Bunis has gathered a strong group. The bearded Dane, Torben Ulrich, 45; Segura and Gonzales, who were noncommittal at first; ex- Wimbledon and Forest Hills champion Vic Seixas, 50; Hugh Stewart, 45, the national collegiate champion for USC 22 years ago; ex-French champion Sven Davidson, 45, of Sweden; Frank Parker, 57, the only man alive who has won the U.S. Boys, Juniors and Men's titles; Grandfather Gardnar Mulloy, 60, winner of 46 national championships and a tennis teacher who charges $50 an hour for lessons at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach; San Francisco Attorney Tom Brown, 51, runner-up at Wimbledon just after World War II. Melt down all the trophies in their closets and you would have enough metal to put Bunis back in business.
The Grand Masters format is simple. Eight oldsters play singles and doubles Friday, Saturday and Sunday, taking up one court and eight lockers. If Bunis can deliver Gonzales for the weekend, the bigger gate allows him to offer $10,000 in prize money. If not, it drops to $8,000. A first-round loser in both singles and doubles at a " Gonzales" tournament still goes home with $725. A winner in both gets $2,800. Not bad pay for taking only one day off from a regular job.
Bunis insists that his show is not like those oldtimers' baseball games at Yankee Stadiim. "This is the first time in the history of sports that the alltime greats, the living legends, the Hall of Famers, have returned to play the game competitively for prize money," he says. "I think we're something more than old guys out there for sentimental reasons. We're beyond that. I will not play anybody on an exhibition basis because one of our sources of appeal is that these men play as hard as they can. I don't want an exhibition situation."
The idea already has interested others besides Bunis and his Masters. The group has commercial tie-ins with manufacturers of balls, tennis clothes and tennis shoes. Bunis says that both the Forest Hills and Pacific Southwest tournaments have expressed interest in having TGM (the initials are inevitable) as an added attraction. Several resorts want to be known as TGM's "official home." Bunis thinks a team match against the Virginia Slims' women stars would prove lucrative. And he thinks a manufacturer of a luxury product will assume sponsorship of his whole circuit next year—the Cadillac Tennis Grand Masters has a nice ring to it, he thinks.
"I've wondered at times if I was being a fool, a retired businessman with a silly daydream," Bunis says. "But now, less than a year after it was just a figment of my imagination, it's a going concern."
Going so bully, in fact, that Bunis' telephone bill is running about $18,000 a year, much of that for calls to Sedgman in Australia and leaving messages at various spots for Gonzales.
Gonzales is obviously vital to TGM success. Sedgman can remain at home with his squash courts and Ulrich the Dane can be off playing on Lamar Hunt's World Championship Tennis circuit—which were the cases last week—and Bunis will still have a good show. But he needs Pancho for that extra prize money, extra crowd pull and major league aura. Gonzales has not signed a contract with Tennis Grand Masters, preferring to maintain his lone-wolf style. But he doesn't snarl as often as he used to. "I've learned to control my temper," he said at Forest Hills last year. "At my age, getting angry uses up too much valuable energy." In fact, in his three days of playing at Tempe, Gonzales often cracked a smile and even tossed out a few quips on court.
He took it easy in a singles match with his old doubles partner, Frank Parker (they won Wimbledon 25 years ago), but once, after three dynamite serves, he felt compelled to call out, "It went that way, Frank. I'm not hitting it where I see it either. I'm just doing it from memory."
Gonzales won easily 6-4, 6-4, then had some more laughs the next day with Hugh Stewart, who beat him in his first tournament when they were both 14. Stewart has not won many of their matches since then.
"I feel like a Roman gladiator being led into the Colosseum," Stewart said before going out on the court.