In fairness to Gonzalez, some of Van Alen's endless arguments on behalf of VASSS do appear to be specious. For instance, the traditional tennis scoring system—love, 15, 30, 40—may be arbitrary, but it certainly is not all that difficult to grasp. Moreover, in simplifying the set to 31 points for victory, a great deal of the tactical, wars-within-a-war aspect of the present game is eliminated. As Gonzalez pointed out, tennis now provides a series of climactic confrontations. An impending service break at any point in a match can mean excitement, but with VASSS everything is a foundation for the last few points—and then only if the game stays close.
It would appear too that, once far behind, staving off defeat in a VASSS game is a much more difficult task. Also, because every point under VASSS counts the same, risky and exciting play—often advisable at certain point scores under the present rules—is discouraged. Better to play it safe, which is what the pros did—particularly since Van Alen had set up this tourney with an arrangement under which every point was worth $5. Take a chance, you might blow a fin, the players reasoned.
But the advantages of VASSS were obvious. For one thing, whether the pros like it or not, tennis is a better game to watch when the overpowering value of the serve is decreased. Better to watch means more people watching and that in turn means more money for the pros. VASSS also provides a system for handicapping tennis, and would give the sport, for the first time, a basis for statistics and records that is now lacking. "I must say," Mike Davies observed, "every sport that is popular is filled with bloody numbers, so there must be something in that." Best of all, VASSS absolutely, definitely, on purpose eliminates marathon matches. A VASSS 31-win set takes half an hour, give or take a couple of minutes. The pros, despite the relative success of their new tour, have been unable to interest television in their national grass court championship at Long-wood this week. If TV could see VASSS, the guess is TV would buy.
Not entirely on account of VASSS, the Newport pro tournament was, for tennis, most original and entertaining. All of the matches were held on one of the two main courts and, until interrupted by a drought-breaking rain on Sunday, ran right on schedule, just like Gemini. Also, Van Alen introduced night play to Newport, and even when the fog rolled in on something you would not, in your wildest dreams, describe as little cat feet, the show went on and the crowds stayed. The gate was the largest in years at Newport, where, of course, the Newport Casino tournament for amateurs has always been a big draw.
Van Alen had special electric scoreboards erected, and they showed not only the running score but the money being made. Another scoreboard, looking not unlike a stock listing, kept the complete point and money totals for all of the players. The tournament format divided the 10 players into two divisions, each pro playing a round robin against the other four in his group. The two pros in each group with the highest point total played a second round robin to compete for—hold on, Newport, and move over, Bud Collyer—the Pot O'Gold, which had a base of $850, plus the accumulation of the residue of prize money not won at $5 a point.
Van Alen provided his own attraction, too, wandering about the proceedings in his multicolored outfits, his plantation hat and his suede shoes, and leading his cocker spaniel puppy, Vasss by name, about on a leash. And across from Van Alen's box, his mother, Mrs. Brugui�re, sat in a peacock wicker chair, lending a special air of alchemy to the affair that somehow transmuted all the neo-Veeckian gambits.
The pros helped too. They are much better entertainers than the amateurs and they are also gaining a look of permanence. Barry MacKay, one of their number who is trying bravely to play after a knee operation, handles the paid role of tournament director and liaison man, but the pros are planning now to hire a full-time man for the job. The tournaments have been increasingly successful and the average prize money may soon double from $10,000 to $20,000. There are other symptoms of coming success too. Ken Rosewall represents the Peacock Gap Country Club in San Rafael, Calif.—the same kind of deal that is virtually universal with golfers on the pro tour. Butch Buchholz has his own business manager now, and he has already told America about the inherent good qualities in such products as Vitalis and Wheaties.
The tour desperately needs new blood, however, and American blood would be particularly welcome. But of the amateurs—"all bums," says Pancho Segura, still a big pro name at 44—only Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle of Australia could cut it in this league, and Australians the pros have got. Indeed, except to the true followers, the Australian tennis players are approximately as discernible from one another as Vietcong guerrillas. Gonzalez is still the top American player, but he is 37, a World War II veteran, and he says that after this year he is through touring for good.
Since their success is still modest, it is surprising that the pros were so reluctant to embrace VASSS. Van Alen brought in Frank Pace, a tennis fan and former Secretary of the Army to talk to them on Saturday morning, to shill a little for the system and to quiet some of their grumbling. Pace pointed out that innovations in other sports have often come from the professionals and that the innovations have many times meant increased financial success.
For his part, Van Alen needs the pros more than they need him. The amateur hierarchy, having accepted fuzz on tennis balls, has since been a bit reluctant to embrace any more new ideas—or any old ones, for that matter. Van Alen's only hope to install VASSS directly among the amateurs would be to get it started at the grass roots and wait for it to grow up, but that is a process that could take generations.