At Wimbledon she indulged herself with bowls and bowls of strawberries and cream. She has been known to wake up her roommates for a casual swim—at 3 o'clock in the morning. She plays a mean piano and is especially partial to the Exodus theme. And Harry Hopman, the pooh-bah of Australian tennis, considers her the leading juvenile tennis prospect, not only in the U.S. but in the whole wide world.
The object of this overseas admiration (there is a lot of it here, too) is Rosemary Casals, a diminutive 5-feet-2�, 118-pound bundle of 18-year-old Spanish temperament who, until June of this year, had never had professional instruction of any kind. But her homemade strokes and a family-instilled philosophy have suddenly taken her very close to that last hurdle that separates the players of world class from the also-rans. During the season just ended, she had two wins over her close friend and unofficial mentor, Billie Jean Moffitt King (who shares with Nancy Richey the No. 1 ranking for women in the U.S.), and three excellent three-set losses to Maria Bueno, the world's best player. She also won the national hard-court doubles and the national indoor doubles titles, both with Mrs. King.
What makes all of this most surprising is that two years ago not many people outside her native San Francisco knew anything at all about Rosie Casals, and those who did tended to dismiss her for one reason or another. Nice girl, they said, with pretty fair strokes, but she's just too tiny for the big time. What will happen when she runs up against girls like Margaret Smith, who stands 5 feet 11? She hasn't had any big-time coaching and, after all, she's just a prodigy and everybody knows what happens to prodigies when they have to stop playing people their own age and mix it up on the world circuit. Now those same people are saying that young Rosie looks like the best U.S. girl since Maureen Connolly.
Miss Casals first picked up a battered tennis racket nine years ago when her father, Manuel Casals y Bordas, now 72, took Rosie and her older (by two years) sister Victoria to a handball court near San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, a 10-minute drive from their modest home on Grove Street. Papa Casals was born and raised in El Salvador, where he fancied himself a clever and quick-footed soccer player. He came to the U.S. when still in his 20s and continued to play the rough-and-tumble European-type soccer until he suffered a broken leg. A doctor told Se�or Casals that he had to give up soccer or risk the loss of a leg. "I cried," he says. "Soccer was my life." In need of a sport, Se�or Casals took up tennis, although by this time he was nearing 40. Quite naturally he did not develop into a classical player, but he learned a great variety of chops, spins and slices, and put his intelligence to full use.
Being older, Victoria was the better of the two sisters at the start, but that changed rapidly. "I liked to sing and dance and cook," Victoria says. "But Rosie could put her mind to five hours of tennis." Soon Casals was buying tennis shoes for Rosie while Victoria still shuffled around in sandals.
Although not a professional coach, Se�or Casals did well by his younger daughter. "I'd rather have him coach me than anyone else," Rosie says. "He knows me so well, and I think it's easier for him to tell instinctively when something is wrong with my game. I've heard of tennis parents who put too much pressure on the kids, but that's not the way it is with my father and me."
At Golden Gate, Se�or Casals quickly sent Rosie against male opponents, who liked her run, run, run style. Most of them, of course, could beat her, but the only time Rosie pouted was if she thought they were carrying her. She didn't like to get beat, but she wanted to win or lose all out.
All of these parental and public court factors show up in Miss Casals' game today, and were visible at Forest Hills during the U.S. nationals last month. More than one spectator was heard to remark, "She has a lot of courage," and that is an accurate summation of her game. Her forehand is hit with tremendous overspin; and when she serves, it is sometimes hard to believe that Rosie is not a man. Her service is rarely tempered and is hit with all the twist and body gymnastics of a Tony Trabert. These strokes, coupled with an uncanny ability to cover the court, give her about two-thirds (or perhaps four-fifths) of the equipment she will need to dominate women's tennis. The missing fraction is her backhand, which so far tends to be a defensive chop. Since such a shot seems out of character for Rosie, it is likely she will correct it.
Her size might seem a disadvantage, but all Rosie says is, "Sometimes I wish I were taller, but a lot of these big girls just can't get around. Lobs? Sure they're tough, but I can run down most of those that get by me."
Rosie's biggest plus is an inordinate amount of court intelligence and a wonderful court disposition that successfully straddles that fine line between players whose temperamental outbursts and court antics immediately classify them as juvenile boors and those whose blandness and mechanical competence give them absolutely no color at all. Again, the prime factor is the influence of Papa Casals. "Good manners are important," he says. "And all the top-ranked players, they get to talking to themselves. I tell Rosie that's no good. When you start talking to yourself you can't concentrate. Your brain has got to be free."