Someone ought to give Stan Smith a blood test. Rumor has it there's holy water running through his veins.
Smith, a former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion, has always had a reputation for being one of tennis' best sportsmen. Squeaky-clean too. Sort of a John-Boy Walton in tennis whites.
These days, Smith donates a great deal of his time to charitable causes. He plays in several charity tournaments a year, serves as an official liason to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and remains active in many programs designed to develope amateur players.
Though the term "charity" is often included in the portfolios of many professional athletes, Smith's intentions appear real. A man who travels back and forth across the country to help beginners with their backhands can't be all bad, however hard he may try to disagree.
"Oh, I'm actually a terrible guy," he joked. "I throw tantrums and yell and scream on the court now. And my kids'll tell you I beat them."
Sure he does. On the courts, that is.
Smith plays a few tournaments a year for his own status. He's playing in the Grand Champions Tour this year, and came in second to Tom Gullikson in the finals of the men's 35-and-over division at the U.S. Open.
But most of the court time he spends is dedicated to helping others, most notably is his interaction with amateur players in corporate-sponsored clinics such as the Ford Sports Tennis Championships he's playing in this weekend.
The tournament, which benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Orange County, provides a mixed-doubles meeting ground for pro and amateur players. Being held at the Laguna Niguel Racquet Club, the series represents a great need in tennis today, according to Smith.
"Tournaments like these really help bring life to the sport," he said. "Tennis needs a broader base all around--not just for pros. If we can get out there and show more people they don't have to be a superstar player in order to play competitive tennis, it'll really help the future of the game. People get discouraged and forget that it's good exercise and they never stop learning . . . I'm still learning."
And what could you learn, Mr. Smith?
"Oh, a different backhand angle maybe, or maybe (a shot) standing on your hands."
Friday's quarterfinals: Ilie Nastase and Robin White def. Trey Waltke and Melissa Gurney, 7-5, 6-4; Stan Smith and JoAnne Russell def. Jose Higueras and Peanut Louie Harper, 6-4, 6-4.
Today's matches: Russell and Smith vs. Anne Smith and Raul Ramirez, 1 p.m.; Bonnie Gadusek and Dick Stockton vs. Nastase and White, 2:30.