SI Vault
Joe Jares
January 29, 1973
Rod Laver got one and Dick Stockton the other as the WCT started a four-month tour that will reach the world's capitals and crannies. While the Aussie won in Miami, reports from Wales were foggy
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 29, 1973

First A Massage, Then A Message

Rod Laver got one and Dick Stockton the other as the WCT started a four-month tour that will reach the world's capitals and crannies. While the Aussie won in Miami, reports from Wales were foggy

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

As if the blasted sports world were not confusing enough already, what with male and female golf tours, bowling tours and tennis tours—was it Billie Jean Whitworth who bowled that perfect game in San Jose, or Slammin' Sammy Petraglia?—the men's racket squad has now doubled its size and split in two. Yes, World Championship of Tennis, the international circuit run by Texas zillionaire Lamar Hunt, is now twins, cleverly named Group A and Group B. Each is headed by a slight Australian, A by Rod Laver, B by Ken Rose-wall. At this time it is not known which group has fewer cavities, but A definitely has fewer Czechoslovakians.

Group A made its debut last week in the $50,000 Saga Bay Tennis Classic on the asphalt courts of the University of Miami, a five-day fling that had all sorts of pleasant diversions. Cliff Richey and Nikki Pilic were on hand to fuss and fume at officials, always a jolly sight. Aussie vaudeville star John Alexander showed off a few clown routines, including one in which he chased an angled shot, landed in a pretty girl's lap and then called for his opponent to hit it there again. For those who did not care for sideshows, Wimbledon champion and Davis Cup hero Stan Smith, known as Godzilla to some, Mr. Clean to others, was there for his first taste of WCT combat. And the 34-year-old master, Laver, was returning after a more than three-month layoff forced by an aching back.

The rest apparently did Laver some good because he got to the finals as expected this time, where his opponent was not second-seeded Smith or third-seeded Cliff Drysdale or any of the 12 seeds. Instead it was 21-year-old Dick Stockton, who just last June was graduated summa cum laude in tennis from Trinity University in Texas. He was the 1972 NCAA champion, which does not exactly compare in the credentials department with Laver's two Grand Slams. Stockton played well in the finals, and even took Rocket to a tiebreaker in the first set, but his elder had too many tricks, too much experience, and won in straight sets 7-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Laver collected $10,000 for winning the singles and later in the day he picked up $900 as his share of the doubles first prize. Since he had already won $1,500 in a pro-am earlier in the week he left Florida with $12,400 and high hopes that his back would hold up under the grind. All this, said a press-box wit, and he didn't even have to tip a caddie.

This new twin-tour idea was made possible when WCT and the International Lawn Tennis Federation signed a truce last year. WCT had an international panel of 29 sportswriters rate the world's players—Laver, Rosewall, John Newcombe of Australia and Smith finishing in that order at the top—right down to No. 125, Paul Gerken. WCT invited the top 64 and a few substitutes to compete and most accepted. WCT then filled the berths by going down the list in order. A fellow named Stockton was ranked 65th. No. 3 Newcombe and No. 9 Ilie Nastase of Rumania were the more important decliners.

Dividing the 64 players into two nearly equal groups, a task demanding the skills of a diplomat, travel agent and juggler, was the headache of Welshman Mike Davies, WCT executive director. Every day for six weeks he fiddled with the lists, feeling like a little boy preparing the rosters for a dice-baseball league—toying with the fates of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays on his kitchen table. There could be no divorces among such successful, longtime doubles teams as Okker-Riessen and Laver-Emerson. Group A was going to South Africa, so Arthur Ashe, a black, would no doubt prefer to be in B, away from apartheid, but that meant he would not be playing in his hometown, Richmond, Va. Ray Moore of South Africa normally would have been put in A, but he wanted to be with B's free-spirited contingent, Jeff Borowiak, Haroon Rahim and Torben Ulrich. And so on, a thousand combinations swirling in Davies' mind.

He finally settled on two lists, heaved a sigh of relief and almost immediately had to begin shuffling again. Joaquin Loyo-Mayo of Mexico, no bigger than a chihuahua and apparently just as flighty, dropped out to work for a cigarette company. Alexander Metreveli of the U.S.S.R. joined up and had to be put in B because his country does not truck with South Africa, which led to Frank Froehling being transferred to A, which led to Charlie Pasarell being unhappy in B because Froehling had been his doubles partner, all of which made Davies wake up screaming in the night.

Well, Loyo-Mayo gave up tobacco and came back, Davies managed to reunite Pasarell and Froehling in A, and after a few million other adjustments WCT-73 was ready to wend its merry, bifurcated way. Each group will play 11 tournaments, A starting in the U.S. and Canada and then going abroad, B doing the reverse. Six of the 22 finals will be televised live by NBC. The top finishers in singles and doubles at each event will be awarded money, of course, and points. The four doubles teams from each group with the most points will compete in Montreal May 3-May 6 for $80,000 in prize money, the most by far ever offered for doubles. A week later in Dallas the eight leading singles players—again, four from each group—will be clawing each other for shares of $100,000.

Otherwise the twain shall meet only twice during the season, at two all-star events, the Aetna World Cup in Hartford, Conn., and the CBS Tennis Classic in Hilton Head, S.C., both in March, with neither counting in the point derby.

A continuing annoyance to WCT staff members has been their inability to dream up jazzy names for their two caravans. A and B are not only dull but also imply there is a difference in quality. The traditional National-American designation is inappropriate since 19 countries are represented in the two troupes and nine countries will host tournaments. Blacks-Whites might cause some nervousness in Johannesburg and, besides, any pair of colors could confuse fans because of the pros' rainbow wardrobes, e.g., red-haired Laver of the Blues playing in yellow. In Miami the press-box and locker-room habitu�s also came up with: Lavers-Rosewalls, Globetrotters-Nomads, World-Global, East-West, Faults-Double Faults, Forehands-Backhands, Aces-Slams, Aces-Deuces, Ad In-Ad Out and Ad Infinitum-Ad Nauseum. None of them quite struck the desired note.

Continue Story
1 2