"Sure, some people interpreted this as gamesmanship," says Riggs. "I was tired, and it took time to change my shoes. I couldn't have done that at Wimbledon. I was stretching the rules a little. But it was real tough, we were having long rallies, and Lass had the stamina of a marathon runner. I'm wheezing and puffing, walking over to the corner to pick up balls. If it means I catch my breath, well, that's O.K. I'm old and tired. As long as I don't make it ridiculous. Some of the crowd started to root against me, but what did they want me to do? Run back and forth like crazy and then run to the net to congratulate Lass for winning? It was more important to try hard even if this meant stalling a bit. I'm not trying to prove I'm a good loser. Anyway, after about 65 shots were hit during one rally he hit a cross-court shot into the doubles alley and I won 10-8. The match lasted for something like 4½ hours. Call what I did senior tactics if you like, but Lass never said a word about it."
Lass, apparently, was deficient in an area where Riggs also excels. "Riggs is a big talker and can talk you out of the game before the match," says Torsten Johansson, a former Swedish Davis Cup player and the current U.S. senior titleholder. "When I played him in the 1969 championship in Philly I won the first set 6-1 and began wondering if I was the best player in the whole world. Riggs convinced me I was. He told me I played a fantastic game and fed me that line of talk. I lost the match 6-1, 2-6, 3-6."
The senior circuit is beginning to throng with name players from the past. Vic Seixas, Tom Brown, Gardnar Mulloy, Antonio Palafox, Frank Parker and Jaroslav Drobny rank with Riggs at the top. And a senior player with the time and money can easily find about 20 good tournaments to play in each year. The play, as Riggs suggests, may take place in something akin to slow motion, but its quality is high. Riggs, in fact, is ready to challenge the top women pros, Billie Jean King and Margaret Court.
"It would be close on grass," he says, "but on any other surface I could take them in a one-set match, two out of three or three out of five. I don't think they'd be able to overpower me. I'm a pretty smart tactician. I'd just play my regular game, play them from a defensive point of view. I'd use my excellent lob and drop shot and my good ball control. Billie Jean and Margaret are both forcing players, and they wouldn't have the degree of safety they'd need. I'd be getting their shots back, forcing them out of their natural rhythm and into an unfamiliar defensive pattern. I'd counterpunch, keep the ball at their feet, force them to overhit and to press. It would be close. Maybe they're better than I think they are."
Another fresh cigar had materialized in Riggs' fingers, and he puffed on it, smiling at the prospect of such a match. It would be a good show, whatever the result.
"I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is," he said.
How about you, Billie Jean? Wanna bet?