Moreover, when he slips into his $26 Head double-knit shorts and $28 Adidas shoes, and she into her $75 Ginori ballerina knit with matching sweater (lace, panties optional), and they pack their $50 Gucci tennis bag to go swat a few fuchsia-colored $4-a-can Penn tennis balls with their $145 Chemold graphite rackets, the tennis couple will have made a staggering contribution to style as well as commerce. Style, alas, is one of the larger amplifiers of the boom.
Other worms in this particular apple do not stand out so boldly. For the workaday tennis professional there are some subtle financial traps. It is one thing to be an enthusiastic capitalist—a pro in Phoenix named Martinez recently changed his name to Martennis when he realized how sweet it was to be alive and teaching the game in 1974—but quite another to sell the matching headbands, heat balms and ball hoppers the trade journals exhort him to. The stockpiles in pro shops grow to the ceilings, resulting in more than a few pros waking up with a $50,000 inventory and a $5,000 clientele. One Western sportswear salesman estimates there are 25,000 tennis dresses for every woman player in his area.
More alarming is the exploitation of the group lesson, a heretofore honest attempt by teaching pros to provide the fundamentals to beginners and children at a reasonable cost. In some large metropolitan areas the group lesson is fast becoming a group hustle. A pro who may or may not have been the fifth man on his high school team signs up 100 kids, promising a mass transfusion of technique. For $10 a series, the pupil gets to hit maybe five balls, a weekly lesson. He learns what you would expect him to learn hitting five balls a week. This is also known as "baby-sitting" by some pros.
Meanwhile, those who have already wearied of the crowded cockpits at public parks and clubs and have the money to do it, can, in a walk through the Yellow Pages, find any number of paving contractors willing to charge $20,000 and up to lay down a Har-Tru backyard court complete with windscreens and lights. An estimated 100,000 of these private oases now grace the suburbs from Simsbury, Conn. to Santa Barbara, Calif. There are, however, no guarantees of playing time. Owners sometimes have to beat off the neighbors' kids at 7 a.m. to get on. I know of one man who had his net slashed for discriminating against some teen-age strangers who tried to commandeer his court for a quick game or two. Furthermore, when a court owner turns on the lights for a night match, the neighbors are liable to turn up with the cops. One successful injunction that blacked out a court in Colorado argued that it looked like a used car lot.
To be sure, these are growing pains and not necessarily chronic, but to a tennis purist anything resembling permanent damage is suspect, and easily the most terrifying aspect of the tennis boom to him are the blows to the game's protocol—the creeping anarchy on the courts. World Team Tennis, which not only allows boorish behavior but advertises it in an effort to reproduce Ebbets Field, receives some of the blame for this, but is innocent. The WTT is merely trying to cover up basic flaws in its format. The WTT is not in the least responsible for the colorful behavior of the new breed of implacable rule-breakers and bad sports who can be found every day on private and public courts, dressed in cutoff jeans and striped beach shirts, and conventional whites as well, and making good progress toward converting tennis into a blood sport. Interestingly enough, much of this behavior is not manmade.
I have a neighbor, an otherwise rational mother of two, who annually submits to the lobotomy of being on the Women's B Team at a nearby yacht and tennis club. Her bottom lip trembles as she tells of her regular encounters with the backbiters, undercutters, character assassins and cheats who make up the various squads at her club. Last season two of these ladies had a fistfight on the court over a line call. The club pro, a man of immense tact and cold feet, will not touch the women's affairs with a 10-foot pole.
When the B Team reassembled this year, my neighbor, who had been having trouble with her back, was phoned by the team captain—a longtime friend whom she had introduced to the game and used to hit balls to by the hour—and told she had been put on injury waivers. "You can't be on the team," my neighbor was told. She said that after the initial shock she was more relieved than heartbroken. She vowed to spend more time with her bromeliads.
In the interest of putting these various parts of the tennis boom into a workable perspective, to tie them together for scrutiny and understanding, as one might reconstruct a colossus from the cut pieces in a meat case, an editor in New York who shares my infatuation for the game suggested we isolate on one particularly smitten area, go and give it the cool, appraising eye of the historian. A "tennis town," he said, where the game had burgeoned. "Take your racket," he said.
Denver, says Cliff Buchholz, the tennis pro and club developer, was ripe for a tennis jag because "it is a young, active, moneyed population that enjoys its leisure time." There are almost as many tennis programs in Denver as there are tennis courts. Under a variety of banners, citizens stage clinics, hold tournaments for all ages, take the game to the underprivileged and occupy every court in town almost around the clock.
There are 112 public courts in Denver, twice what there were five years ago and about half what is now needed. At City Park, Berkeley Park, Congress Park and Washington Park, the supply was routed by the demand. Tempers flared collectively. Management Consultant Leo Hagele, himself a shutout at one time or another, formed a "Tennis Action Group," called "TAG," to act as a cattle prod for improvements and for a tennis center of 50 courts or more, where fees could be charged and time limits imposed.