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When we were touring in those early years of professional tennis—from 1947-62—the constant knock was that we were fixed. This talk went back to the '30s, when some people claimed that Ellsworth Vines carried Fred Perry. But it was obviously ridiculous to say we were fixing when I beat Bobby Riggs 69 games to 20 or when I beat Pancho Gonzales 97-26. If you're fixing, you're going to try and keep it right around .500.
To my mind, the only fix in tennis at the time was the so-called "championships" in the amateurs, because the best tennis players, the pros, were barred. From 1931, when Bill Tilden turned professional, until 1968, when the game finally went open, almost every kid who won either Wimbledon or Forest Hills turned pro—first Vines, then Perry, Don Budge, Riggs, me, Frank Sedgman, Tony Trabert, Lew Hoad, Roy Emerson and Rod Laver. Plus Gonzales, Pancho Segura and Ken Rosewall. The only guys who won Wimbledon and Forest Hills and stayed amateur were Ted Schroeder, Vic Seixas and Neale Fraser. It was ludicrous. In 1957 when Mal Anderson beat Ashley Cooper at Forest Hills, it was on national TV, it was front-page sports news, there were big crowds, the works. A few weeks earlier, at Forest Hills, I had promoted a round robin featuring Gonzales, Sedgman, Segura, Trabert, Rosewall and Hoad. No TV. Little newspaper coverage. We lost money. And we were the best players in the world. When Cooper won both Wimbledon and Forest Hills a year later and turned pro, he had trouble winning anything.
Fixes, ha! One time I parceled out 102�% of the receipts to my players—in advance—so it shouldn't surprise you to find out that one reason we weren't fixed is because we would have botched up the fix.
There were three occasions when you might say there was a little hanky-panky. The first is strictly funny, and it was the only time I ever went into the tank. In 1952 I was playing Segura indoors in Hilo, Hawaii. It was raining, there weren't 100 people in the house and we were both tired from traveling. Before we went on we agreed that whoever won the first set fair and square would win the match—the other guy would throw the second. In other words, we were playing best of one but disguising it as best of three. Segoo wins the first set, and now it is my job to tank the second. And what does that sneaky little so-and-so do? He purposely starts making errors, screwing up all over the place. Have you ever tried to lose to somebody who is not trying to win? It's much harder than trying to beat someone who is playing beautifully. Finally, I was able to outlose him. I served a double fault on break point.
Then, in 1950, there were no amateur stars ready to challenge me, but Riggs was hot to promote and so we put together another tour. We picked Segura as my opponent.
Now the thing about Segoo was that nobody had really heard of him or given him any credit, because he never played Davis Cup and he wasn't a grass-court player as an amateur. And he just didn't look like a player. In fact, he is kind of a freak. He can't do anything well competitively except hit a tennis ball. He's no good at golf; he's afraid to swing the club. He can't dance. He could never even learn backgammon. He's not too bad at gin, but when Riggs dealt cards, he always called a game known as Indicators because he knew that Segura didn't understand it, even after playing it for years. For that matter, Segura really never had a complete tennis game. It was practically impossible to get the ball to his backhand, because he would run around everything—he was quick—and hit his two-handed forehand. But, of course, he'd eventually wear himself out doing that.
But I'll tell you this about Segoo. There is no kinder and sweeter person around, and there is no one who has ever loved the game of tennis as much. If the fans didn't know who he was when they came to the matches, they went away talking about him. He was colorful and that funny game of his was fascinating to watch. So he became a draw. Segoo did as much for pro tennis as anybody.
So Riggs gave Segoo a shot at me—even if we both knew he couldn't possibly beat me. Let me explain that. You see, the trouble with an extended tour is that it does not reflect a true rivalry. If one player is 10% better than another, I guarantee you he'll win not 10% more matches but 20% more, even 50% more. Once a player establishes himself over the other, it's all over, because then the other kid has to change his game and he is giving up a sure strength for a gamble. Two guys—say Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors—might split their matches playing five or six times a year, but if they started playing every night, I guarantee you some isolated factor would exert itself and one player would soon dominate the other. It does not take much to tilt a tour, and Segoo could not handle my serve on the fast surfaces we played. It was that simple.
So, Riggs figured he needed another attraction, and luckily he had just the thing: Gorgeous Gussie Moran. Gussie had gotten all that publicity at Wimbledon for wearing lace panties under her tennis dress. People who didn't know Pancho Segura from Pancho Villa had heard of Gorgeous Gussie. Bobby signed her for a $35,000 guarantee against 25%. It was such a nice chunk, I had to let Bobby cut me back to 25%. We gave Segoo $1,000 a week plus 5%, and we hired Pauline Betz to play Gussie at a straight salary. Pauline was a heck of a player, one of the best three or four of all time. She had won Wimbledon once and Forest Hills four times. Then the amateur officials suspended her for merely talking about possibly turning pro, and she had been out of the spotlight for three years.
So Pauline was no longer well known, and that was our problem. Our star wasn't our star. Gussie was the attraction and she had never been champion. A couple of more years and she could have been tough, but at this point she just wasn't a fair match for Pauline. On top of everything else, Gorgeous Gussie wasn't quite as gorgeous as people were expecting. She was pretty but she was no Rita Hayworth in tennis shoes. I knew we were in trouble on opening night in Madison Square Garden, when Betz showed up in a leopard-skin outfit. She not only beat Gussie, she outdressed her.