was far from the man he used to be.
Under a fierce 95� sun in the stadium where he had scored his greatest triumphs, the most colorful and controversial tennis champion since Bill Tilden was beaten in the first round of the tournament, and beaten hopelessly. Even worse, he looked pitiful. Attempting a comeback at 35, after 21 months away from competition, Gonzalez staggered about the court like a stunned fighter. The small crowd, which applauded happily when Gonzalez won the second set with shots that reminded them of other days, sat in silence at the finish. Even Gonzalez' opponent, Alex Olmedo, looked embarrassed when the match was over.
With Pancho fallen—and fallen with such a soggy thud—the bickerings in the world of tennis suddenly lost their power to generate excitement and became just mean. The meanness was perhaps most unfortunately evidenced in the post-match behavior of Pancho's principal off-court antagonist, Tony Trabert. Sitting in a box seat at courtside, Tony giggled with delight at the old champion's defeat. Trabert, a former champion himself, though never in a class with Gonzalez, is director of the International Professional Tennis Players Association, an organization from which Gonzalez had recently been suspended. "This is one of my happiest moments in tennis," Trabert said.
Bad blood has existed between Gonzalez and Trabert since 1956, when Gonzalez, whose pay was less than half of Trabert's, trounced the latter on Jack Kramer's pro tour. Gonzalez was angry that Trabert made more money than he did. Trabert resented the beating Gonzalez gave him. The feeling between the two was not softened this winter when Trabert replaced Jack Kramer as head of the tour and tried to sign Gonzalez. Pancho, making a comfortable living as a teaching pro at Huntington Hartford's Paradise Island, agreed to join only if he could play Rod Laver, the amateur king, man to man. Trabert preferred a round-robin format, and Gonzalez stayed home. Without Pancho, the only drawing card in tennis, the tour did poorly.
The latest disagreement between the two arose over the filming of a television series similar to those in golf. Trabert's IPTPA, of which Gonzalez was (technically) a member, shot several pilot films with such players as Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver and Lew Hoad. Gonzalez, a man with Hollywood connections, decided to promote his own series with Pancho Segura. The IPTPA promptly suspended both of them. Meanwhile, Trabert had gone to work for The Adler Company, a hosiery firm sponsoring an invitational professional tournament in California from which both Panchos were also barred. Gonzalez sued, and the IPTPA sued right back. Such was the mood as the players gathered at Forest Hills.
As luck would have it, the tournament draw pitted Gonzalez against Trabert in the first round. At least the original draw did. When Trabert heard about it, he declared that the seedings were unfair, rearranged them and had a second draw. Trabert said he thought the second draw would be best for the public and the players.
"What players?" asked Gonzalez.
"All," answered Trabert.
"You're not speaking for me," Gonzalez shot back.
"I hope I never have to," Trabert replied.