Actually, there is nothing new about promoters trying to turn an individual or tournament game into a team sport. It has been tried with bowling, boxing and golf without success. What is unique about WTT is that it is intersexional. Women are down there on the field of combat with men, playing mixed doubles for pay, their singles matches counting for just as much. Ms. King is not only the star of the Philadelphia Freedoms, she is also the coach—Mother Freedom. "We're a second-half ball club," she said last week in her best Red Auerbach imitation.
Another unique thing about WTT is that it allows, even encourages, yelling and rooting during a match. The Hawaii Leis, whose nickname has inspired a series of bad jokes, plan to pass out megaphones to their fans. Pittsburgh has the Goola-gongs, and the Boston Lobsters have a cheerleading mascot, a young fellow dressed up in an orange-red lobster outfit with a racket in one claw and shocking-pink panty hose peeking out from under the tail. In Philly a bell tolls every time the Freedoms win a set.
"I think it's great," said King. "I've been waiting a long time to have people hoot and holler."
"I really liked the whole thing," said New York Sets' Player-Coach Manuel Santana. "When they start cheering for you during a match it makes you feel good."
Cheering, yes, but heckling, no, was the view of Pittsburgh Player-Coach Ken Rosewall. His Triangles lost to Philly 31-25 in the WTT inaugural in the Spectrum. The two teams met again for the Pittsburgh debut, the Freedoms winning one more, 30-25. Rosewall was receiving serve and a young Britisher sitting on Philly's bench, Buster Mottram, began to heckle him. Rosewall lost the point and was so angry he nearly stalked off the court. He did shake his racket in King's face in the manner of a scolding teacher shaking his finger at a juvenile delinquent. Then he shook his racket at the Freedoms' bench. King kept Mottram reasonably quiet for the rest of the match.
Rosewall and King argued about crowd noise afterward, with Mother Freedom insisting, "I'm all for yelling. It's good for the game—especially this kind of game."
Amid all this ballpark-stadium-carnival din, the players and spectators have to keep in mind a batch of rule changes so radical that the lords of lawn tennis must be dropping their monocles. The WTT format is one set of women's singles, one set of men's singles and one set of mixed doubles, followed by a 15-minute halftime (which lasted in some cases up to an hour). The second half is a repeat—men, women, mixed—although not necessarily with the same players.
Substitutions are allowed. For instance, Kristy Pigeon of Hawaii (wearing a pretty white frock with a multi-colored cloth lei embroidered around the neckline) started the second-half women's singles against New York's Pam Teeguarden. Bingo, she was behind 3-0 and couldn't seem to keep her serves inside the Nassau Coliseum. Hawaii Player-Coach Dennis Ralston yanked her, put in Valerie Ziegenfuss and temporarily looked like Casey Stengel when Ziegenfuss broke Teeguarden's serve. But Pam went on to win and Val didn't get a "save."
The scoring in each game is no-ad (1, 2, 3, game, rather than the hoary 15, 30, 40, game). If a game goes to 3-3, the next point wins. No ads or deuces. The cumulative team scoring allows a point for each game won. If the Houston EZ Riders win the first three sets 6-0, they go off at halftime with an 18-0 lead. If the sets were 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, the score would be 16-11.
Team tennis is one of the few sports in which one side can be mathematically eliminated before the contest is over, and it can be a frightful bore watching the Cleveland Nets and Detroit Loves finishing out a meaningless mixed doubles. But there can be slambang climaxes and comebacks, too. Unfortunately, most of Florida's home-opener crowd of 5,126 had departed by midnight, when the Flamingos' team of Mark Cox and Betty Ann Grubb won 12 of the final 15 points to beat Los Angeles 27-26.