Tennis is so wrapped up in its own stupid disputes that nobody ever has time to attend to the game itself. The two major innovations in tennis—open competition and the tie break—were both at least half a century overdue and came about largely because of divine intervention. Had not God put the breath of life, along with an excess of hot air, into James Van Alen and then blessed him with considerable resources so that he could spend most of his time writing bad poetry and hectoring tennis people about endless matches, we would still be suffering through 26-24 marathons. Similarly, had not Lamar Hunt been given a good pitch on a plane ride about investing a few spare dollar bills in an outlandish new round-robin tour, tennis still would be the outdoor drawing-room comedy it was for most of its first 95 years.
It is unlikely that the stars will align so as to grant tennis the blessings of benign intruders like Van Alen and Hunt more than every century or so. And because tennis people seem to be preoccupied with suing each other, boycotting each other and generally comporting themselves like damn fools, it becomes necessary for outsiders, an infidel like myself, to speak up in behalf of the poor game. Forbear, friends. Nothing here will have anything to do with whether Jimmy Connors is right or wrong or whether men or women players are right or wrong. These are just some suggestions to help tennis:
?For example, no other entertainment in the world (with the possible exception of a small-town church raffle) so irritates and antagonizes its supporters with interminable pre-and/ or post-tournament introductions and presentations as tennis. Shut up, already, with the thank yous. Can you see a football game beginning with the general manager coming out and asking everybody to cheer for the ticket sellers? Nobody in tennis who helps run a tournament in any way, shape or form should ever be permitted near a live microphone.
?When a ball is inadvertently hit into the stands, the spectator who catches it should be permitted to retain this prize, as in baseball. The players, poor dears, would just have to get by with one less ball for a few games or have an old one or a new one put in as a replacement. There is nothing more idiotic and grating than asking people to pay $8 a seat to see two millionaires play to split $20,000 in an hour and a half, and then having everybody in tennis throw a fit when one 80� (wholesale) ball goes out of play.
?In mixed doubles the team with the serve should alternate serves. That is, the man serves the first point, the woman the second, the man the third and so on. The receiving team has the choice: Does it want its man to receive the man's serve and its woman the other woman's or the other way around? This would put more strategy and variety into mixed doubles at all levels and, in the bargain, save a good many marriages.
?The FCC shall make it a terminal offense, punishable by taking a network's license away, if Charlton Heston or James Franciscus are ever again shown watching a professional match. Loss of license for 20 years if Johnny Carson is shown.
?The reason for the tie break is to bring the game to a climax. The most exciting moment in tennis, if not in all sport, is when a match stands tied and the points in the final set are 4-4 (in a nine-point tie break) or 6-6 (in a 13-point tie break). In other sports a result can be determined in the last second, the last play, but only one side—the offense—really controls the outcome. In the double match-point tie break in tennis both sides are offense and defense. It is unique and excruciating.
Because it is so good for the game many people in tennis want it outlawed and all tie breaks settled by two points or more: 8-6, say, instead of 7-6. Many players, and those people who hold their hands, think there is too much riding on just one point.
Many people also think there is a lot riding when it comes to cutting open a sick person. People who think that way never try to become surgeons.
?Put some natural strategy and controversy into the Davis Cup by making the captains decide the order of matches. By tradition the names have been picked out of a hat, which is great if you're holding a lottery. But in a competition? "Seaver, Matlack and Koosman will be my World Series pitchers," says Yogi Berra. "Now let's see which name Nanette Fabray picks out of the hat to start the first game against which of the following three Tammy Grimes selects, Palmer, Cuellar or Grimsley."