A soggy, sodden blowhard named Donna cast the ultimate wet blanket over the U.S. amateur tennis championships at Forest Hills last week by forcing an anticlimactic postponement of the final matches. For most American fans the tournament had reached an anticlimax even before the hurricane struck, when Earl Buchholz and Dennis Ralston were eliminated from the men's division in the semifinals, leaving Australia in sole command, while Californian Darlene Hard stood alone against Brazilian Maria Bueno on the women's side.
The U.S. amateur championships were thus not very U.S. Worse—they were not amateur and not championship. The most prominent figure during the early rounds was professional Promoter Jack Kramer, who was busy, as always, proffering dotted lines to any promising young amateurs who cared to make an honest living at the game.
It was not so much the fault of Kramer as it was of amateur tennis' moss-backed officialdom that many of the youngsters lent an attentive ear. Take Earl Buchholz, for instance. Just turned 20 and full of tremendous promise, Butch is still far from being a truly championship player. Yet last week Kramer was offering him $45,000 for a three-year contract. Logically enough, the only real question in Butch's mind was whether to "go straight" now—or to continue in the quasi-amateur role for another year or two and thus command a higher price.
The problems facing the tournament as a whole were no less rooted in economics. Aside from the Australians, there were almost no foreigners to provide interest. The absence of top European players was explained by one USLTA functionary (unofficially and not for attribution). "The reason they're not here," he said, "is that we didn't offer them enough money."
Moreover, except for brief echoes of a happier past, such as the fourth-round match in which veteran Vic Seixas, 37, gave young Chris Crawford a 67-game tennis lesson he'll never forget, the play was of a pretty lackluster quality. This is not to belittle the splendid promise of such youngsters as Buchholz and Dennis Ralston, 18, who are the finest young U.S. players in years. It is only to mourn the fact that the promise cannot be fulfilled. An engaging youth with "normal interests" (i.e., music, girls), Ralston teamed with Mexico's Rafael Osuna to win the doubles at Wimbledon. But against Australia's Neale Fraser in last week's semifinals his lack of experience showed. He missed first serves, his lobs were devastated by Fraser overheads, and Neale's unpredictable service finally eroded him as surely as water does clay.
In the same round Buchholz faced the redhead Aussie with the Sherlock Holmes profile, Rod Laver, and suffered a different but perhaps no less inevitable fate. Sometimes brilliant, often sloppy, he took the scrambling, indomitable Laver into five sets and had him at match point three times. Then, in the 11th game, he pulled up lame and hurled his racket away. "These goddam cramps!" he wailed in his high voice. "Why does it always have to happen?" Nobody could answer him. Buchholz was similarly afflicted at Wimbledon and again at Mexico City in Davis Cup play. According to one doctor, he suffered "a circulatory collapse" brought about by a cold left foot. Cold foot or not, it was unlikely that Buchholz would have won against Laver, who, with a kind of easy arrogance and a fine display of brinkmanship, seldom seems to play any harder than the moment demands. The fact that no American was able to force Laver or Fraser to try really hard was the measure of this year's nonchampionships.
STRICKEN WITH LEG CRAMP IN CRUCIAL SEMIFINAL MATCH, BUTCH BUCHHOLZ ASSUMES A POSE SYMBOLIC OF THE STATE OF TENNIS