This season the
tour has had to make do without Vilas. After injuring his ankle at the Masters
in January, he rushed home to rest for nearly three months before gingerly
venturing back into competition, in which he has been rudely beaten by a whole
draw sheet of players even Bud Collins would have a difficult time identifying.
But this appears to be another typical Tiriac production: go slow, practice
hard, work like a pack mule, then sneak up on everybody in the world's big clay
championships—this week's Italian Open in Rome and next week's French Open in
has taken credit for the technical and mental improvements in Vilas' game since
he joined up with him permanently in 1976. Other players sense his influence on
Vilas' personality as well. There was a time in South Africa, after Vilas had
lost a long point, when he appealed to the chair that coughing spectators had
disrupted his concentration. The umpire allowed a replay. Last spring during
the Davis Cup match between Argentina and the U.S., American representatives
accused Vilas of arousing the crowd to use drums, bugles and whistles.
the guru and Tiriac's forte is gamesmanship," says Ashe. "We know not
to give Guillermo anything on the court because he'll nail you if he can. He
has come to the superstar point. He plays on that image of the romantic poet,
but he uses the grand gesture the way Newcombe used to in influencing an
inexperienced linesman. Newk got away with it because he was Newk. This guy can
do it because he is Vilas."
"superstar" hasn't been conceived who would avoid exploiting such an
advantage. Still, for Vilas to engage in such gamesmanship seems totally alien
to his image. "Guillermo used to be warm and friendly," another player
says. "Now he has a singlemindedness that wasn't there before. He is all
business, and cold. I wonder if he really enjoys the sacrifices he has had to
make because of Tiriac. To reach the top, he has become less human, a lesser
person. But to win, he had to be."
A story under
Vilas' byline in the Buenos Aires newspaper La Opinion last November
illustrates Tiriac's influence. La Opinion had asked for Vilas' impressions of
the earthquake in Argentina the day before in which some 80 people had been
killed. Heavy tremors had been felt in parts of Buenos Aires. Vilas, who had
been awakened from a sound sleep in his 17th-floor apartment and who had rushed
down the stairs and into the street where he had joined his frightened
earthquake] was most lamentable, but foreseeable. It's within the percentage of
things which have to happen. Fervently, therefore, I think that many times one
feels oneself to be secure and, suddenly, one's world falls down like a pack of
cards in a matter of seconds. An earthquake belongs to natural law. Nature is
irreversible just as much for physical and psychic phenomena. If reconstruction
is necessary, I pledge to contribute my grain of sand, playing exhibitions
gratis, always on condition that in the scheduling of them, the dates that
tennis leaves me free are taken into account [italics provided]. This for me is
a sacred pledge which I plan to honor."
Friends say the
exhibitions were Vilas' idea, the proviso about free time was pure Tiriac.
For about as long
as there has been an Argentina, there has been football—soccer—in Argentina.
Neighboring Brazil has won the World Cup three times, and now Buenos Aires is
preparing to host that event. There have also been renowned fighters from
Argentina—Luis Angel Firpo, Oscar Bonavena, Carlos Monzon—but not until
Guillermo Vilas arrived did sports take over in a big commercial way: T shirts,
sporting-goods stores, that sort of thing.
Vilas came out of
Mar del Plata, a resort city of 350,000 on the south coast, from which he used
to take seven-hour bus rides over bad roads to play in weekend tournaments in
Buenos Aires. Vilas would play all day Saturday and all day Sunday, then board
another bus for the seven-hour ride home. He would reach home at 4 a.m., barely
in time to sleep before school the next day. An American TV announcer once said
a player had to be dedicated to the game to do all that, and a viewer wrote in,
"either to the game or to school." Vilas was both; he was a superior
Mar del Plata
could probably exist forever on the beauty of its name (Sea of Silver), but the
city has lost much of its elegance. The wealthy now vacation in Punta del Este,
the chic Uruguayan resort, and the working classes and union leaders have taken