When players such as Tim and Tom Gullikson and Dick Stockton left the major Grand Prix tour last year to join the Grand Champions circuit, some thought suspense would take an indefinite leave with the addition of these younger players.
They thought the 36-year-old Gulliksons would establish an immediate stranglehold on the circuit for players 35 and over, meeting each other in the singles championships and combining for doubles titles. Yes, and maybe Stockton might slip past them every once in awhile.
Even players like 40-year-old Bob Lutz of San Clemente realized this was a definite possibility. He, Stan Smith and the others might have to step aside for the new wave.
Instead, no one player has established an Ivan Lendl-like dominance on the 1987 Grand Champions tour. While Tim Gullikson has won two singles championships and Tom has taken one title, the other three stops have included victories by three other players. Stockton won at St. Louis, Lutz at Washington and Harold Solomon at Boston.
And now, after today's final, the $40,000 Prudential-Bache Grand Champions event will have a champion other than the Gulliksons or Stockton. In Saturday's semifinals at the Riviera Tennis Club in Pacific Palisades, Lutz defeated the 36-year-old Stockton, 5-7, 7-6, 7-5, in a 1-hour 27-minute match. Sherwood Stewart beat Tom Gullikson, 7-6, 6-2, in the other.
So, one might say the Stewart-Lutz matchup in the final is a bit of a surprise. The 41-year Stewart has always been known for his doubles abilities, and most recently, reached the semifinals of the mixed doubles at the U.S. Open with Zina Garrison. Fittingly, Lutz is another player who is better known for his doubles accomplishments, more specifically, his four U.S. Open titles with Stan Smith and their near-perfect (one loss) Davis Cup record.
After coming from back from two match points in the second set against Stockton on Saturday, Lutz explained the workings of the circuit, why players like the Gulliksons and Stockton don't necessarily dominate every week.
"We pretty much figured that they would have an edge, just coming off the Grand Prix circuit," said Lutz, who essentially retired from the tour after the 1983 U.S. Open. "They have been winning all of the doubles, but we knew we'd finally bring them down to our level. Pretty soon, we'd have them playing just like us. That's the way it will be with (Jimmy) Connors. He'll win the first couple of tournaments and be relaxed. Then his game will start to deteriorate just like ours."
Lutz was kidding, of course. Connors just turned 35 during the Open, but as long as he keeps reaching the semifinals of Grand Slam events and remains in the top 10 he won't be playing the Grand Champions circuit. And, another issue is money, or as Lutz puts it, lack of.
"I think the circuit is starting to turn the corner where it could be really good," he said. "But we're not going to attract people like Connors with a $40,000 tournament. That's what we were getting four to five years ago. And, now it's even less because we've gone from 8 to 12 players. A few things will have to change."