Tennis, the once softly rounded game of love and deuce and green lawns, has marched into the metallic computer age. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) merely feeds in the raw data on, say, Corrado Barazzutti—the tension of his racket gut multiplied by the length of his right sneaker, his finish in the Timbuktu Classic, the velocity of his forehand, his mother's secret recipe for linguine with clam sauce—and, whiz, whir, click, out pops his proper place in the worldwide rankings. Tournaments then use these results to make their seedings. Arthur Ashe, to pick out a player placed somewhat higher than Barazzutti, is such a believer that he is willing to bet anyone $500 at the beginning of a tournament that one of the seeds will win.
"The ATP ratings do not lie," he says. "I'm not saying they're the Bible, but they're up there."
But last week at the U.S. Pro Indoor Championship in Philadelphia's Spectrum, if the computer didn't lie, it did fib a little. Top-seeded Bjorn Borg was folded, spindled and mutilated almost before he could get warmed up. No. 2 Rod Laver managed to lose his first match. Stan Smith, No. 6 seed, and Tom Okker, No. 4, were both indelicately dumped in the third round. No. 3 Guillermo Vilas stayed home in Argentina nursing his dyspepsia. One seed was beaten in the first round, two in the second, seven in the third and two in the fourth.
But if Ashe had bet, he would have won. No. 7 Marty Riessen, the only seed to make it out of the quarterfinals, went on to beat 20-year-old Vitas Gerulaitis in the Sunday final 7-6, 5-7, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 and earn not only $15,000 but the most important title of his 16 years in big-time tennis.
As the kickoff for Lamar Hunt's 1975 World Championship Tennis tour, it was suitable that the U.S. Indoor was scrambled and full of interesting upsets because that is just how the whole tour figures to be. By the time the circuit ends in May with the singles final in Dallas, the tennis nomads will have traveled 73,064 miles and earned more than $2 million in prize money.
Ashe himself took part in the most interesting upset of the week. In the quarters he met unseeded Jaime Fillol of Chile and did not seem too perturbed when he lost the first set in a tie breaker, 7-6. He breezed in the second set, 6-2. Four times in the third he had match point on Fillol—one point separating him from victory. Each time Fillol managed to wiggle off the hook. When the score reached 6-6, they played the WCT sudden-death tie breaker, in which the first player to reach seven points wins. Ashe took a 6-3 lead and thus had the splendid luxury of needing to win only one of the four possible match points. Fillol served twice and won to hoist himself to 5-6. It was Ashe's turn to serve, a distinct advantage. But he hit a low volley out of bounds, making it 6-6 and match point either way. He served again, raced up to hit a relatively easy forehand volley—and put it into the net.
Fillol had stared eight match points in the face and had not broken Ashe's serve even once in three sets, yet he had won. Ashe was like a boxer solidly outpointing his opponent for 14 rounds, then being knocked cuckoo in the 15th.
"I thought I had it won in the third set," said Ashe. "I thought I had it won a long time ago. I outplayed him in every department and still lost. That's why I probably won't sleep tonight."
"I never thought of losing the point," said Fillol. "If he was going to win it, good, but I wasn't going to lose it. That's what I was thinking."
Fillol's fun ended the next day when Riessen cooled the Chilean in straight sets, just as he had defeated Tony Roche, Syd Ball, Dick Dell and Anand Amritraj.