About the time in early spring when jonquils are poking their yellow heads above ground, "old" professional tennis players may be found rummaging through the attic for rackets and other dusty equipment. Their objective is Jack March's annual "class reunion" at the Cleveland Arena, sponsored by a local beer called P.O.C. but officially known as the World Pro Tennis Championships.
The event has developed into something more than just a tournament. It is a gathering of the clan. Here the paunchy, balding men who once drew the applause of Wimbledon, Forest Hills and Kooyong return to try their creaking joints against the match-toughened stars of the pro tour. In an early round of the tournament, which ended last Friday night, Pancho Gonzales, the undisputed king of the pros, played Frank Parker, the thin, bespectacled stylist who was national champion in 1944 and 1945. Parker wore the same white shorts with the blue stripe down the side which are well remembered by the fans at Forest Hills. He had the same handkerchief sewn at his belt to wipe his spectacles. He hit the ball beautifully, same brilliant underspin backhand, erratic forehand and masterful court generalship.
"He looks as good as he did 12 years ago," commented red-haired Don Budge, who—at the age of 42—played in doubles only. But Parker, now a box salesman in Chicago, was no match for Gonzales' overwhelming power, and he went down 6-2, 6-3.
In the other quarter of the draw, Sporting Goods Salesman Frank Kovacs, the eccentric court clown who still has the finest collection of strokes in tennis but has never cashed in on this potential, ran into a refreshed and surprisingly in-touch Tony Trabert, now a Los Angeles bank-note salesman. Trabert won in straight sets 6-3, 9-7.
In the lower half, Bobby Riggs, with the same familiar waddle which marked his U.S. triumphs in 1939 and 1941 and his Wimbledon victory in 1939, met Ken Rosewall, the fledgling pro from Australia. Riggs is still the cagy court tactician who dishes up an assortment of "nothing balls," but age has slowed his step and dulled his reflexes. Rosewall was too good, 6-2, 6-2.
Thus, not surprisingly, the semifinals presented three members of Jack Kramer's tour and a fourth player who has just left it. It was Gonzales against Trabert and the apparently ageless Segura against Rosewall.
Gonzales beat Trabert but came within one shot of defeat in the best match of the tournament. After winning the first set, and with the score at five-all in the second, Tony had the advantage on Gonzales' service. This was the big point for the match. Pancho's first service was out. He spun his second, high-kicking to Tony's backhand. Tony gambled by hitting for a winner, but he outed the ball and the opportunity was lost. Gonzales went on to win 3-6, 11-9, 8-6.
Segura, the only player in the tournament who seemed afire with the urge to win, cut down the tiny Rosewall 6-2, 6-3. The frail Australian obviously is beginning to feel the strain of the one-night stands, and his game is showing the effects.
In the best three-of-five-sets final between the two Panchos, Gonzales raked the court with rocket blasts which sometimes turned the racket in Little Pancho's hand. Big Pancho lost his service only once—in the second set—and proved himself again the world's best tennis player, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.
After the boys had carved up $10,000 in prize money they went their separate ways—the touring pros back to their one-night stands, Parker to his boxes, Kovacs to his Florida sporting goods job, Trabert to his financial printing, Riggs to his golf and Budge to the precision springs he sells. Once the biggest names in tennis, the sport will have no solid competitive place for them until—when and if—there are open tournaments.