Some years ago in a hot Cleveland arena a professional tennis player named Eddie Alloo played a match while wearing a wrestling villain's hood, the first and only time a masked marvel has invaded the genteel sport. People who were there figured that they had seen it all, but they were wrong. Consider last week. While a new gimmick called team tennis was making its debut in various North American cities before cheering, jeering—and precious few—fans, down in Dallas an electronic gizmo was calling the serves and a teen-age Swede, not even old enough to drive a car in his native country, was playing for $50,000.
The occasion was the fourth annual World Championship Tennis final, and the Scandinavian whiz kid was Bjorn Borg, 17, who sports a Prince Valiant-length blond mane and has fjord water in his veins. Unfortunately, his opponent, 12 years his senior, was John Newcombe of Australia, who had been pointing for this day for nine months.
"When he's eager and keen and wants something badly," said another pro, speaking of Newcombe, "there's very little you can do to stop him."
Indeed, there was little Borg could do after the first set except pay attention and learn his lessons. Before 9,238 fans in Moody Coliseum and a national television audience, and with Borg's parents and a good part of the Swedish populace listening on radio, Newcombe battered the kid 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 and won the $50,000, the use of a Cadillac for a year, $1,000 worth of clothes for his wife Angie and a diamond ring with the score engraved on the band. With his second place in WCT doubles seven days earlier and his bonus for leading the regular WCT season in points, Newcombe collected $83,000 in the two-week. He has won $174,085 for the year and there are still 6� months to go.
Borg started surprisingly well, breaking Newcombe in the first and third games and jumping off to a 4-0 lead in the first set. But although forced to work hard, Newcombe was in command the rest of the way. In his previous two trips to Dallas he lost in the first round. This time he was ready.
The cast in Dallas, fondly referred to in press releases and in the program as the "exceptional eight," in addition to Borg and Newcombe consisted of Rod Laver of Australia, Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith of the U.S., Ilie Nastase of Rumania, Tom (The Twitch) Okker of The Netherlands and Jan Kodes of Czechoslovakia. They were the point leaders from the Red, Blue and Green WCT tours that started in January.
As a Buck Rogers treat for the exceptional eight, the WCT brass introduced an electronic service linesman. A supersensitive netting resembling aluminum foil was laid down under the Supreme Court indoor surface and just beyond each service line. A thin wire was put under the service lines, and if a ball hit the line the system was deactivated, and nothing happened. If a serve was a fault, a "fault" sign appeared briefly on the scoreboard and on a mysterious brown box by the net judge's chair, and the human service linesman got buzzed by his special earplug. "It certainly stops you from arguing with the linesman," said Newcombe. "What can you say? He just says, 'It's the machine.' Who are you going to argue with then? You think I can beat up a computer?"
No, but just about anything else. Newcombe went into Dallas as the strong favorite. WCT polled its 84 players and 44 of them picked Newcombe to win, 19 to come in second. After all, he had finished 50 points ahead of his nearest rival in the lucrative competition underwritten by Haggar slacks and had a 38-6 record in singles.
He served beautifully Wednesday night and blew Okker out in three straight sets. Afterward Okker was asked about the buzzing linesman. "In my experience," he said, "it seems to record 75% aces when the other man is serving."
In the other Wednesday quarterfinal, Smith beat Laver in four sets, helped by Rod's atrocious serving. Laver went to Dallas in good shape, wanting the title very badly. It is one of the few tournaments he has not won. If he makes it again next year, he will be 36.