A characteristic of Stan Smith, who last week beat his doubles partner Bob Lutz to win the USLTA men's singles title, is that he is courteous and helpful to everybody. He still indulges in that pass� form of sportsmanship—giving away points when he thinks an official has ruled mistakenly against an opponent. And last January, during the Davis Cup team's audience with Creighton Abrams in Saigon, Smith sought to lighten the commanding general's burden with: "If you need an assistant around here, sir, I'll be available in a few months when I'm drafted."
The commanding officer he will help most, however, is Donald Dell, captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team whose opposition does not quite rank with Abrams'. Dell has only Rumania to cope with in the Challenge Round next month in Cleveland, and it appears that Smith can handle the mission practically alone, needing only Lutz along to man half of the doubles court.
Dell strode about Longwood Cricket Club in Boston last week looking as smug as a man who had rigged a tournament. Indeed the draw for the championships narrowed down just as he would have arranged it, becoming a lodge meeting with four of his five men—ex-champ Arthur Ashe, Smith, Lutz and Charlie Pasarell—in the semifinals. Pasarell had beaten 1968 cup regular Clark Graebner in five sets to get there. Thus the tournament developed into the best of all possible family brawls in helping Dell pick his lineup for Rumania.
At a team meeting early in the week Dell told his players, "This tournament may mean more than Forest Hills [the U.S. Open] in making up my mind. There aren't any contract pros here [Laver, Newcombe et al.] and we'll probably have quite a few head-to-head battles. The team could pick itself right here."
Although he has had no more schooling than Yale and Virginia law, Dell is quick enough to know that five won't go into two. He has five applicants for two singles jobs, and Smith, based on his victory, now becomes almost a certainty.
"I think there's only one place open now," sighed Ashe disconsolately Saturday when he became a former champion by losing his five-set semifinal to Lutz, whom he beat on the same court in the title match a year ago. " Smith has to play singles and doubles now and the scramble for the other spot is between Lutz, Graebner, Pasarell and me."
He's right, although it hardly seems likely that Dell would leave Ashe out. They are extremely close and Dell, an attorney, has been aiding Arthur in various business negotiations. "As a friend, not as an agent," answers Dell quickly to the charge of conflict of interest made by several USLTA officials.
"It sure would feel funny if I were in the stands cheering," Ashe continued, "but, the way I'm playing, it could happen. Still, it's awhile away till Cleveland. Those are the three most important days of the year to me—September 19-20-21. If I can just get it together for Forest Hills I'll be all right. But the whip has gone out of my serve. I have to find it again."
Ashe needs to win a tournament, to rediscover the feeling and juice up his confidence. Troubled by an elbow injury, he is no longer the player he was. Over the 12 months since the last Forest Hills he has won only three tournaments—one in Las Vegas, a state title in Australia and the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. Nothing significant.
A full-house crowd of 5,000 stood to applaud Ashe and Lutz following their enthralling 3�-hour match, feeling as much remorse for Arthur as joy for Lutz. Many of these customers had watched the 1968 final when Ashe came back from 1-2 in sets to become the first American winner in 13 years. Lutz had him down 1-2 again, and again Arthur slipped off the hook in the fourth set with wondrous backhands—nine of them for winners in one crucial deuce game. But this year he didn't have the finishing power.