Don't tell Dick Stockton he was (at least) half the reason that he and partner Bonnie Gadusek won Sunday's final of the $100,000 Ford Sports Tennis Championships. He'll deny it.
Stockton, who played a strong and steady second to Gadusek through most of the week, took charge from the start to secure a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Anne Smith and Raul Ramirez at the Laguna Niguel Racquet Club.
"Bonnie carried me all week," said Stockton, shrugging off questions about his impressive performance. "I've never played with her before, but she holds more than her own up there (at the net); she's got a great serve, she's very competitive, she volleys well and she doesn't let herself get intimidated by any man."
So much for inflated egos of male athletes 35 and over.
What Stockton declined to admit was that he held more than his own at the net, he had a great serve and he didn't let himself get intimidated by anyone. Especially the man he had singled out before the match as being "dangerous" and "very intimidating . . . especially at the net."
Ramirez, who had several chances to live up to Stockton's assessment, failed to deliver, especially at critical moments.
At 3-3 in the first set, he and Smith were all over the court during a long rally until a high lob of Gadusek's landed right down in front of him and . . . skipped away again. Game Gadusek.
After double faulting at 5-4, Ramirez ran back after lobbing to a generally smash-happy Stockton, only to watch his opponent gently tap the ball into the inside corner. Advantage Stockton.
Before Ramirez' next serve, Stockton asked to step back and wipe his racket. Smith twirled hers. Her partner studied the toes of his high tops.
Ramirez served and was called for a foot fault--his second up to that point. His second attempt was returned by Gadusek's two-handed backhand into Smith's firing range. She tried to smash, but the ball tipped the net and dropped into the ready-and-waiting racket of Stockton. A quick slice to a stunned Ramirez and the set went to Stockton-Gadusek.
The second set brought out further Stockton action. He effectively smashed virtually every ball that got anywhere near him and played tiddlywinks with a few spinners off the net. When Smith tried to bloop one over his head, Stockton reached up and slammed it back to her ankles.
The finale came at 6-5, Ramirez' serve. A couple of easy misses by their opponents gave Stockton and Gadusek a 0-40 advantage at match point. The serve was returned to Ramirez' far corner. It was lobbed back to Stockton and smashed only to be caught by the saving reach of Smith, who tried to sneak it by Gadusek. But Gadusek hit it to no man's land, deciding the match.
Gadusek seemed jubilant after the match, yet paralleled Stockton's ability to pawn off compliments on her partner.
"Oh, I feel I played well," she said. "But Dick really played well. He covered most of the court and poached for me the whole match. And his serves were great too."