There is no telling exactly when the game of tennis came in off the lawn, shed its prissy white pants and gave itself over to the real world of politics, litigiousness and Charlton Heston playing the Cookie Monster an eight-game pro set challenge match on universewide tape delay from the rings of Saturn. The fact is that the turning point in tennis was as well hidden as those in more prosaic areas—dat old debbil fuel crisis, for instance. Nobody saw it, and nobody cared.
Well, almost nobody. Surely two people knew, two men of vision and idealism, two men with lofty goals, the zest for power and a mutual inclination to take the bull by the horns in their own inimitable styles. That Bill Riordan, sitting in a dress shop in Salisbury, Md., and Donald Dell, commanding his law offices down the road in Washington, did not see fit to combine forces and lead tennis into the promised land was the most grievous hurt to afflict the sport since the Bartkowitzes—Peaches and Plums—failed in the big time. Instead, Riordan and Dell have proceeded to fight and bite.
Riordan and Dell do their things from the position of "tennis manager." Sometimes they are referred to as "player representatives" or "agents." But don't be caught calling Dell an agent, because he is a lawyer, and he will get you. Riordan says he doesn't care what you call him—he isn't a lawyer—but he might get you, anyway. The two men are not in exactly the same position as, say, Mark McCormack, who owns Arnold Palmer, Cleveland, the Rock of Gibraltar and probably you and me. But they are somewhere in that vicinity.
Dell represents just about every living, breathing American tennis player from eight to 80 who can put a ball over a net. When he was captain of the Davis Cup team in the late 1960s, Arthur Ashe said, "Having Donald Dell captain is a special feeling, like having John Kennedy president." In his new book Portrait in Motion with Frank Deford, Ashe says, "There are two people in my life I would trust with my life: my father and Donald Dell."
Riordan, on the other hand, represents only the semi-adorable James Scott Connors, who can also play a little.
So that is who Donald Dell and Bill Riordan are.
At present Riordan, in the name of Connors as front man, is suing Dell, Jack Kramer, who is the executive director of the Association of Tennis Professionals, and Commercial Union Assurance Company for $10 million in Federal Court in New York for alleged violations of antitrust laws: i.e., keeping Connors out of the 1974 French Open. On his part Kramer has filed a $3 million suit in Federal Court in Indianapolis against Connors and Riordan for libel. That suit specifically cites letters and articles in which Riordan is quoted as charging Kramer with "lining his pockets" with appearance money for ATP players and characterizing Kramer and Dell as "piranhas who have attempted to monopolize the game."
Not to be outdistanced, Riordan is now countersuing for libel. Surely, too, he is behind still another suit, the $5 million number Connors filed against Ashe on the eve of Wimbledon, accusing him of "maligning" Connors in a letter to the ATP membership.
Riordan says, "The ATP stands for bans, boycotts and baloney. They are suing me for calling Kramer a piranha, which is nothing but a small fish. His ATP cronies get away with calling me a nihilist. Throughout history monopolists have labeled populists as nihilists while their leaders danced on the grave of Marie Antoinette. Get that down, kid. That's an original. These men are frauds and purveyors of distaste. Kramer? He only centers the ball. Dell is the quarterback. I'm going to expose them for the charlatans they are. And another thing. Dell deals in darkness. You got to like that one."
Dell, who says he will not waste his time countering "spurious charges," seldom is quoted on the subject of Riordan. However, he recently used what he calls " Riordan rhetoric" to deplore the tactics of "this apostle of hate."