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Joe Jares
July 02, 1973
A ban and a boycott ruin the field for the premier event of tennis as trouble over the man from Split rends the men's game
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July 02, 1973

Dark Fortnight For Wimbledon...

A ban and a boycott ruin the field for the premier event of tennis as trouble over the man from Split rends the men's game

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The players, most of whom were gathered at the Queen's Club in London for a tournament, were disappointed at the decision and angered by the reaction. They had been seeking to have the ban lifted, not to have the right or wrong of Pilic's case decided. The night of the court decision the ATP board met at the Westbury Hotel and voted 7-1 (two abstained) to go through with the boycott.

The next morning, Wednesday, Pilic packed his bags and tried to get through to Yugoslavian Airlines on the telephone. Each time he picked up the phone the Evening Standard or The Guardian would be on the other end firing questions. At last he made his reservation, checked out and headed for the airport in a taxi, a photographer on the jump seat shooting pictures of him all the way, a reporter on the other jump seat trying to turn the conversation to the boycott.

Sick of being in the limelight and fed up with being a "guinea piggie," Pilic seemed pleased to have the company but preferred to talk about his new restaurant in Split. He did say he would be ready to fly back if he were reinstated.

There were glimmers of hope at Queen's Club, too. In the pressroom and in the lounge upstairs where players and rackets lay scattered over the premises, the rumors buzzed. When ATP Treasurer Arthur Ashe came hurrying through and was asked, "What's up?" he answered, "A lot." Eldon Griffiths, Britain's Minister for Sport, had stepped in at week's end to try to save the situation and was talking with Kramer and Drysdale.

There was at least one precedent for a government official breaking in on a tennis dispute. In 1928 the USLTA banned Bill Tilden for "professionalism," i.e., writing a series of articles for a handsome fee. The U.S. was about to meet France in the Davis Cup Challenge Round, so France, fearful of a fiasco at the gate, appealed to the U.S. Ambassador, Myron Herrick, who in turn ordered the USLTA to forgive Tilden.

But Griffiths did not have as much clout as the old U.S. Ambassador to France and could do nothing to save the situation. Wimbledon Referee Mike Gibson finally gave up Friday morning and put out a new men's draw. No. 1 was Ilie Nastase of Rumania, an ATP member who said he had been ordered to play by his national association. No. 2: Jan Kodes of Czechoslovakia. No. 3, and the one resented most by ATP: Englishman Roger Taylor.

Taylor is an ATP member who happens to live in a lovely house by Wimbledon Common, so close to Centre Court that, when the wind is in the right quarter, he can hear from his front door the snip-snipping of the manicuring scissors. At first he said he would go along with the boycott but declined to sign a withdrawal form. His wife plainly wanted him to play, and the British Lawn Tennis Association sent him and countryman Mark Cox identical messages:

"As an Englishman you may feel that to an even greater extent than overseas players you are under an obligation to respect the decision of a British court."

Friday morning, not long before the deadline for the new draw, Taylor phoned Mike Gibson and said he was boycotting. Minutes later he rang back and said, "I'll play." Cox, however, stayed with the union.

"The ATP took the thing to the courts with the most honorable intentions but didn't abide by the decision," Taylor reasoned. "I consider myself an ATP member. Obviously, there is a bit of tension, to say the least. I would hope they'd give me the freedom of choice."

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