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Frank Deford
February 28, 1972
And every day he gets better. The name may lack the ring of Budge and Kramer, but Smith (Stan) has suddenly become most uncommon
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February 28, 1972

This Smith, A Mighty Man Is He

And every day he gets better. The name may lack the ring of Budge and Kramer, but Smith (Stan) has suddenly become most uncommon

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For all those who complain that the news media are inclined to report only the nasty things in life, who moan that the vast majority of young people are decent sorts who do not mug, maim or murder, nor snort drugs, nor wear ratty clothes, but they don't ever get their names in the newspapers—well, here is equal time. Break out the Dr. Peppers, call the fellows at the lodge, stick on another Old Glory decal and start a mail campaign to demand that the Reader's Digest reprint this article. Yes, at last, now for the good news:

Stan Smith.

Among other things, Stan Smith is deeply religious, God-fearing, temperate and disciplined, a true sportsman, a respectful loving son and a self-made champion whose "corny dream" is to build and manage his own YMCA. John Calvin would be proud of him. Despite a somewhat limited schedule last year, as befits a Specialist Fourth Class in the U.S. Army, Smith made some $90,000 in prize money, endorsed products for Wilson, Sportface, Pro- Keds, Vabollin and Golden Eagle, and was otherwise affiliated with an insurance agency, Pepsi and the tennis club at Hilton Head, S.C. Obviously, there is still a healthy market for wholesomeness, at least when it resides within greatness.

The fact is that because Daniel Ellsberg does not work for the USLTA, it is still pretty much of a state secret that this serene, assured young man from Pasadena named Smith is arguably the best American tennis player. At 25 he is also the youngest of the very top-flight players in the world, so that before much longer he should become the first undisputed American world champion since Kramer and Gonzales. Furthermore, he and tennis appear to be reaching their peaks at the same time, a provident coincidence that could make Smith the most famous and best-paid athlete in the world in just a few more years. That may sound fanciful, but Smith always rides a collision course with luck. "Being in the right spot at the right time is the name of my game," he says. "I know it. But then you start thinking you're lucky, and you end up being lucky, and you change the whole pattern of your life."

If Smith is too controlled and colorless ever to emerge as a really engaging public personality, he certainly will make a different kind of champion. He can, for example, easily produce a statement such as this: "So let's say I become a millionaire. Is that going to make me happy? I don't think the satisfaction of accomplishment can make me happy either. There must be more, and, for me, living for something else besides money and success is living for Christ and what he has taught." Yet Smith is no stuffy moralist, middle-aged before his time. As his father is quick to explain: "Stan belongs to Athletes in Action...for Christ and was always involved in that sort of thing. Of course, now, he was never overdoing it."

Although Smith is not going to dance around with lampshades on his head, he is not going to pass up a few beers and a leggy brunette for vespers either. This has not always been the case. As a teen-ager, he was too much of a zealot, unyielding, unable to laugh at himself, somewhat intolerant of other people's styles.

Bob Lutz, Smith's doubles partner for several years, is an entirely different type—short and stocky, breezy and saucy. People have naturally assumed that because they played together so well for so long, they must be close. "I played with him for five years, but we hardly knew each other," Lutz says. "Even when I roomed with him, I only met him on the court. Stan used to get so worried about the way I lived that sometimes I think it hurt his own game.

"He was never shy, just independent in his own way. He didn't want to associate with the guys. He kept to himself. He'd look down on others sometimes because he thought his way of training was the only way, best for everyone. We'd all go out, he'd stay in his room and jump rope. A lot of the guys were always making fun of him, but that never seemed to bother him. Now Stan is more open, more hang-loose. He does what he thinks he should do, not what someone else has told him to do."

At a tournament in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, Lutz was lounging at poolside with a girl friend who was working on a new banana daiquiri. It was a viciously hot day and Smith had just come off the court. He inquired what Lutz' young lady was drinking. Lutz said it was a fruit drink, whereupon Smith grabbed the glass and tossed the daiquiri down. "All of a sudden," Lutz says, "he's giggling and running around, and he runs up on the high board, and dives off and lands about this far from the side of the pool, from the cement.

"Stan's girl was delighted. She was always asking me to loosen him up for her. She runs over to me and says, 'Gee, thanks for finally loosening him up, Bob.' I said, 'Yeah, I'm glad I loosened him up, but I don't want to kill him.' "

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