First the government discovered income taxes, then someone found out you could turn a pretty good dollar with a jazz festival in the right place, and after that came the folk singers, dragging their mournful guitars and beards into town. The mid-20th century had invaded Newport. Even the famous Casino, symbol of extravagant wealth, had to sell part of its property to a supermarket to stay solvent, and across Bellevue Avenue a shopping center arose. Its parking lot is the favorite hangout for the town's teen-agers, who mass there—wearing stringy hair and yellow shirts—at all hours of the day. One of them, a legendary drugstore cowboy named Charlie the Hat, eventually became a greater local attraction than the Casino itself.
So the Newport of the gilded era, when the Astors and the Vanderbilts and the Van Alens sat around the Casino, on the Horse Shoe Piazza, listening to Mullaly's String Orchestra in the morning—that time had long since passed even before the events of last week. But there still remained a degree of hauteur when, after 85 years of tennis at the Newport Casino, professional players finally were permitted to tread the Casino greensward and (to be vulgar) play for pay.
Not only were the pros performing on the most hallowed of tennis soil—the site of the first national tournament in 1881 and the home of the Tennis Hall of Fame—but they were playing this odd sort of tennis. The server was three feet back of the baseline, bells rang and dollar signs lit up on electric scoreboards. Moreover, the points were scored just like counting fingers and toes: one, two, three and so on. No loves, deuces or advantages, in or out. (Or tennis either, some purists maintained.)
What was being played was tennis under the Van Alen Simplified Scoring System (VASSS), the invention of James Van Alen—of the Newport Van Alens—who, after eight years of getting nowhere trying to convince the mastodons of amateur tennis to give his plan a real trial, finally turned to the pros. They were perfectly delighted to take a chance and experiment, since there was also a matter of $10,000 in prize money involved. Pro tennis has enjoyed a limited success in the last couple of years since it switched from one-night stands and station wagons to regular weekly tournaments and airplanes, but the pros still cannot afford to be choosy, and consolidation with Van Alen might prove to be an amiable mating of underdogs in a battle against the entrenched amateur powers.
While the Newporters immediately loved VASSS and the special round-robin medal play that Van Alen invented, it was the pros who acted the snobs and found it difficult to accept this desecration of their venerable game. But 10,000 smackeroos being on the line, they gave it the old pro try and, to no one's surprise, form more or less prevailed. Three Australians—Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Mai Anderson—and Andres Gimeno, a Spaniard, finished as the top money winners. But of course Newport is one place where class always tells.
The pros arrived in Newport in midweek and were promptly entertained in the Newport manner by Van Alen. Enjoying themselves before play began, they also managed to murmur little straight lines about how interesting VASSS should be, how much they wanted to help tennis and how, after all, they would all be playing under the same conditions. Competition was the thing. End of entertainment. Start of tournament.
First match. Mike Davies vs. Pancho Segura. Segura 31 points, Davies 19.
(scowling): This takes the tactics out of tennis.
Segura (beaming): Very good. It is an equalizer.
Second match. Rod Laver vs. Luis Ayala. Ayala 31, Laver 25.