At 18, Cliff remains something of a child. He has an unbecoming butch haircut, and when he plays his shirt flaps right out and stays out. He is 5 feet 9, a bit taller than his father, and he has taken off about 15 pounds, down to 165, but he still gives the impression of chubbiness. It may be just his round, full face and his big oval gray eyes that give this impression.
Cliff was ranked 11th among all men players in the country last December for his 1964 performance. Many people feel that he would have been included in the top 10 except for spite—that this was an unofficial censure in response to his temperamental actions, some of which have echoed around the world.
Cliff's explosions on the court are a side product of his competitive intensity. Like all members of his family, he has an extremely good sense of humor, but on the court there is no lightness. He is obsessed, determined not to be diverted from the single goal of victory. He plays with a look of studied agony, finding nothing entertaining about any aspect of the event. He appears, indeed, like an actor trying to look angry on orders. If a ball boy errs with just a slightly misdirected bounce, Cliff is likely to let the ball go by and glare menacingly at the youth. If, in the midst of a rally, an excited fan should prematurely applaud, Cliff—no matter who wins the point—will go out of his way to frown at the offending party. Similarly, he never forgets a line call. He has been rude to referees and opponents at the price of becoming unpopular with his fellow players and losing all favor with crowds, even in Dallas.
Sadly, Cliff's court posture is doing the family more harm than anything else. Other things may make the Richeys appear a bit eccentric, but Cliff's demeanor really inflames people. In his headlong rush toward victory Cliff has somehow equated courtesy with being sissy.
Fortunately, George Richey has cautioned Cliff about the folly of further frenetic disorders. Last year, when Cliff called home after a series of frightful episodes in Italy and England, his father instructed him that no matter how right he might be he was "to go about things more diplomatically." George's concern should now be to curb Cliff's constant pettiness and gracelessness on court. Some opponents think if this does not happen Cliff will become so keyed up that his game will disintegrate from a case of massive, uncontrollable jitters.
Cliff is so enveloped in tennis that many tour players believe he does nothing at night but go to his room and read his scrapbooks and tennis magazines. This is an exaggeration. Maybe this is an exaggeration. Maybe this is not an exaggeration. Cliff is not only a tennis player, but a tennisophile. Most youngsters who memorize all the batting averages are scrawny kids who aren't good at sports. But Richey, the athlete, knows virtually every score of every match he has ever played and—with the important and semi-important matches—he also has total recall of point scores, key shots, bad calls, crowd noises, temperature, wind conditions, his father's reaction and other attendant information.
Cliff has been providing at least occasional stiff competition for top players since he was 15. Nancy, of course, used to beat him when he was younger. (As a matter of fact, when Nancy was 14 she beat every member of her father's Southwest Conference champion Rice University tennis team.) To stimulate competition, George Richey would announce that Nancy and Cliff were playing in the finals of some important tournament. He would name the imaginary site, and Nancy would make appropriate travel posters. Then she would beat Cliff, and he would promptly rage and cry and tear up all the posters. When he finally beat her, Nancy tore up all the posters.
Stubborn and cocky, Cliff has always been a more difficult tennis student than the amenable Nancy. It took months for George Richey to convince his son that he must eliminate the loop in his backhand but, characteristically, when Cliff finally agreed he went right out and hit 4,562,182 balls to improve it. Like his sister, his ground strokes are the strength of his game, but he has more court imagination and variety.
His deficiency is his serve—particularly the second one—which is neither tricky nor deep. One who does not agree with this widespread analysis, however, is Pancho Gonzalez. "A weak serve in comparison to what?" Gonzalez says. "Weak compared to Kramer? Weak compared to Gonzalez? Weak compared to who? It's the results that count."
Even those who are concerned about Cliff's serve are not losing sleep over it. They think that, if he must, he will just experiment with a million new serves until he finds a good one. Many of his critics also feel that he will become a better fellow on the court when he starts playing on the Davis Cup squad and becomes part of a team. A few years ago the USLTA worked out an informal arrangement that allowed Cliff to be a quasi member of the U.S. Junior Davis Cup team and still travel with his family. It proved to be an impossible arrangement and had to be dropped. Now Mr. Richey promises to stay out of things completely when Cliff is on the team.