In Dallas last week the sport of tennis wore blue velvet and artificial flowers for a coming-out party. It dressed up in black tie, served Ch�teau Latour and played its grandest event in a musty old basketball house. Its zillionaire owner worked the press row in shirtsleeves and worn-heeled shoes. Its biggest stars were the smallest of men. And its guest of honor was a TV actor who beats up crooks with judo while trailing the leash of a seeing-eye dog.
In reality the velvet-covered walls encircling the court of SMU's Moody Coliseum signified the true flavor of the game. The locations of this season's early primaries in pro tennis were listed there, and so, in a sense, was the atmosphere. Cologne: beauty. Barcelona: romance. Quebec: pomp and ceremony. Stockholm: excitement and intrigue. Las Vegas: love games and angles. Charlotte: Moon Pie. And inside the velvet was the sport at its best. Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, two wee and wealthy fellows who could but the Kentucky Derby as well as ride in it, were battling for the championship of Dallas, Australia and the universe.
When Rosewall defeated Laver, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 in a thrilling 3�-hour contest that had the 7,800 spectators howling on every exchange, he did more than win the $50,000 first prize of World Championship Tennis and give gray-beards and midgets a new lease on their Dunlops. The victory was a measure of vindication for "Muscles." who had won this same title over Laver just last November—when it was considered something of a fluke. Then, all he had done was deprive the Rocket of a $300,000 season. Now, he has given everybody reason to pause and contemplate who really is the world's finest player in the big ones.
To reach the climax of the rearranged WCT 20-tournament circuit. Laver had won eight events and then cut through John Newcombe and Marty Riessen last week. The 37-year-old Rosewall, meanwhile, disposed of two Americans, Bob Lutz and Arthur Ashe, to bring his creaking, stroking-machine body back to defend his championship.
Seeking revenge, Laver started the finals with a rush, but then mysteriously lost all control of his first service. In one stretch he failed to make good on 28 of 39 first serves, and Rosewall marched into the lead. The Rocket struggled back by taking a tie breaker in the fourth set, 7-3, and the stage was set for the finale of what turned out to be the most dramatic match the two old friends had ever played.
Rosewall made the first move, breaking Laver in the second game with a sensational backhand that he had to run halfway to Fort Worth to get. But suddenly his legs just disappeared and he lost command. Still, Laver's serve continued to be erratic (10 double faults) and Rosewall had him down 4-5 and match point in the 10th game. Then, whap. Ace. Whap, whap. Laver was saved again. More than that, he was ahead 5-4 in the tie breaker and had two serves for the victory. Then it happened. Rosewall called up all his strength to jump on both of Laver's first serves so fast the Rocket must have felt he was in a boomerang gallery.
Now Rosewall led 6-5 and when the Rocket returned the defending champion's own unimpressive serve into the net. the Doomsday Machine had staggered to a classic win at the WCT gala coming-out party.
In a manner of speaking what Rosewall, Laver, WCT and its cash-and-carry commander, Lamar Hunt, all will be coming out from in future weeks is incarceration behind bars. They had been detained in Custody since last July at Wimbledon when the 91-nation International Lawn Tennis Federation banned Hunt's WCT players from federation-sanctioned tournaments as of January of this year.
The ILTF action came about because of several factors, depending on who is to be believed. The international group alleged that Hunt wanted a high percentage of the gate at Wimbledon as well as a piece of the action on car parking, catering and television, the choice of tennis balls plus—get this—the introduction of colored shirts. For his part Hunt said he was using up-to-date business methods, that he only wanted pro tennis to be a viable institution like other U.S. pro sports and that he had demanded only reimbursement of air fares.
Hunt sat there stoically at Wimbledon last July as Herman David, the chairman of the All England Club, heaped scorn upon abuse while pointing at Hunt and saying something like, "This man will not tell us how to run tennis."