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Tennis : With Borg, Navratilova and Edberg, It May Be Too Much of Good Thing

September 20, 1987|Lisa Dillman

At first glance, the Southern California tennis schedule for this week sounds too good to be true. Yes, tennis fans, you can have it all, watching Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver right here in the Southland. All within 100 miles, and all within a week.

Now for the other shoe. Surely, only the most ambitious tennis fan will be able to see all the above-named stars, and for some, the cost may also pose a problem.

To put this into a different perspective, it would be like a pop music fan having to decide between seeing Madonna, U2, or Michael Jackson in the same week, all in the L.A. area. What makes the decision even more difficult is knowing that they might not come back for six months to a year.

Try looking at it in sporting terms. Say Greg Norman played against Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in a high-profile charity skins game in Orange County, the day before he plays in the L.A. Open.

Fans might opt to watch Norman play in this kind of setting, instead of going to see him in the first round of the L.A. Open.

Which brings us to the quandary tennis fans find themselves in this week. Today, just one day before the Volvo/Los Angeles tournament begins, Edberg will play Brad Gilbert at the Riviera Tennis Club in a charity event. And, Borg is scheduled to make his first U.S. appearance in two years, meeting former tour player Vitas Gerulaitis. Both Borg and Edberg are supposed to play one set and they might play doubles afterward.

Edberg is now the main drawing card in the Los Angeles Grand Prix event because of the late withdrawal of John McEnroe. So a tennis aficionado, or even a casual sporting fan might decide to go watch Edberg play Gilbert with the bonus of checking out Borg. Certainly, it is more attractive than going to UCLA's L.A. Tennis Center to see Edberg crunch someone such as Eliot Teltscher in the second round.

And, if the seedings go according to the rankings, Edberg (No. 2) would meet Gilbert (No. 15) in the Grand Prix final now that McEnroe is out.

There's one more event to toss into the mess. Navratilova, Shriver and six other top women players are competing in the $75,000 Audi Challenge tournament at Rancho San Clemente Tennis and Fitness Club in San Clemente, a four-day event that starts Thursday.

Incidentally, five of the eight women played the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles at Manhattan Beach last month, although Shriver and another entrant, Barbara Potter, competed only in the doubles event.

Still, the theory here seems to be saturate the market at any cost. Oddly enough, the three groups putting on these events aren't trying to undercut one another and they aren't even rival management agencies. The very same management group, ProServ, which is based in Washington, has a hand in all three events.

Conflict of interest is certainly nothing new to tennis, and it's nothing foreign to ProServ. In this case, the company is surprised that questions are even raised.

"They are doing well at ticket sales at the Volvo/Los Angeles," said Henry Brehm, vice president of event management and marketing for ProServ. "I think they've sold out for the finals and semifinals. I really don't think it hurts any of these things. Unlike Jack and Bob Kramer, I don't think the Forum exhibitions hurt serious tennis, either. The serious tennis fan will work it in."

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that ProServ clients have played in and will likely continue to play in the Forum exhibitions, which run throughout the year.

All of which puts Los Angeles tournament director Bob Kramer, who is also an official of the Southern California Tennis Assn., in a tight spot. Obviously, as part of the SCTA, he doesn't want to come out and discourage tennis development in this section. However, Kramer admits he wasn't exactly thrilled to hear of the crowded schedule this week.

"On all of these things the ProServ people asked us, 'What do you think?' We can't say for sure that it won't take away from ticket sales. But we did say, 'What if we came to your area and organized a tournament in Washington or the Baltimore area? What do you think about that?'

"As far as having lots of events close together, that event might be better off so many weeks apart. All events in Southern California are helpful to tennis. . . . But there's so many things happening, we might be shooting ourselves in the foot. Maybe we can spread it out."

Perhaps. Certainly, the Mita festival, in which Borg and Edberg are playing, and the women's event should do well financially. The approximate capacity is 3,000 at both facilities. The L.A. Tennis Center holds a little more than 8,000.

Really, the question here is of fairness to the fans. Why glut the market with one super-packed week of tennis and then have to wait five months before the next big tournament?

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