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Curry Kirkpatrick
May 29, 1978
Introspective, articulate, exceedingly sensitive, Guillermo Vilas of Argentina is a world apart from compeers Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg
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May 29, 1978

Guillermo Vilas

Introspective, articulate, exceedingly sensitive, Guillermo Vilas of Argentina is a world apart from compeers Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg

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"Fervently, 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."

Boom. Ba-boom." The floor is made of ceramic tiles that are the color of buttermilk. "Bip-bip. Ba-boom." The walls are marble halfway to the ceiling. "Baba-da-boom. Baba-da-boom." There is chipping plaster, and water pipes all around. "Bip-bip. Boop-ba-boop. Boom." And mirrors and stalls and a long wooden bench. "Ba-boom. Bip...bip...babada-boom."

In the faded elegance of a dressing room underneath the stadium of the Buenos Aires lawn tennis club, Guillermo Vilas waits to go upstairs for another tennis match. Waits and sits. Stands and dances. Sings and taps a small stick.

"I should have been a Brazilian," Vilas says. "How fantastic they are with the music. DeMoraes, the singing poetry. Toquinho on guitar. Maria Creuza, the vocals. I saw them all in Punta del Este once. A concert recorded live. Unbelievable. All the Brazilians are so natural with the music. You go into a bar and there they are drumming and tapping on everything. Ba-boom. Ba-ba-da-boom. Metals, wood, the floor, the chairs. They click glasses and spoons and fill the bottles at different levels so they get the different notes. Bip-boom. They become a band. People singing and laughing and dancing on the tables. Ba-boom.

"I fly away with the music," Vilas continues, now working on the marble and the pipes. "Boop-bip-ba-boom. Yes, sometimes I wish I was making music. I speak to Burt Bacharach in Caracas. He said he went crazy listening to the Brazilians. He said he would help me with my songs. Yes, Bacharach will come here and I will go to California and meet the big guys. My songs will be love songs. But not for lovers, you know? Love songs for all people. I want that. Yes, I want to make music.... I will.... I know I will."

The reason professional tennis has established itself as one of the big sports of the '70s is that it has grown far and wide and variegated enough to have at its highest level such disparate personalities as Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas. Though much has been made of their diversity, the notion persists that Connors and Borg are not so dissimilar after all. It is Vilas who is different. Vilas, the poet. Vilas, the romantic. Vilas, the mild bull of the Pampas. Though probably lacking the raw ability of his two rivals, Vilas may have the greatest appeal to the public.

Connors has earned a reputation for nastiness while wearing his heart, not to mention his middle finger, on his sleeve. Conversely, Borg is well-mannered but exhibits no recognizable human emotion past a wink. And although they have performed prodigies on the tennis court, they are sadly deficient in the social graces and general knowledge. Indeed, it sometimes seems that they went directly from childhood to manhood, while cutting classes, as it were, in the lessons of youth. Perhaps that is why, in their press conferences and public utterances, Connors, 25, and Borg, 21, can express themselves only in jock rhetoric or downright baby talk. Conversation? Forget conversation. They don't know what conversation is. If all the nets of the world suddenly were ripped asunder by Darth Vader, Jimbo and Bjorny would have to take to the streets selling sausage.

This is not the case for 25-year-old Guillermo Vilas. Besides being one of the three best tennis players in the world, Vilas is a published author of prose and poetry. He has written a screenplay and collaborated on songs to be recorded in Argentina. He is a philosopher, a musician, a reader, a thinker. Even if Vilas' book of poetry were nothing more than recipes for carbonada criolla and his musical notes badly off-key; even if his Renaissance-man reputation is based on nothing more than "phantom depth," as one touring pro charges, that is beside the point. On his own the man reads, writes and composes, and he does it for only one reason. The self. Himself.

Vilas is bright, handsome, articulate. He is honest, witty, sensitive. He makes tons and tons of pesos. You might not want your daughter to marry a tennis player, but Guillermo Vilas you'd approve of.

This is a simplification, of course. Vilas' passion for the esthetic, his artistic nature, derives in large part from the circumstances of coming from a broken home and from the hurt inflicted by incessant reference to him in the Argentine press as a loser and "the eternal second." "I am a very complicated person to get involved with," Vilas says. "I am not easy to know on a superficial basis."

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