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Jim Murray

It's Different If They Start Hitting Back

February 13, 1986|JIM MURRAY

The trouble with golf is that it does not follow form. The trouble with tennis is that it does.

Golf tournaments are won by mystery guests every week. Tennis tournaments are won by the guy who won last week. A guy winning three tournaments in a year in golf gets a ticker-tape parade. A guy winning only three tournaments in tennis is considered a charity case. In golf, with a winner, it's "Who's he?" In tennis, it's "Him again."

Why is one sport as wide open as a stampede and the other practically a key club? Why does Ivan Lendl win the big tournaments in one sport and Sandy Lyle and Andy North win them in the other?

Charlie Pasarell thinks he knows the answer. Charlie is a guy who spent his entire life in the second echelon of tennis. He was one of those players who was ranked No. 1 in the United States in 1967 and variously in the top 10 thereafter who could never quite crack the games of top players such as Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors or Bjorn Borg. He had enough first-hand experience to know why No. 5's remain No. 5's in his sport whereas golf regularly yields to the club fighters, the also-rans and the parvenus. There are no Rocky's in tennis.

"It's the nature of the sport," claims Pasarell. "Let's talk about golf. I may go out and shoot a 66. But, it doesn't prevent you from going out and shooting a 65. In fact, you may not even know that I've shot a 66. You never have that real, direct head-on competition. If I hit a good golf shot, it doesn't prevent you from hitting another good golf shot.

"However, in tennis, if I've hit a good tennis shot against you, I've probably put you in defensive mode and, chances are, you will not hit a good shot but will probably hit a weaker shot.

"It's a lot like boxing. If I hit you a good whack on the chin, that's going to put you in a totally defensive position. All of a sudden, you have to start covering up or swinging wild or bailing out. You are out of your style. I've got you. A good shot by me affects your ability to hit good shots."

The nature of golf invites anarchy, Charlie believes. It's a sport that might be better off if the rules permitted you to knock an opponent's ball in the deep rough and say, "OK, let's see you play that !" Or, if it permitted periodic stepping on his line or his ball, or whistling on his backswing or otherwise unsettling his concentration.

"Hogan never really beats Snead. Nicklaus doesn't beat Palmer," claims Pasarell. "But, in tennis, Lendl beats McEnroe. Laver beats the world."

On the whole, Charlie considers the mano-a-mano aspect of tennis a plus. As a tennis promoter, he is glad of the star system. If tennis became a succession of confusing, cookie-cutter tow-heads, one indistinguishable from the other, the game would be difficult to market.

"The economics of tennis are such," says Pasarell, "that you have three main sources of revenue: ticket sales, sponsorship and television revenues. Others are minor ones such as concessions.

"If you took a Grand Slam event, a Wimbledon, for example, they make 2 million pounds in ticket sales, 2 1/2 million in sponsorships and 8 million pounds in television revenues.

"You take any tournament outside these Grand Slam events and their revenues are sponsorship No. 1 and ticket sales No. 2. You're lucky if you make $100,000 in television revenue.

"Now, you take my tournament at La Quinta (Feb. 24-March 2). I've got to raise $600,000 in sponsorships to make the tournament work. Pilot Pen gives me the largest sum of money and they buy the title of the tournament. And then you sell supporting sponsorships.

"I have to raise the $600,000 in order to put up the $405,000 prize money and attract the top players.

"I got lucky. This year, I have Boris Becker, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander and Yannick Noah plus Brad Gilbert who looks like the next great American player. Lendl will not be here, John McEnroe is on sabbatical but we have the most exciting players in the world.

"You have to have players with proven marquee value. So, it's important to tennis to have a star system. Otherwise, it's like looking at two guys you wish would hurry up and give you the court.

"My dream is to have the first million-dollar prize money tournament on the circuit. To make this the equivalent of the golf Masters tournament. And you know the Masters could not have succeeded without that glory list of winners."

Pasarell, who will move his tournament from La Quinta next year to a new permanent Indian Wells site now under construction, does not feel tennis will fall into the trap of anonymity on him.

"Not as long as you're playing a real live opponent and not some artificially constructed standard of par. In tennis, you not only control what you do, you control what the other fellow does," Pasarell says.

In tennis, "Unknown Wins Open" will never become a standing headline.

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