Ulrich's quirks and caprices are renowned. He refuses to call coin flips, once created a painting by hitting paint-sopped tennis balls onto a canvas, and when a policeman stopped him for driving his car on the sidewalk, apparently a common Scandinavian idiosyncrasy, and poked his head in the car window, Torben bit his nose. But no matter how bizarre his behavior, his colleagues inevitably forgive him with a "That's Torben." Thus when Ulrich forgot a scheduled doubles match last year and went off running in the woods, and then related, "I was talking to the squirrels," everyone agreed, that's Torben.
This type of life-style is attractive to a younger generation that sees Ulrich as a guru. Many of the calls to Bunis' office in his hometown of Cincinnati have to do with Torben's whereabouts; the transported female callers, it seems, have gifts and messages for him.
One person, however, isn't so entranced. At a wine-tasting party last fall, Torben's wife Lona gestured toward her husband, who was standing with a bunch of women. "Why does that bird have her hand on Torben's bun?" said Lona.
In a way, this sort of gesture is symbolic of the success of the tour. If an athlete of 50 can get a bird to notice him, there is profit to be made out of it. "We're tennis' retirement income, the players' profit sharing," says Bunis. "All they have to do is keep up their games and go along with the program." He uses phrases like "second-home community," and talks in conspiratorial tones and with a private-school accent and wears every imaginable color of linen jacket. Even on the hottest days, he looks cool in his coat and tie. As a boy, Bunis melted down toy soldiers. He went on to become a successful scrap-iron broker, but his real love was tennis. A fond memory is losing to Frank Sedgman in the first round of the 1952 U.S. nationals, the year Sedgman won the tournament without the loss of a set.
One benefit of being the administrator of the Tennis Grand Masters, Bunis admits, is being able to practice with the players he has respected for a lifetime. Bunis almost bursts with pride. Seemingly, each week he adds a new article of clothing to the players' prescribed uniform. They wear identical blazers, slacks, hats, ties and lapel ribbons, although Ulrich sometimes puts his ribbon in his hair. "I want them to be proud of all of our trappings," says Bunis. "You can't wear a Grand Masters tie, or even have one, unless you're part of the organization."
The formula has been very successful. At first the players had trouble getting their checks cashed; now the crowds are more than big enough to keep sponsors happy. There is a lot of repeat business, and the tour even has its groupies, if Tom and Kathy Gable, an Atlanta couple in their 30s, could be so described. He is a psychiatrist and both are tennis nuts. Their alliance with the senior tour began three years ago at an Atlanta event. They travel to about 10 tournaments a season, and even help set up exhibitions for the players. Late one evening last fall, Hartwig was giving the Gables a free serving lesson. Lars Ulrich, Torben's son, was retrieving the balls. It was a scene one could hardly expect to see at a young people's tournament.
And, unlike the young people's tour, the seniors look at the light side. When a player has a birthday, his colleagues grab the courtside microphone and offer jokey tributes, while Davidson leads the crowd in cheers. When Ulrich missed that doubles match, Sedgman jumped into the umpire's chair and humorously narrated an emergency match between Hartwig and Merlo. The players, in effect, run their own show. Their meetings, which Reed calls "Bunis' marketing sessions," are punctuated with debate on everything from rules to policy.
Near the end of the 1978 season, the seniors dined together following a tournament at the Quail Ridge Racquet Club. Bunis was picking up the check, which guaranteed that everyone would order wine and dessert. Ulrich had meat, wine and a hot fudge sundae, and then puffed absently on a cigarette. A reporter asked him if he wanted to be anonymous. Said Torben, "An eagle is not anonymous. A large oak tree is not anonymous. But they do not seek fame."
The same reporter asked Seixas if he missed not being younger and playing tournaments for big purses. "I'd like to be 25 years younger," he said. "They could keep the money."
At dinner the players reminisced about years and players past. Frank Kovacs was mentioned as the greatest player who never won a major title. Kovacs used to walk up to Don Budge and ask, "How's the second-best backhand in the world?"