As the three cars
carrying Vilas, his father, Tiriac and local officials headed from the airport
through the farmlands into Tandil, a strange scene developed. Every so often
there would be a car parked alongside the road with one or two people inside.
As the Vilas caravan passed, the people in the cars would wave wildly and honk
their horns. Then the cars would get in line and follow along. This continued
for 10 miles, until the caravan became a parade.
Tandil, Vilas' car stopped so Tiriac could pick up some bandages at a
drugstore. Within minutes the vehicle was engulfed by dozens of people, mostly
children who fought each other to lean inside the window and kiss Vilas.
"Mucho gusto, mucho gusto, Guillermo," they would say politely. Then,
hundreds of people lined the sidewalk to catch a glimpse of Vilas. At the hotel
another hundred rushed the curb. The car began to shake. Vilas forced his way
out. "No autographs, please," he pleaded. "I am sorry, but I am
want autographs." a girl said. "We just want to touch you."
grumbling, said this happened all the time in the provinces. "Last month we
were forced to have 20 police on horseback guard him at exhibition. In Romania
when I had Nastase, there would be 200 people lined up, but only for
autographs. Here they are more aggressive. They want flesh. Vilas, he is like
Jesus Christ. He is prophet."
was not born in a manger—or on a tennis court. Like any other Argentine kid, he
grew up kicking a football. Vilas' father, preferring that Guillermo play
something more white-collar, took him into the Club Nautico Mar del Plata, of
which he was the president, and hired a local barber named Felipe Locicero to
teach him tennis. Locicero remembers, "On the face of the little boy were
the signs of deaf protest." But the little boy learned the game. Later,
when the elder Vilas wanted his son to become a lawyer, it was too late.
Guillermo was hooked on tennis. He was playing in national and then
international tournaments. And he was winning. In law school Vilas met the
boisterous Romero, who came from the province of La Pam-pa. Of Romero, a
notorious playboy, a friend once said, "At 2 a.m., Arturo is not thinking
the night is young but. rather, the night is born."
The two got along
famously—talking for hours over bottles of sidra, Argentina's apple-champagne
drink—when Romero's carousing did not interfere with Vilas' studying. Romero
recalls Vilas coming home miserable from class every day. "One night."
Romero says, "Guillermo came back to the room, threw down his books and
nearly cried. This is not my life.' he said. 'This is not my life.' "
"The law was
too square." says Vilas. "Rules, more rules. You had to have the same
opinions as the professors. Nothing ever was flexible enough."
when I started tennis, it was considered a sissy game," says Vilas. "We
used to walk down the street and hide the rackets in our bags. Everybody
whistled at us and called us queers. But I liked the creativity of the game. A
tennis player could create more than a painter. Create combinations of things.
Nothing was secure. There were the variables of the racket, the surface, the
weather, the opponent, the spin and speed of the ball. Where you were. Who you
were. For me this was an unbelievable attraction. When someone said, Come, go
to the court,' it was like saying, 'Come, paint.' Only better."