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Pate Proves Small Fries Aren't Bad, Either : His Victory Over Edberg Gives Overlooked Tennis Players a Big Boost

September 28, 1987|JULIE CART | Times Staff Writer

It's not an official uprising, more a minor war of words, but David Pate's 6-4, 6-4 win over Stefan Edberg in the final of the Volvo/Los Angeles tennis tournament Sunday was the last shot fired in the skirmish between the lower-echelon tennis players and those who would oppress them.

Pate, ranked No. 19 in the world, beat Edberg, ranked No. 2, at the Los Angeles Tennis Center and the lower-seeded players and qualifiers cheered from the back rows and stairwells, not having been allotted box seats.

Pate and other players here have bristled at a published characterization of this tournament as being populated with small fries. John McEnroe pulled out, and organizers hurriedly invited Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors. All said they were otherwise engaged.

With only one top-10 player, the field was referred to by one reporter--in the absence of Big Mac--as Chicken McNuggets.

With Edberg as the only "name" player, some of the others thought perhaps the spotlight might spill over to them. Brad Gilbert, who lost to Pate in the semifinals, was miffed but noted the reporter had a working knowledge of menus.

Pate made reference to the situation when he thanked the crowd for coming to the match. "Stefan was the only big name in the tournament and you still all came out," Pate said, somehow undermining his own argument.

Pate also thanked his family and friends, "The noisy bunch--all my living relatives."

The presence of his family, and their prodigious vocal cords, clearly buoyed Pate. In his third tournament final of the year, Pate was as relaxed as if he'd been out hitting with his brother, Chuck, who is also his coach.

What was the difference this week?

"Chuck didn't yell as much," Pate said.

There was little in Pate's game to fuss about. His rocket serve was at its usual high velocity, if not as accurate as Pate might have liked. He served four aces in the match, while getting in only 56% of his first serves. He won $1,000 for serving the most aces (39) in the tournament.

Pate also teamed with Kevin Curren to beat the team of Gilbert and Tim Wilkison to win the doubles.

"I played as well as I had to to win," Pate said of the singles match. "I didn't think he (Edberg) was at the top of his game. I played pretty good and on the big points I played well. It makes my game a lot easier if I'm serving well. I have more confidence when I'm serving better."

Pate was confident enough to reprimand the media about the week's coverage.

"Sometimes I feel resentment towards the press for downplaying the level of the tournament instead of looking at it positively," he said. "A couple of players pull out and suddenly it's 'Edberg and Company.' There are 150 guys out there who can win.

"I think it helps me, it gives me more visibility to be on TV. My brother and I were talking about it today. In golf, you see 10 guys. They are there because they are all still in the tournament on Sunday. The only time you see a televised tennis tournament is in the semis or the finals. There are a lot of guys out there. We're good."

Pate's brother Rocky was among the group of 40 friends and family that came from Orange County and Las Vegas to watch. Like his brother, Rocky has strong ideas about crowd and media behavior.

"I think the crowd was slightly in favor of Edberg, which disappoints me," Rocky Pate said. "We are in America, and they should pull for the American. You know that if this were in Sweden, the Swedes would be pulling for Edberg.

"I hope you give him a good write-up, because he really deserves it. The media never pays attention to him, but he should get more."

The scene in the Pate camp was one of restrained celebration. The Pate parents, Chuck and Val, were thrilled about their son's win in his hometown. "It hasn't hit me yet," Val said.

Pate's only previous Grand Prix victory was in Tokyo in 1984. "It's nice to win in the United States," he said after the match. "I don't know what to do, I'm not used to this."

So unaccustomed was Pate to the victory ceremony routine that he failed to raise the winner's trophy aloft and mug for the cameras. He didn't even put it on his head. Furthermore, Pate's thank-you speech to the crowd was gracious and appreciative--no big-time tennis player would ever act like that.

So, if Pate has broken through for all the what's-his-names of the world, it's been a worthy victory. He won for himself, he won for his peers, he won for his family, and he won for all the small menu items.

"Not bad for a McNugget," said Rocky Pate, smiling.

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