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Curry Kirkpatrick
August 25, 1975
The green pastures of tennis would appear to provide rich grazing for all, but Bill Riordan and Donald Dell continue to have trouble settling the boundary disputes
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August 25, 1975

By Hook Or By Crook

The green pastures of tennis would appear to provide rich grazing for all, but Bill Riordan and Donald Dell continue to have trouble settling the boundary disputes

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The new Davis Cup captain, Tony Trabert, is not known as a " Dell guy." But neither is he a bosom buddy of Connors (read Riordan). To be sure, Riordan claims he got Trabert the job doing the TV commentary of the Connors-Newcombe challenge match only to have to listen to criticism of his client. Riordan has said, "Tony sometimes talks like a man who has lost touch with reality." Nor did Connors take kindly to some of Trabert's remarks on the telecast, and this may be another reason for absenting himself from the team. The bleat goes on.

Because he has so many Establishment credentials it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Dell, like his nemesis Riordan, has been a maverick for most of his 37 years. In addition, though it must be distasteful to both, their spat has resulted in their becoming solidly entwined—like Fric and Frac—in the public domain.

Bud Collins, the barefoot Boston bard of the tennis media and a friend of both, recalls the time a few winters ago when Dell was struck by an auto in London and hospitalized with an injured leg. "I sent a telegram to Donald," says Collins, "which read, 'Who was driving, Riordan?' Then I realized that it couldn't have been Bill, of course. He'd have been more thorough."

At Yale, says a man who knew him there, Dell was never In. To many, he was hostile and arrogant, probably a result of his competitiveness on the tennis court. At 15 he had been a phenomenon out of Bethesda, Md., the national boys' champion, but never again would he dominate on any level.

Out on the tour in the summer of 1964, Dell stayed in Portugal and skipped a domestic tournament. In those days the USLTA controlled a player's life, permitting him only one week in Europe after Wimbledon. Dell was suspended and prohibited from taking any expense money for two years. But he got a lawyer and threatened to expose the system of fake amateurism and under-the-table payoffs. The USLTA backed down.

"I was the brash, arrogant bad boy," Dell says, "but the whole system was so damn phony, I vowed to try and change it. Players had to earn their rights sometime."

That time came in 1973, when the ATP became the first players' organization to hold together during an important crunch. After the Yugoslavian association in effect demanded the head of Nikki Pilic and suspended him for nine months, Wimbledon went along with the suspension, thus precipitating a boycott by the ATP. Dell, its legal counsel, held the ATP in line by cable and transatlantic calls during the struggle at the precipice, and 89 of 92 players signed letters of withdrawal from the tournament. At some point it must have flashed across Dell's vision that Nikki Pilic of Split, down there pounding at the gates of Wimbledon, was Donald Dell of Bethesda, pacing the anterooms of the USLTA just 10 years before.

As business representative for Ashe, Dell signed him up with the Head racket company in what is perhaps the richest deal in the history of tennis. Shortly thereafter Dell brought Ashe and WCT together in another whopper of a contract calling for more than three-quarters of a million dollars. Laver and Newcombe, among other Australians, are embittered because Ashe has continued to outpoint them in visibility and in money while consistently being beaten by them on the court. And Dell sympathizes with the Australians, saying that such contracts do tend to "spoil incentive."

Since he was counsel for ATP and present at its creation, Dell must have taken part in the drafting of that body's original constitution, which forbade personal contracts for guaranteed income, permitting participation only in prize-money tournaments. But at this same time Dell was said to have been negotiating World Team Tennis contracts for several of his clients. Today 10 of his men are WTT players, but Dell was also a party to the agreement that prohibited Connors from competing in the 1974 French Open because he was a WTT player.

Dell is also the major licensing agent for ATP, in which capacity, evidence suggests, his intentions have always been honorable. Instead of working solely for his own clients, he has been serving the entire organization. An American Airlines-sponsored tournament in Tucson might have started out as a Dell all-stars contest, but it has ended up as a $200,000 tournament for the whole ATP.

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