Gottfried is so phlegmatic and precise that he will never quite become the people's choice. Nothing appears to move him. His first big tournament victory in 1973 was a shocker—a rookie win in Vegas in the Alan King Classic for 30,000 silver dollars, carted out in a wheelbarrow, for what was then the richest tennis tournament in history. So blandly did Gottfried respond that Windy, exasperated, finally screamed at him, "Get happy, will you!"
The players soon learned, though, that the kid with the close-set eyes and the frizzy hair who looks not unlike Barbra Streisand could be read. The unchanging expression concealed an unchanging game. It was not that Gottfried left his best on the practice courts, it was that he practiced so much he developed a practice mentality. He played a dispassionate, choreographed style.
Sandy Mayer, another contemporary, who has been playing Gottfried since they were nine years old, says, "Brian just always wanted to be a purist. He could put the ball where he wanted to anytime, anywhere, and it really didn't matter so much to him whether he won or lost."
Gottfried won the Wimbledon doubles championship with Ramirez in 1976, but he does not believe he grew up as a singles player until one day at Forest Hills last September. This incident appears to have turned Gottfried around in ways that hitting another 4,000 perfect backhands could not accomplish. He was playing Bjorn Borg in the round of 16, having not dropped a set in the tournament. Gottfried is renowned as a slow starter but on this occasion he took the first two sets from Borg and, in the third, led 2-0. Then, at 30-all, he double-faulted, Borg won the next point and the game, and it was all over. Gottfried won only eight more games the rest of the way.
"It was ridiculous," Gottfried says. "Here I was, up two sets and a break, four games from the match, and I honestly didn't think I could win. Whenever I'd get in a big match like this one, I just played to make it close. But losing that time had a big effect on me. Never again have I gone in against anybody thinking I couldn't win."
Gottfried won his next singles tournament after Forest Hills, defeating Dibbs, Connors, Ilie Nastase and Arthur Ashe in succession. The next time he played Borg, he beat him—and in Stockholm. So far in 1977 he has won three regular Grand Prix tour events, as well as the prestigious American Airlines Games at Palm Springs. He has won indoors and out, and back to back in successive weeks. Other players have been discombobulated by the use of slow balls on fast courts; Gottfried is not reluctant to display his whole repertoire whatever the circumstances. Moreover, with the help of Sandy Mayer's father, Alex, Gottfried has shored up his second serve, the weakest technical aspect of his game. Now Tony Trabert, the U.S. Davis Cup captain, who has selected Gottfried (and Stockton) to play singles next week in Newport Beach, Calif. against the South Africans, wants Gottfried occasionally to come in behind his second serve to keep opponents off guard. Everything else is going too well to be tinkered with.
Of course, tennis is a never-ending procession and there is plenty for everybody. Connors and Stockton, for example, are scuffling in WCT most weeks, safely upwind from Gottfried. He surely doesn't duck anybody—he played 34 tournaments one year—but after all, it is the big ones that really count. Connors now has four Grand Slam titles, and Tanner took his first in Australia this year, but Gottfried and the other members of the class of '72 have only gaudy records and hefty purses.
But Gottfried did win a pretty big one this year, the American Airlines Games. This must be in the top 10 of tournaments, but for one reason or another, Connors, Borg, Nastase and Ashe hadn't entered. The writers gathered about Gottfried after his victory and one inquired if the absence of these stars had not diminished his victory.
As you know by now, Gottfried is not very garrulous. He looked the interviewer square in the face, and then Raul Ramirez' doubles partner replied, "Do you ask them that question now when I'm not at a tournament?"