- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Forget for a moment the other questions simmering on the tennis stove. We are not going to decide here which is the better racket, wood or metal, or who will win the Margaret Court-Bobby Riggs battle of the sexes next month, or whether the USLTA and the Virginia Slims women pros will ever quit squabbling. No, those vital issues must wait. The subject under discussion has to do with the World Championship Tennis twin tours, and the question is this: Should Group B dispense with the services of its trainer and hire a psychiatrist instead?
Group B definitely seems to suffer from an inferiority complex. No doubt it started with the group's name. Director Lamar Hunt and his staff might have come up with he-man names like Aces and Slams, but instead chose Group A and Group B. Aaarrgg and Bleahhh. B is the lesser grade on a report card, grade B movies are synonymous with poor quality and anybody who has ever played high school quoits knows that the B team is smaller and weaker than the varsity. The television people knew which was which. NBC made plans to broadcast the finals of six regular tournaments, four of Group A's, only two of B's. The decision just made things worse.
While A opened last January in sunny Florida and California, B was lost somewhere in the fogs of Wales and later was watching out for bits of falling ceiling in Milan's Sports Palace. Getting wind of B's various and sundry complaints, the fellows in Group A dispatched a large get-well card describing the fine weather they were enjoying, the plentiful beer and the abundance of festive parties.
Now the tables have turned, at least in the travel department, and Group A is overseas, hopping sleeplessly from Europe to South Africa and back again on a jumping bean itinerary that even Henry Kissinger wouldn't attempt. The B's have been careening around the U.S., last week stopping in Ohio for the second annual Cleveland Classic, and the results there were almost bound to add to Group B's collective angst.
While every Group A tournament to date but one has been hogged by either Stan Smith or Rod Laver, B has been doling out blue ribbons as if there were a limit of one to a customer. Nobody would have been too shocked if Premjit Lall or Boro Javanovic had taken his rightful turn. In Great Britain the winner was Brian Fairlie, a chunky young New Zealander whose wife prepares his horoscope before every match. That was a dandy week for Gemini. In Italy the stars were propitious for Marty Riessen. Then for Roger Taylor in Denmark, Jan Kodes in Germany, Arthur Ashe in Chicago, Tom Okker in Merrifield, Va., Tom Gorman in Vancouver, British Columbia and, finally, for Ken Rosewall in Houston. And then last week the 38-year-old Rosewall bashed Taylor 6-3, 6-4 to become the B's first repeat winner. Nine tournaments, eight different winners. And nine players with good shots at finishing in the group's top four and thereby earning an invitation to the rich WCT finals in Dallas next month.
To the B's, smarting under their name and their lesser television exposure, their diversity was argued as proof that B was grade A and certainly homogenized. They had a semi-raunchy group photograph taken of themselves and sent it to the varsity along with a greeting card that said, "To The Stan and Rod Show. Thanks for the card. We're wondering who else is in your group."
"It's quite simple," said Ray Moore of South Africa. "This group is a lot stronger than the other group. Here some very strong players were not even seeded. We've just got so much strength all the way down."
For the B's in Cleveland—despite good coverage in the local newspapers and the energetic promotional efforts of an organization called the Junior Women's Committee of the Cleveland Orchestra, which hoped to benefit from the proceedings—very few people showed up for the early-round matches in 7,000-seat Public Hall. Part of the problem had to do with the way the tournament was scheduled: most of the hot singles matches were played during the day and the evenings' entertainments were mostly doubles.
Taylor complained that the place seemed empty and that it hurt his concentration. "It's like playing in a vacuum," he said. Jan Kodes called it "the worst crowd I've ever seen in my life," which—considering how things have sometimes been at other stops—seems hardly likely. The remarks brought down the wrath of the Junior Women's Committee, especially on the more widely quoted Taylor, who must have felt as if he had just sent up 10 weak lobs and was having all of them slammed back at him simultaneously.
The committee was perhaps too harsh on poor unjolly Roger, but you have to understand that people in Cleveland, like the players in B, also have an inferiority complex. The town's attitude toward itself was nicely summed up by an ad in the tournament program for a popular steak house. Its slogan: "Not a great restaurant, but more than adequate when you consider the alternatives."