Then there is Whitney Reed, who appears to have crawled out from behind a Bowery bar. Single-handedly, Reed may destroy the notion that tennis is good for your health. He was America's top-ranked player in 1962. Before joining the Grand Masters circuit, he drove a cab and tended bar in San Francisco where, it is reported, he consumed more than he sold. He also smokes a lot of cigarettes. Reed once went to Reno for a weekend and stayed for a year, because, he explains hoarsely, "I was in the middle of a Ping-Pong game." He married a cocktail waitress from Harrah's Club the day before he turned 40. "I'll never forget it," he says. Then he fell in love with a stewardess on a flight over Omaha, Neb., and didn't come home for six months. That was a clue that the marriage wasn't working," he says. Reed had four different doubles partners last year. The other players pass him around.
In a sense, the Grand Masters have lived two lives. They talk of the "old tour" and "the tour." Reed quit the old tour because of what he calls his " Rod Laver malady." Whitney played Laver 11 times one year and lost each match. "My big problem was that I never knew where the tournaments were," he says, speaking in a dazed, singsong speech punctuated with long, mid-sentence silences. "I was always trying to find them. Consequently I never had time to write ahead and demand money. I took whatever they gave me, maybe a couple of tickets. The most I got was $600 in Toronto. I guess because I was a foreigner."
Reed describes his doubles strategy thus: "I put myself in an accident-prone position." When Fraser advised him to stand fast at the net, staring into the face of a Sedgman overhead, Whitney wisely demurred. "I'll wind up bandaged from head to toe," he said. "Then nobody will want me for a partner."
As it is, most everyone wants the Tennis Grand Masters as a partner. The tour has a host of promotional ties. Almad�n wines, for example, sponsors the 11-tournament Grand Prix segment of the tour. Blazers, automobiles, hats and tennis balls have the group's imprimatur, as does the Palmas del Mar resort in Puerto Rico, officially designated the group's " Caribbean home." If you desire, the Grand Masters can provide not only exhibitions, but also trained instructors for your tennis club. The Harvard Business School has conducted a study of the group and found it to be "a viable marketing concept."
The tournament format is simple: eight players participate in singles and doubles on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There is usually an opening pro-am, and on Saturday the first-round losers conduct a free clinic. Only Gonzales resists attending. The two-time U.S. champion plays a limited schedule partly because he demands appearance money from promoters. He was once asked how long he planned to continue. "As long as they print money," he answered. Gonzales keeps to himself. He travels the circuit with his second wife, Madelyn, who looks on anxiously from the stands. Pancho's rackets are misshapen from being beaten on the court. It rankles Gonzales that his game has slipped. In matches he affects a regal, lofty attitude, as if the whole scene somehow is beneath him.
"There is an attitude of then and now," says Ulrich. "Now it doesn't count. Then it does." Because Pancho is loath to perspire, the others frequently drop-shot him. His attitude annoyed his colleagues last year in doubles matches at Wimbledon and at Seabrook Island. Gonzales was paired first with Reed, then with Merlo, and in each match made an obvious point of not trying. Worse, he ridiculed the efforts of both his partners. At Seabrook the rancor surfaced as Sedgman and Hartwig dismantled Gonzales and Merlo 6-1, 6-0. On one shot, Hartwig mishit the ball, but, fortuitously, it came off the wood for a winner. Hart-wig giggled to himself, then raised his hand to Gonzales in the universal gesture of apology. Pancho snarled back, "The shot was fine. The mouth's not so good."
It might have seemed only a boorish remark, but it showed Gonzales' frustration. The others take the competition very seriously; before matches they refuse to look at each other, much less speak. And they all are in a little better condition, their strokes a touch sharper than Gonzales'. For him to work at getting back in shape, for him to work at winning, would be an admission that this arena really is important. So he plays with thinly veiled contempt.
When Gonzales is a no-show, Merlo fills in. He is the ninth man on an eight-man club. Three years ago he wrote Bunis, "My name is Beppe Merlo.... I am many times national champion of Italy...beaten Vic Seixas, Mervyn Rose...want to play your tour." Bunis wrote that he was sorry but the roster was filled. Quickly came a return telegram. "I accept. Will arrive on.... " Merlo hasn't won a singles match in two years but he puts on a good show, and his clay-court game is so dogged that the others don't like to play him; Seixas, for example, lost 15 straight matches to Merlo when they were younger. They also regard him almost as a mascot. Merlo, they whisper, eats cereal drowned in Coca-Cola for breakfast. He has a long list of phobias. Since seeing The Towering Inferno he refuses to sleep above the fourth floor of a hotel. Florida's moths terrify him, and he jumps in fright if he accidentally sits on an automobile seat belt. He won't even trust his luggage in a car driven by Davidson, who is somewhat reckless behind the wheel; Sven sometimes drives onto the sidewalk and gives a friend a slight nudge with a fender. Merlo speaks broken English, the quality of which depends on whether or not he wants to be understood. He bought property at Sea-brook Island as an investment. "I only worry now about airquake," he says.
Merlo humbly refers to himself as "the last row on the bus," although there is evidence that he is smarter than he lets on, because he is the top poker player on the circuit and usually far ahead in the money standings that Davidson, who has a gift for math, keeps on a large sheet of paper. Merlo calls his favorite opponent, Sedgman, "a piece of candy."
One of the major accomplishments of the tour has been inducing Ulrich to modify his caveman dress code. When he posed for the first Grand Masters group photograph, it probably was the first time in 20 years he had worn a tie. And while he usually is late, he always appears for the cheese and wine tasting parties that follow the pro-ams. Ulrich has had it written into his TGM contract that he need not attend functions before noon.