As Pat Cash showed at Wimbledon, the men's tennis world may be due for a shake-up, and that's fine with Palos Verdes' Eliot Teltscher.
The curly-haired veteran who was once ranked sixth in the world has been battling back from injuries the last couple of years and has been out of competition since March.
But he'll return this week when the Los Angeles Strings open Domino's Teamtennis play Friday at San Antonio. On Saturday they play their home opener at the Forum against Sacramento.
Teltscher, a successful tour player since the late 1970s, has never entered the graced circle of Connors, McEnroe, Borg and Lendl, but he was consistently ranked in the world's top 15 from 1980 to 1984 before requiring shoulder and elbow surgery.
Teltscher last played in the Volvo-Chicago tournament in March and defeated Connors before losing to champion Tim Mayotte. Now the 28-year-old is hoping to hone his game in the monthlong Teamtennis schedule and make a good showing at the U.S. Open later in the summer.
Teltscher is ranked No. 43, having fought his way up from around 60th after surgery. Getting back into the upper echelon is tougher than staying there, he suggested from his Palos Verdes Estates home this week.
"I've been resting and enjoying life a little bit, and I've been practicing. I feel like I'm hitting the ball pretty well in practice and I feel like I'm pretty fit--but it's hard to tell until you go on the court," Teltscher said.
"I'm ranked in the 40s. I was out about six months (after surgery) and when I came back I was about 60th. It was definitely a little bit of an adjustment. It's a lot tougher--you get tougher draws in tournaments, you don't get any byes, you don't get anybody who's ranked lower than you."
Teltscher doesn't know if he'll ever get back to the top 10, but he'll use Teamtennis to start the uphill climb without the win-or-out pressure of the tour.
Teltscher will team with John Lloyd, Anne White and Lisa Bonder for the Strings' quartet. Along with San Antonio and Sacramento, Miami Beach, Charlotte, N.C., and Somerset, N.J., round out the league. In a league match, each plays a singles match, doubles with the same sex and mixed doubles. League matches are determined by games won. Teltscher, who played Teamtennis for the first time last year, was third in the league with a record of 67-57.
But beyond that, Teamtennis is a bit, well, different than the usually sedate atmosphere of tournament tennis, and it's a world away from the cathedral-like quality of Wimbledon. Fans are encouraged to be vocal and walk around when they want. It has caught on in some of the smaller cities, though the Strings have yet to produce a large following.
How different is it? Teltscher, while never a McEnroe in demeanor, has been known to show temper. Last year he was part of a beer-throwing incident with a fan in Corpus Christi--which no longer has a team.
"I like the Teamtennis. It's a different crowd," Teltscher said with a laugh. "And it's a little more different in the little towns. They really get into it. You can yell, walk around. Plus a guy can root for his team, the same as if he rooted for the Raiders of the Lakers. He doesn't really have to know the players. It's not like regular tennis. If the teams could stay the same I think there's a future."
There's another twist: The team that is ahead has to win the last match, otherwise it goes to a 13-point super tiebreaker. Thus the last match always means something. "As you play it makes for more excitement," Teltscher said. He added that the Strings have talent--at least on the roster. "But what everything looks like on paper isn't necessarily what happens. You're going on games and a total score. It takes a little while to get used to."
The league also plays for minimal money, at least compared to the million-dollar purses of the major events. In last year's Teamtennis standings, Pam Casale of Sacramento was the top money winner at $34,083. Only three other players earned more than $20,000. By comparison, Teltscher has had yearly earnings of more than $200,000 on the pro tour, plus more from endorsements and exhibitions.
The Strings have one of the league's veteran teams with Lloyd, who turns 33 in August, and Teltscher.
Teltscher, who was part of a Palos Verdes Wunderkind crop in the early 1970s that included neighbor Tracy Austin, seems to view his veteran standing with bemusement. He can't answer the question of whether his best is yet to come--or is behind him--until he gets back to the major tournaments.
In his Grand Slam highlights, Teltscher was a quarterfinalist in the U.S. Open in 1980, 1981 and 1983; was a quarterfinalist in the Australian Open in 1983; teamed with Kathy Jordan to win the French Open mixed doubles title in 1983, and was doubles finalist there in 1981. He was a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1985. He had victories over Johann Kriek and Guillermo Vilas in 1986 but has not made much noise in a major event since surgery in late 1985.