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Charlito moves to the head of the class
Joe Jares
February 28, 1966
Charlie Pasarell has been a name for the future for so long that the name was beginning to seem pretty old. But his victory in the national indoors indicates that at last the future has arrived
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February 28, 1966

Charlito Moves To The Head Of The Class

Charlie Pasarell has been a name for the future for so long that the name was beginning to seem pretty old. But his victory in the national indoors indicates that at last the future has arrived

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It was Arthur Ashe himself who said it. "Charlie plays as well as I do," he admitted. "It's just that I get more attention because I'm a Negro." Charlie is Charles Pasarell, sometimes known as Charlito, a husky, good-looking Puerto Rican youth of 22 who, along with Ashe, attends UCLA. For the past year Pasarell has indeed been edged out of the spotlight by Ashe. At Forest Hills last summer Pasarell beat Australia's No. 2 man, Fred Stolle, in three straight sets, but that feat was overshadowed when Ashe beat Roy Emerson, the No. 1 man. Pasarell had also beaten Emerson—twice, in fact—but those victories were at smaller tournaments and therefore received less publicity.

This fall, while Ashe was making more headlines by winning four tournaments during his tour of Australia, Pasarell remained at UCLA to study and practice. Then, two weeks ago, Charlito made his move. Playing at the Philadelphia Invitational, Pasarell beat Mexico's Rafael Osuna and Jan-Erik Lundquist to reach the finals. There across the net was Ashe. Pasarell won in four sets, then joined his college teammate to win the doubles.

Still, Philadelphia was just another small tournament. But last week in Salisbury, Md. Pasarell won a big one, the National Indoor Championship, a tournament that included most of the game's top players, Ashe among them. In winning, Charlie Pasarell proved he is ready to stand alongside Ashe, Emerson and Santana as one of the best amateurs in the world.

It took Charlito a while to get there. Four years ago people were calling Charles Manuel Pasarell Jr.—handsome, wealthy and possessing the strokes and serve of a potential world-beater—the greatest import from Puerto Rico since rum. At the age of 18 he was ranked No. 10 in the U.S., the first player from the island commonwealth ever to win adult national ranking. But, admittedly "a little too anxious" and "expecting too much too soon," he stayed on the same rung the following year and at 20 slipped back to No. 12. He did well on the UCLA varsity but had to play second-racket to teammate Ashe when both were juniors, then voluntarily sat out a year—a tennis red shirt—as Ashe won the collegiate title. He was on the 1964 Davis Cup squad but did not get to play. Though he had some big wins, he was upset just as often. "Charlie's always been just on the fringe," said Davis Cup Captain George MacCall.

Pasarell recognizes that he has been inconsistent in the past and now proclaims himself a reformed man. "I've decided the only thing for me to do is play every match as if my opponent is champion of the world," he said early in the Salisbury tournament. "That's what I'm determined to do. I am fed up with winning big matches and losing the little ones. I've beaten just about everybody. Trouble is, I've lost to just about everybody, too.

"I'm inclined to be lazy and not prepare for matches that don't seem tough to me. I might stay up the night before or I might go out and play golf that morning. I was reading an article about Sandy Koufax. He said he would feel terrible if he lost a game because of something he did the night before. He wouldn't feel so bad if it was something that happened during the game. I guess he makes a heck of a lot of sense."

Charlito and his opponent in the finals at Salisbury, Ron Holmberg, himself a distinct surprise, had at least two things in common. Holmberg, 28, also was once a boy wonder of the tennis world and also was criticized for being lackadaisical. Now balding and forced to wear glasses indoors, Holmberg has a jiggly potbelly that makes him look at least 35. If tennis had musical accompaniment, as figure skating does, his theme would have to be Baby Elephant Walk. But he makes up for the overload of lard with a delicate volleying touch and a big serve, plus the ability to anticipate where his opponent will hit the ball. He is like the aging shortstop who hangs on by knowing where to play the batters.

If Pasarell was determined to make himself a more dedicated campaigner and win a Davis Cup berth, Holmberg had his strong motivations, too. He said he had been discriminated against because he had refused to "kowtow" to the United States Lawn Tennis Association.

"I would have liked to have gone to Australia with the fellows last year, but they didn't ask me and I'm sure not going to ask them," he said before the final. "They took five players ranked below me. I think the USLTA has something against me. They dropped me from sixth to ninth in the rankings this year without any cause. I'm going to play the circuit all year—Wimbledon and everything. Maybe I'll do so well they can't ignore me. I'd love to win here and I'd like to win at Forest Hills."

To reach the finals at Salisbury's modern Wicomico Youth and Civic Center (where Player Frank Froehling's pretty blonde wife caused more heads to swivel than any match), Pasarell and Holmberg had to pick their way through a litter of fallen gladiators. Lundquist of Sweden, the defending champion and one of the best indoor players in the world, lost to National Junior Champion Bob Lutz, only 18 years old. Manolo Santana of Spain, who won at Forest Hills last year, lost to New York Attorney Gene Scott. A 20-year-old Brazilian lefty, Tomaz Koch, knocked out Dennis Ralston and Osuna. And Ashe was eliminated by South Africa's Cliff Drysdale in the quarter-finals.

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