I think," said Tony Trabert, the Wimbledon champion who this week as the country's top amateur will lead the U.S. team in the defense of the Davis Cup, "the people who label touring amateur tennis players as tennis bums are undoubtedly jealous.
"Take a hypothetical case of a guy who works hard at tennis. He's got plenty of years when he's going to have to work, punching the clock from 8:30 to 5:30. But when he's young he has the opportunity to travel around the world with somebody else paying his expenses. In return he's performing, he's playing tennis to please the crowd. He's having a lot of fun, getting a good education. Why shouldn't be do it? Why should he be labeled a tennis bum? Other athletes who travel and play their sport aren't bums. It just doesn't make sense—and it gripes me.
"Look at baseball. And I really love baseball. So a baseball player takes a punch at another player or at an umpire. He gets fined and that's all there is to it, and everybody takes it for granted that ballplayers are going to blow up once in a while. Nothing like this ever happens in tennis, and yet when we complain about a call—or dare to question an official—it's written up everywhere that we're all a bunch of bad sports. Personally I think you'll find a higher type, a more intelligent fellow playing tennis than any of the other sports, and, furthermore, I think I'm a better sport than 99 and 9/10ths of the guys playing the game. Sure, I'm enough of a competitor to want to win, but I seldom question decisions if I think a linesman has made an honest mistake. The way I feel is that if I work all my life at tennis I don't want some guy losing points for me because he isn't paying attention."
Trabert, born Marion Anthony just 25 years ago, sat slumped in a hard-backed office chair and looked not unlike a successful junior executive in his neatly pressed brown-plaid suit. His blue eyes leveled on a spot across the room in the manner in which they habitually take dead aim at a few square feet of tennis court before he unleashes a blazing first service. As he warmed to his subject, Trabert spoke quickly with the confident air of authority and conviction that has moved some critics to accuse him of arrogance.
"I worked hard to become a champion, and it's something I'm proud of," Trabert said. "Like others who've reached the top I've had to experience a lot of things-obligations, responsibilities, disappointments, hard work, joy, time consumed, radio and television shows, clinics and speeches. I know it's the sort of life I have to accept, but at times you sort of feel like getting away and relaxing—and not worrying about pleasing everyone. Oh, just to get out of the goldfish bowl for a change.
"This shoulder trouble I had a few weeks ago. Actually it may have been a blessing in disguise because it was a warning that I was working pretty hard and that my muscles needed a rest. I'd been playing tennis almost steadily all year, and to have a minor injury is about the only way I can get a rest."
Trabert sat down again and threw his feet onto the desk. "People always want to know," he said, "how I got started in tennis and how I got so good at it. Well, I'll never know quite why I picked tennis over the other sports, but I do know that once I got to play and had a little success, I got hungry and wanted more success. That's what sort of pushes you up the ladder.
"Back home in Cincinnati our house in Bond Hill was near the playground. My Dad, a sales engineer with General Electric, was always sports-minded, and I guess from the beginning my two older brothers and I always liked playing all the sports with the rest of the kids on the block. Sometimes I used to go to the playground courts. The best tennis players in Cincinnati were playing there. It created a lot of interest, and when there's a lot of interest it sort of attracts you, and so I tried to play. Naturally I wasn't very good, but there was something fascinating about it—just what it is I don't think I can answer to this day.
"I was only 6 at the time, but there were people up there like Will Wellage, Andy Hittle, Bud Vorhees and Thelma and Harry Miller—all of them much older than I was—who helped me. I'd ball boy for them, run after soft drinks, and in return one of them would stick around a while, maybe only five minutes, to hit some balls with me.
"I didn't know until much later that tennis would be my sport. I loved baseball and was catching on Dan Teehan's Knothole team. I often wonder how good I would have been had I followed a baseball career. I started as a shortstop, but I was short and fat and Dan decided I was a natural catcher. I didn't hit a long ball but was consistent.