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Joe Jares
January 27, 1975
Attempting to recapture his winning ways, Stan Smith, the erstwhile hot tamale of tennis, joined his college coach for a cram session in Mexico
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January 27, 1975

In Pursuit Of Higher Earnings

Attempting to recapture his winning ways, Stan Smith, the erstwhile hot tamale of tennis, joined his college coach for a cram session in Mexico

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With his pupils Toley is like a stereo freak fussing with speakers and components. He is constantly tinkering—changing this, installing that, suggesting, adjusting, sitting in the stands during matches and quietly telling his tiny tape recorder about every mistake he sees and what should be done about it. Since tennis players do not have any built-in dials to twirl, getting changes programmed into them is usually not easy, but Smith was always receptive. Toley remembers fiddling with his forehand—getting him to use more wrist—in the middle of the 1966 college season, something that would throw most players off their game. Smith made the adjustment readily.

Their relationship has continued. At Forest Hills last summer Smith was struggling against Jaime Fillol of Chile. Rain delayed the match, and Toley broke away from some meetings in Manhattan to get to the courts. He noticed that Stan's feet "were just like they were frozen." It is Toley's theory that when Smith lacks confidence it shows up in his feet and he becomes as nimble as a cigar-store Indian. Toley called to him from the stands, Smith heard, and he started to get up on his toes and be in motion as Fillol hit his serve. Later, Toley saw that Smith was throwing the ball up too far in front of his body on his second serve. He called out advice, and Smith followed it right away. The tips probably made the difference, because Smith won in a fifth-set tie breaker.

At Estero Beach, Toley used a videotape recorder to capture the play of Smith, van Dillen and Ramirez, then analyzed their every tic during long sessions in his room. The coach is a walking recorder of the sport, and his pupils listen when he runs off the reels in his mind and highlights a few frames.

" Don Budge had great eyes," he may say. "He used a 17-ounce bludgeon, three ounces heavier than anybody uses today, but he still got it back in time because his great eyes helped his anticipation." Or, "There was a famous match between Jack Kramer and Frankie Parker at Forest Hills, one of Kramer's last matches as an amateur. Jack lost the first two sets hitting returns two feet wide. He had so much confidence that he kept hitting them the same way; they started going in and the match was over."

Toley did not make any radical changes in Smith's game at Estero, just intricate little things to ensure that the prize watch keeps better time, things that fans in front of the tube or at tournaments this year will be able to notice only if they know what to look for.

Toley thinks Smith has been too timid on backhand service returns, waiting to make sure where the ball is going, then making sure to get the ball back. Toley had him stand closer and got him to start moving almost before the server struck the ball, "maybe missing a few more balls but making some outright winners more often or some real tough shots more often."

On offense, Toley made him serve and then hustle to the net more quickly. Once again, Toley felt Smith had been too cautious. "He was running to about a step back of the service line," he says, "or at most, to the service line, and kind of waiting to see where the ball was going to go, and then moving. Well, I'm trying to get him to move inside that service line, then he'll still have time to wait. The interval will just be shorter. Then he'll be up there close where if someone does have a weak return, he can simply gobble it up at the height of its arc and do something with it."

Toley also worked on making Smith gamble more at the net, anticipating instead of always being dead sure; on putting more underslice on volleys for better control; and on serving "with a little more explosion" instead of a "continual rhythm." Toley feels that Smith has been "trying so hard not to miss the ball and not get passed, that his movements weren't natural enough."

At the end of the sessions at Estero, Smith's strokes looked natural and powerful, and Toley was satisfied that he had made a contribution. That kind of satisfaction is the only kind of pay he gets from Trojan alumni, who manage to show their appreciation in other ways. His former players, people like Smith and Davis Cup Captain Dennis Ralston, organized a testimonial for Toley last spring and one of the gifts they gave him was an all-expense trip to Wimbledon this summer. He has never been there and he wants to add new reels of tape to his brain.

Two days after New Year's, Smith and his bride took off for their home at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, where there is room for only a few of their wedding presents. A few days later they left for the CBS Classic in Puerto Rico, the beginning of a new cycle of pressure and jet lag. If they are lucky, they might get all of seven weeks at home this year.

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