There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of tall, stately eucalyptus trees on the Stanford University campus, and behind every one is a tennis player. Straight white teeth. Handsome. A pair of rackets carried just so under whichever arm is not around a coed. Here is clean-cut Gene Mayer, only 18 but winner of six national titles. Here is deeply tanned Chico Hagey, an All-America when he was just a freshman. Those two mustachioed dudes are Chip Fisher, who had a 13-2 college singles record last year, and Tim Noonan, the 1973 New Zealand hard-court open champion.
None of these four was good enough to compete for the Stanford varsity last weekend. The fellows who were good enough beat the next-best teams in the country, USC and UCLA, by a combined score of 16-2 before perhaps the largest crowds in intercollegiate tennis history.
The organizer of the two-day proceedings and the man who has collected enough talent for two teams is Stanford Coach Dick Gould, who has " NCAA 1" on his Mercedes-Benz license plates, celebrating last year's title. It was Gould's plan that when perennial tennis powers USC and UCLA traveled to Palo Alto on their annual northern swing, they would play six matches in the afternoon on the varsity courts at the Stanford tennis stadium, then move indoors at night for the three most important matches. To this end he persuaded his athletic department to buy a slightly used Sportface carpet, which fit in perfectly at the modern Maples Pavilion. More than 10,000 tickets were sold in advance, the promotion being helped by Stanford's troubles in Los Angeles two weeks earlier. The Cardinals barely beat USC and were upset by UCLA 5-4.
" L.A. has smog, and the L.A. crowds are really vicious," said Stanford's ace, Alex Mayer. "They're a bunch of jerks.... UCLA is atrocious. To lose to them took a monumental effort. I would consider it one of the biggest upsets in the history of sports. Anybody who knows anything about tennis would have had to assume we threw the match on the basis of that score. It was impossible.
"But then, the whole scene was slightly incredible. There were guys in a nearby residence hall blowing a tuba every time [John] Whitlinger threw up the ball to serve. All match long there was a series of insults from out of the stands—rather personal insults, not just booing. It was a zoo."
Not since 1942, when Ted Schroeder was a member of the team, has Stanford beaten both USC and UCLA on its visit to L.A. It did not help Mayer's mood that he was upset by UCLA's Brian Teacher. Mayer had taken off a quarter semester to play the USLTA indoor circuit and turned down more than $40,000 in winnings so he could keep his college eligibility. And boom, a stringbean sophomore beats him.
Testy at best, Mayer, who beat Ilie Nastase at Wimbledon last year, cut loose in an interview in The Stanford Daily blasting Los Angeles, insulting Stanford women, claiming that tennis players could not see much beyond skirts and backgammon boards, and berating Stanford for not sending him an engraved invitation to its law school. If there was a target he missed, it was probably because he was not asked about it.
"For better or worse," gulped Coach Gould, "he's the most open and honest person you'll ever meet."
Not a half-bad hitter of tennis balls either, as the fans in Maples Pavilion soon found out. Mayer is very quick and, if it is true, as he claims, that he is not a natural athlete, he has been taught some lovely strokes by his father, a New Jersey pro. Mayer had to play second fiddle to hard-serving Roscoe Tanner as a sophomore, but last year he won the NCAA singles and is the odds-on favorite to do it again this June and become the first double winner since USC's Dennis Ralston in 1963-64.
Another intriguing aspect of the weekend was that the "no-ad" scoring system was used for all matches (and, in fact, is being used for most collegiate matches this year). According to hallowed tradition, a game of tennis is scored 15, 30, 40, "game." If a game is tied at 40-all, it is at "deuce" and must continue until one or the other player gets a two-point margin. An umpire's announcements might go like this: deuce, advantage Jones, deuce, advantage Smith, deuce, advantage Smith, deuce, advantage Jones and finally—just when everyone is tingling with excitement, dying of boredom or wondering what the deuce is going on—game, Jones. My ad, your ad, ad in, ad out, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.