He went up again
on his toes. Solomon won the first five points of the tie breaker, all of them
fought for with such energy and skill that the crowd began cheering more for
the quality of the tennis than for their favorites, quick gusts of applause
that ceased abruptly in the tension of the tie breaker.
"Tremendous tennis. Too bad it's not in the stadium instead of those
women." He even beamed at Fibak. "He's strong and good. He's got great
potential." He supported Fibak through one point of the tie breaker
("Keep it deep. Keep it deep"), perhaps to atone for his support of the
moonballer across the net. When the match ended (in Solomon's favor) he began
applauding, clapping in delight, the stalks of the grapes ignored in his
enthusiasm, mashed between his big hands. "That was just great," he
Don Budge was
sitting with his wife in the marquee, two rackets with bare wooden handles
balanced between his knees. His face has filled out, and the jug ears that were
so prominent when he dominated tennis in the late '30s seemed to have receded
into proper proportion. "I swear by wood," he said. "No chance of
getting calluses with wooden handles. Look at my hands. Soft! The only reason
that there are leather handles on rackets is that years back L. B. Isely, who
was the president of Wilson's Sporting Goods, got up at a meeting and said,
'Hey, look here, why don't we dress up a tennis racket like a golf club and put
leather handles on it and charge a dollar more.' Everybody agreed that it was a
fine idea. So the result is that you see players scratching up the leather to
get a better grip, coming down with blisters and calluses. The consistency of
leather changes, leather absorbs 87% of the moisture on it, compared to 7% for
wood. Bill Tilden knew it was crazy. He and I were the only ones to stick to
wood. He used to say, 'For God's sake, Don, you and I are the only ones left.
Don't tell anyone....' "
Down on the court
Bjorn Borg, ranging back and forth in his querencia behind the baseline from
which he hit his big looping drives, was playing Rod Laver, whose tactic was to
execute stop-volley drop shots to catch Borg back. The shot is one of Laver's
best, and the crowd shouted its delight at his delicate touch.
goodness," said Budge, "what a difference between this and the
slam-bang-thank-you-ma'am tennis, the big serve and volley. What we have now is
the era of the short ball. Look there! Look at the margin of safety with that
topspin. Look at those drives landing on the service line." He wrinkled his
nose. "Bitsy Grant would have given these fellows fits on the slow courts.
He was very fast, he was patient, he lobbed well, and the main thing was that
his shots had great depth."
Out on the court
a linesman called one of Laver's rare deep shots out that had apparently landed
on the baseline. The whistles of disapproval rose out of the crowd. Borg
himself, though he would have benefited from the out call, circled the spot
where the shot had landed with his racket. The linesman leaned back in his
chair, and when the umpire asked him if he would yield on his call, he put his
hands in front of his eyes to indicate that he had been "unsighted" and
had not seen the ball properly. He looked very solemn, and the gesture with his
hands was abject and forlorn.
"Now Baron von Cramm, who was probably the greatest gentleman who ever
stepped on a tennis court, would never have done what Borg did. He would have
let the call go rather than embarrass the linesman in front of all these people
and have them think ill of him. Von Cramm's distinction was that we were
contestants, not officials."
resumed. Laver was having his troubles. Even his good shots seemed to leave him
with a puzzled look on his face and a shake of the head with its great jib of a
nose, as if however well dispatched the put-away had seemed to the gallery, it
had not felt right to him, some tangible evidence imparted along the length of
that enormous left arm, almost twice as muscled as the other, that something in
the mechanism was a little off. Borg, on the other hand, seemed implacable and
in complete control of his game, his expression never changing a jot as he
covered court and flipped his racket to hit the high, arching shots that bit
into the court surface across the net and leaped forward from the topspin.
Laver served a
double fault. "Oh, that's a terrible sin—serving a double fault to
Borg," Budge said. "He's never going to smash it back at you, no matter
how weak. Your grandmother could put the ball in play against Borg and never
get hurt by his return."
in the fourth set. Budge rose and stretched. "Well, there you are," he
said. "Closer than it seemed. One or two points. Tilden pointed out that in
a match with a score like 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, if you take only one point a set away
from the winner and give it to the loser the outcome would almost invariably be
reversed. He called them 'swing points.' Well, Laver's off to take a shower and
think about those swing points. My dear," he turned to his wife, "what
about a sandwich? Wouldn't a sandwich be just the thing?"