Boomerang, Australia (UPI)—Gina Hopalong beat Chris Evert Lloyd 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in the finals of the $150,000 Outback Open Sunday to become the first Italian aborigine ever to win a major women's tennis tournament.
Hasn't this ethnic stuff gone far enough? Why, back in 1975, when he became the first black man to win Wimbledon, Arthur Ashe declared the subject of racial firsts pass�. But when a 23-year-old New Yorker named Leslie Allen defeated Hana Mandlikova, the world's No. 5 woman player, 6-4, 6-4 at the $125,000 Avon Championships of Detroit three weeks ago, the media once again jumped all over the easy angle: here was the first black woman to win a tennis tournament of any significance since Althea Gibson doubled at Forest Hills and Wimbledon in 1958.
In fact, though, Allen didn't just win a tennis tournament; she gave the women's game the shot of adrenaline it sorely needed. After all, Evert Lloyd hasn't competed all year; Tracy Austin is out of shape after recovering from an inflamed nerve in her lower back; Martina Navratilova is performing inconsistently; Evonne Goolagong is pregnant again; and Andrea Jaeger, whose feet are ailing, recently lost a first-round match to Peanut Louie, who has a much better name than game. So the women's tour is casting about for new draws.
Allen is much more than that. A fashion designer and a magna cum laude graduate in speech communications from USC, she's worldly, intelligent and regal. Her mother is an accomplished actress. Bill Cosby is a friend. What the Women's Tennis Association got itself was not an ethnic trivia question but a touch of class.
When Allen flew from Detroit to Oakland for her next tour stop, she found she had indeed arrived. After getting only five hours of sleep, she rose at 6 a.m. for a TV interview, spoke with the Los Angeles Times, the Oakland Tribune and a local radio station, addressed the students at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Junior High and, finally, had dinner with a magazine writer.
The next day Allen disposed of Candy Reynolds in straight sets. In the second round she faced Mima Jausovec, whom she'd beaten in Detroit. This time Allen, who at 5'10" has a powerful, high-kicking serve, had trouble with her first delivery, and Jausovec climbed all over her second. But by fighting off three match points and extending the world's 16th-ranked player to 7-5 in the third set, Allen demonstrated that she can play competitive tennis on a bad night. The fans at the Oakland Coliseum stood and cheered her in defeat.
From Oakland it was home to Manhattan, where the New York media confirmed her status as a celebrity: an appearance on Good Morning America, breakfast with the Times, a press luncheon for her at a swank midtown restaurant, the works. Through it all, Allen was poised, patient and reserved, but she left no doubt as to how she wants to be known. "Comparisons to Althea and references to my color are fine—as long as people think of me as a tennis player first and a black person second," she said over and over in one form or another.
If casual tennis followers are surprised by her recent success, Allen's peers aren't. At last year's U.S. Open she went three sets with Navratilova. A week later she beat Mandlikova. In Detroit she upset fourth-seeded Virginia Ruzici and the sixth-seeded Jausovec before again defeating top-seeded Mandlikova. In that match her aggressive serve-and-volley tactics worked to perfection. "She's quick getting to net," said Mandlikova, "and once she's there, she's tough to pass because her height gives her such range."
In the past two weeks Allen has jumped from 45 to 26 on the WTA computer. She's currently fourth in the winter-tour point standings, which means she has an excellent chance to be one of the eight qualifiers for the Avon Championships that start March 25 in New York. "She's always had talent," says tour veteran Sharon Walsh. "It was just a question of confidence."
As recently as two months ago, Allen's confidence was perilously low. A slumping satellite player, she had lost nine of her 10 most recent first-round matches and had a bad case of the flu. "In my weakened condition, I found I couldn't do things I had taken for granted," she says. "I had to concentrate more and become more analytical about my game."