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Tennis : Stakes Match Is Courting a Date in California

June 12, 1988|Lisa Dillman

After Ivan Lendl won $583,200 and professed his love for the Stakes Match, and Pat (No) Cash learned the other meaning of love in tennis--as in zero--the game's creator, former football coach Chuck Fairbanks, was satisfied as he took stock of the three-day event last November.

This, mind you, was before he saw the dismal television ratings, a mere blip on the graph. The meeting of Lendl, Cash, Stefan Edberg and John McEnroe in a novel format, playing for $1 million, failed to draw much attention outside the tennis community.

But, as Cash made his escape into the night, Fairbanks was already talking about next year and felt the 1987 site, Palm Beach Polo Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., likely would also be the setting for Stakes Match II.

Perhaps, he said, other sites would be used later, after some continuity was established in Florida.

Well, with negotiations heading into the final round, between ABC and promotional partners Landmark and ProServ, it appears that later might come sooner. Two Southern California sites are also under consideration for the 1988 event.

"I would say that, right now, PGA West is a strong first," said a source familiar with the negotiations. "The La Quinta Hotel is second and the Palm Beach Polo Club is third."

So far, the problem in returning to West Palm Beach is television. Apparently, the dates ABC can show the matches don't mesh with the dates the club can put on the event.

Which brings up the desert and the two other options. PGA West, of course, is known as the home of golf's popular Skins Game. This year's event is scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 26-27. The Stakes Match most likely will be held in early or mid-December.

And, although it's still too early to say which players will be competing in the Stakes Match, wherever it is, it might be safe to guess which one won't compete--Cash.

Last year's champion, Lendl, despite his ongoing multimillion-dollar suit and countersuit battle with his former management firm, ProServ, is considered a good bet for Stakes II. Lendl can always have his contract drawn up with Landmark, rather than ProServ.

There's one more consideration, meaning possible competition, if the Stakes Match should relocate in December. Jeanie Buss, president of Forum Tennis, is planning a six- or eight-man event for Dec. 9-11. The format has not been officially set yet, but Forum spokesman John Black said that oral agreements have been reached with Edberg and McEnroe.

One player in demand for the Forum event and the Stakes Match--and everything else--is 18-year-old Andre Agassi. After winning two clay-court tournaments and reaching the French Open semifinals, Agassi's ranking went from No. 11 to No. 6 in the world. To put it in perspective, this latest jump places Agassi one spot in front of Boris Becker and one behind Jimmy Connors.

Although Agassi isn't playing at Wimbledon, he could move up to No. 5, depending on how Connors performs during this stretch. At this point last year, Agassi was ranked No. 60.

And, he is the first new American player in the top 10 since Tim Mayotte and Brad Gilbert broke into the elite circle in 1986.

When was the last time a winning player apologized for a blowout?

Steffi Graf may have seemed ruthless in her 6-0, 6-0 dismissal of Soviet Natalia Zvereva in the French Open final, but she apologized to the crowd and again in the interview room.

It took just 32 minutes--and, subtracting time for changeovers--24 1/2 minutes of actual on-court play. Zvereva, 17, won 13 points and joined Dora Boothby in tennis lore, the ignominious chapter. Before the Zvereva-Graf match, if you can call it that, only one other woman, Boothby, in more than a century of Grand Slam tennis, was shut out in a final. Dorothea Lambert Chambers defeated Boothby at Wimbledon in 1911.

"I think despite losing, 6-0, 6-0, it's balanced off by getting to the finals," said Pepperdine Coach Allen Fox, who writes about psychology for Tennis magazine. "I think (Zvereva) is net ahead for the tournament. But it was maybe the worst beating ever. For somebody to get to the finals, you have to be a good player, you can't be an utter bum. If you can play that well in other matches, how can you lose that badly? You can't be that horrible."

Fox recalled other surprise Grand Slam finalists--Chris Lewis losing to McEnroe in 1983 at Wimbledon and Marty Mulligan falling to Rod Laver in 1962, also at Wimbledon--going down in one-sided fashion. Unlike Zvereva, however, they won a few games. Fox credits this to the difference between men's and women's tennis.

"The girls can't attack as well," Fox said. "The guys could hit a few good serves and get into the net. The guys can hurt you. She just didn't have any weapons to hurt Steffi."

Although 6-0, 6-0 scores are rare on the men's professional tour, a Pepperdine player, Robby Weiss, defeated Dan Goldberg by such a score earlier this year. Weiss won the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. singles tournament in May, but Goldberg isn't exactly a slouch, having reached the final in 1987. Fox, a former U.S. top-10 player, remembers losing, 6-0, 6-0, in junior competition and suffering humiliation in later days.

"I think with (Zvereva), panic probably set in after she lost the first set, 6-0," Fox said. "You can hear the murmurs from the crowd. The nervous laughs. If you become self-conscious, you're done, you can't play.

"You lose all your natural instinct. After beating Martina (Navratilova), you'd think she would have been more confident. Maybe, at 17, she's still emotionally flimsy."

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