- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
But he can play tennis. Barazzutti, who reached the semifinals at Forest Hills last summer, has replaced Adriano Panatta as Italy's top player. His game revolves around extraordinary patience and resilience. At times he looks like the worst player in the world and seems ready to throw in the towel—and that is when he is dangerous. In his first-round match against second-seeded Brian Gottfried on Thursday evening, Barazzutti eked out a 6-4 win in the first set, then won only three games in the next two sets and appeared ready for elimination, frequently bouncing his racket on the court in disgust and lowering his head several more degrees.
Deceived by this display, Gottfried kept coming to the net, hitting what looked like good approach shots, only to have Barazzutti bazooka them back from awkward positions for winners. The evening ended with the Italian taking the final two sets 6-1, 6-3 and Gottfried sitting at the press conference with puzzled, narrowed eyes, wondering what went wrong. Asked to explain his turnaround, Barazzutti told the writers, "I talk with myself."
The following night Dibbs had him talking and swinging. Hitting his ground strokes better than at any time in his career, he made Barazzutti take three steps for every one of his. Dibbs' pressure was so relentless that only three times did Barazzutti win the opening point when Dibbs was serving. He spent most of the evening acting like a man trying to dodge machine-gun fire as Dibbs blasted away at the sidelines. Later Dibbs was asked if his game is still improving. "Well," he said. "I'm making more money each year." Added his mother Florence, who often joins her son at tournaments and long ago dismissed fears that he would someday be a tennis bum, "This is a wonderful Mother's Day present."
Mrs. Dibbs' reservations were understandable when you consider that Eddie barely can see over the net and only a ferocious appetite for practice and a fiercely combative personality have lifted him to the upper regions of his sport. Gerulaitis, on the other hand, is blessed with an abundance of talent, a bachelor's penchant for the good life—$4,500 wrist-watches, disco dancing with Cheryl Tiegs, designer clothing and customized stereo equipment. Lately, however, he has turned off his telephone and concentrated on his game. He came to Dallas primed to win, though he never had beaten Borg in eight previous matches, including five this year. "We're not worried about Borg," said Richard Weisman, Gerulaitis' friend and financial adviser. "The match that concerns me is the one against Raul Ramirez."
Ramirez was Gerulaitis' opening opponent and after losing the first three points, and double-faulting twice, Gerulaitis reached in his pocket, pulled out his hotel room key and flung it to the sidelines. "I was trying for three girls in the first row but I was a little short," he joked later. That was his first and last antic of the night, however. He came back to win the opening game, and although he double-faulted 14 times, he won 6-1, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, picking off Ramirez' passing shots at the net and flicking them away for winners as easily as he handles flirtations.
Borg's talent, however, is such that he can turn a close match into a rout, as he did in the tournament's opening round when he destroyed Dick Stockton 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-0. "I never knew where the ball was going," sighed Stockton. "If the match had lasted much longer I would have needed my catcher's equipment. He was hitting so hard that I was being pushed back into the fence."
The display enhanced Borg's role as the tournament favorite, but on Thursday, practicing with Barazzutti, his right thumb began to throb so much that he could not grip his racket and hurried off to the doctor for treatment. By Friday the thumb was still painful and Borg withdrew, necessitating a quick phone call by Weisman. Despite an outward display of confidence, Gerulaitis, his father and Weisman had failed to bring tuxedos with them for Lamar Hunt's tournament ball on Saturday night.
Only a few years ago, pro tennis and tuxedos mixed about as well as oil and water. Then Lamar Hunt came along to make everybody a millionaire.