It was amid tropical autumn splendor and under the aegis of social awareness and family entertainment that the grand old, bland old game of mixed doubles made a genteel return to the tennis tour last week. As luck would have it, nobody got killed.
This is not to say that feelings weren't hurt or dreams shattered or idols leveled right there in the friendly confines between the Atlantic Ocean and the palm trees on Hilton Head Island, S.C. It's just that when somebody puts up enough booty, such as $108,000 in prize money, and invites enough hardened doubles gunslingers, such as Stan Smith and Billie Jean King, to compete for it, there is going to be some of what you might call cultural violence. In these circumstances "the mixed," as the event was known long before the game was taken over by Italian haberdashers and Pat Summerall, graduates from a friendly exercise between cocktails into a jamboree of crazed headhunters.
Mixed doubles, as most club players and their main squeezes know it and play it, is mostly an endeavor in restraint. Push and lob, be nice, grin and bear it, patty-cake stuff. Transgressions on one side of the net or the other have been known to result in a quick trip to the marriage counselor, if not the hospital.
At the world-class level, however, where the objective is to win and sexual politics be damned, the game boils down to...uh, huh...Get the Girl. Whip Up on the Woman. Maul the Maiden. Overhead smashes at her ankles. Searing volleys toward her, ahem, middle. Lobs, drops, angles. Make her run. Force her shots. Work her over. Male chauvinistic ecstasy. Oink, oink. "You aim for the weak link," King says, "and the woman is almost always that link."
Roy Emerson, the ancient Australian mariner, the charmer, old jaunty Emmo himself, calls mixed doubles "Beat the bird." On the other hand, the key shots in mixed are invariably WWs—women's winners—and the successful team is the one whose distaff member holds her own most consistently.
So it was last week for the first World Couples tournament at Hilton Head Island, with real live players on the scene. Smith and Evonne Cawley, the former Ms. Goolagong and current Wimbledon champion, both live on Hilton Head; they were the hometown No. 1 seed. King and Emerson were the nostalgia pairing, in Emmo's phrase, "the dead legends." Redheads were represented by Kathy Jordan, who teamed up with another parttime Hilton Head resident. A lefthander. Funny hat, freckles, hook nose. Name of Rod Laver. Then there was the Bollettieri memorial tiny-tot brigade, 15-year-olds Jimmy Arias and Kathleen Horvath, both coached by the swarthy slave master, Nick Bollettieri; the Wimbledon finalists entry, John Austin and Dianne Fromholtz (Austin won the Wimbledon mixed with sister Tracy, defeating Fromholtz and partner Mark Edmondson); and the pickup tandem of Dick Stockton, a former U.S. Open mixed champion, and the wondrous Andrea Jaeger, another teen-ager of whom Stockton had heard but to whom he had never been introduced. "She's a millionaire already," he said. "What do I call her, Andrea or Ms. Jaeger?"
Another unique aspect of the tournament was a pair of wild-card berths, for winners of a qualifier open to anyone off the beach, uh, street. "Even you could make it," Pat Grafton, one of the tournament's organizers, said to an inquiring reporter. Not really. One of the wild-card teams, local teaching pros Doc Malloy and Jean Mills, piled up all of six points in the first set of their 6-0, 6-2 loss to Smith-Goolagong. "The sun was in my eyes," said Malloy.
The relaxed nature of World Couples was never so apparent as when the effervescent Jaeger, tennis' Rapunzel in designer braces, spent time answering the clubhouse phones when she wasn't buzzing the premises on her red motor scooter. "This is nothin'," she announced to a bemused Emerson one morning. "My Yamaha at home does 80. It's got four gears, too." In a practice session one day Emerson was stunned to observe Jaeger wearing full warmups in the 90� heat. "I was sweating like a pig," said Emmo. "I was hoping the girl would take something off so I'd know she had blood in her veins. Andrea hit the ball so hard I started calling her Andr�."
Stockton and Jaeger made short work of Arias-Horvath, 6-1, 6-2. The slender Arias became the youngest male ever to win a match in the U.S. Open last month, and he already possesses a forehand that could bring down a stone wall. Yet Jaeger kept standing in and reflex-volleying some of his heavy artillery, once actually returning a shot from between her legs. "I'm there protecting my crotch and she's whaling away," Stockton said. "It's intimidating being on court with three kids who play so well so young. But Andrea outhit Arias from the backcourt all day. She's amazing. In two years it's all over for Tracy [Austin]."
Stockton saw enough of his infant partner in that match to notice she relished doing the one thing women must do to survive in mixed: play on the opposing man when necessary. "Traditionally, women have been afraid because they were supposed to be afraid," King said. "But Andrea is the new role model. She nails the ball right at the guys."