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Frank Deford
May 10, 1965
In return for a few hours on the tennis court, the 40 players on the Caribbean tour lead a life of late breakfasts, beach time and parties
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May 10, 1965

Net Gains On The Coconut Beat

In return for a few hours on the tennis court, the 40 players on the Caribbean tour lead a life of late breakfasts, beach time and parties

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The players are catered to, but they are not demanding. They are, for the most part, a well-mannered lot, once they have worked out their financial arrangements. They do not possess the substance or even, apparently, the imagination to carry on in the libertine manner attributed to them by Bobby Wilson, the British player who wrote about such behavior in his book last year.

Representatives of the eight tournaments meet in September at Forest Hills to set up an itinerary for the tour and to look over player applications. (The Ralstons and Stolles are invited; lesser players must apply.) Later—this past year it was at Acapulco in December—the representatives decide which players should be included on the tour.

The players travel mostly in tribelike groups. The boys sort of herd their countrywomen about, guiding them, protecting them and making sure they are enjoying themselves. The girls feel that they have to depend on male players for escorts because, as Michelle Boulle of France says: "Everyone else you meet down here is so old, the only ones who ask you are—what you call them?—wolves, yes?" Michelle was explaining this dressed in a brief, green-striped bathing suit. She has long hair, long legs and rates high with 40 million Frenchmen. What she went on to say would make them all cry: "I cannot bother with the boys. I have to work, practice and, ooh, the boys also—how can I?"

Lis Arilla, a puckish young Spaniard who looks like Mighty Mouse—which is what they call him—has half-dollar eyes that grow bigger when he gets near women, or merely in their vicinity. He went out with Michelle for a while on the European circuit last summer, but he thinks such intramural attachments are generally unwise. "We are all like sisters and brothers," he says, echoing what everyone on tour says. "This is like one big family, and all these girls"—eyes enlarging—"I like them all, every one, but just as a friend."

The textbook example of tennis taking care of its own is the case of Lew Gerrard, an unfortunate young man from New Zealand. The first week on the tour Gerrard bought a bathing suit, and the next week it was stolen. That was just a warmup. Coming to San Juan, Gerrard changed planes in Miami and left his wallet on the plane. The customs people, in an enchanting display of U.S. charm, would not permit him to reboard, and when they finally put a call through to the parked plane, the captain or somebody said sorry, no wallet here. This was not surprising, avarice still being afoot in most places, because Lew Gerrard's wallet contained $1,300.

At the Caribe Hilton, Gerrard roomed with Fred Stolle, the No. 2 player in Australia and the world. As soon as he heard the story, Stolle set out quietly to collect money from the other players. (That Stolle handled the matter is not surprising. On the tour there is a remarkably high correlation between the best players and the most dominant personalities.) Friday night, at the annual players' party, Stolle got up and called Gerrard to the microphone. "We just thought, Lew," he said, "that we would try to get you something so you could buy a new wallet. So on behalf of all the players on the circuit who like you and think you're a great guy, Lew, we'd like to give you this." It was an envelope containing $1,000.

A fair portion of the Gerrard fund was a donation from the tournament itself, an act that provides the players with another reason for thinking the Caribe Hilton is the best tournament on the circuit and maybe even anywhere. Part of the affection is natural—it is a relaxing week at a ritzy resort and there is no great competitive pressure—but the fondness extends beyond these obvious limits. The players simply like the members of the Caribe Hilton Swimming and Tennis Club who run the show. This has led to a party—"the only one of its kind in the world." the players boast—that is given by the players for the people who stage the tournament.

About 25 of the boys and 15 of the girls play all or nearly all of the tournaments. Some of them are the ranking players in the world; others have questionable talent and are there strictly for the company and the U.V.s (ultraviolet rays). Still others dream foolishly that their games finally will click. "Some of them," Lesley Turner says, "think—no, they really believe—that if they just practice, practice they will become champions. You cannot tell them otherwise, but they just don't have the talent or the temperament. I feel sorry for the boys, because someday they will have to get a job."

But the heart of the tour is made up of the medium player, the journeyman, the girl or boy who can beat almost anybody on a good day, who has just the tinge of a name and a national ranking. There were 18 No. 1 players at the Caribe Hilton, including such ever-popular household names as Maria Guzman, Iyo Pimentel, Ivan Molina and Michael Valdez. There is an air of authority, of—my goodness—distinction attached to being No. 1 from anywhere instead of, say, No. 33 from the United States (which is what Vic Seixas is).

Away from the court the players take little interest in their international surroundings. Indeed, one of the more favored aspects of the Caribe Hilton is that they are all quartered where they play. Some of the players never even get off the hotel grounds. The sum total of most days is eating, sleeping (late), playing tennis, practicing, sunning and maybe enjoying a couple of drinks or a few spins of the roulette wheel at night. Eccentricities are rare but genially tolerated, particularly in the Ulrich brothers, Jorgen and Torben, who possess most of what bizarre behavior there is. Even that is not complex, consisting only of their beards, their lack of interest in the sun and their constant conflict with the clock.

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