Amateur tennis might as well stop waiting for a miracle man, wrote former Davis Cup Captain David Freed in this magazine recently (SI, April 2), because "even if he comes along he'll turn pro within a year or two." During the last few months, however, more optimistic fans have been keeping a hopeful eye on one amateur player who may still be young enough to pass a miracle or two before the pros get him. Since entering UCLA as a freshman last fall Charlie Pasarell has already beaten a fair sampling of the nation's best players (including Jon Douglas and Ron Holmberg), and last month before a delirious crowd of onlookers in his native San Juan he came within a hair of beating the best amateur player in the world, Australia's Rocket Rod Laver.
"Charlie can give any amateur in the world a tough game," says UCLA Coach J. D. Morgan. "This is a boy who plays like a man. I know how Laver must have felt down in San Juan."
The search for promising youngsters is a never-ending one among tennis coaches, and Morgan is one of the sharpest-eyed bird dogs in the business. He began pointing for Pasarell years ago, "when Charlie was only 12," he says. Today, at 18, Charlie (Charles Pasarell Jr.) is tall (6 feet 1), strong and still growing. He is agile and canny on the court, and his armament includes every shot needed: a devastating forehand, a smoothly efficient backhand, a sure, powerful volley and as strong a serve as anyone could want.
This young paragon comes honestly by his talents. His father, Charles Sr., was champion of Puerto Rico for years, and his mother, Dora, is one of the island's leading women players. From the time he was 8 "Charlito" has concentrated his athletic talents on tennis. "I played baseball and things like that just for fun," he says, "but tennis was my game." Tall and skinny for his age, he spent his earliest years loping around the Caribe Hilton courts under the watchful gaze of Professional Welby Van Horn, who runs a tennis kindergarten full of potential champions (SI, April 10, 1961).
Like many young players today, Charlito soon developed a strong serve and volley, then had to struggle to straighten out his ground strokes. Even while he was learning, however, he was winning tournaments. At 14 he won the mainland national jaycee tournament. At 15 he began beating his father and took over the No. 1 men's ranking in Puerto Rico. At 17 he won nearly every junior tournament he entered, including the national juniors.
To continue his education in tennis Pasarell could hardly have selected a better school than UCLA. The rough competition he needs is abundant in the Los Angeles area. UCLA's freshman team has Dave Reed and Arthur Ashe, its varsity has the No. 12-ranked American, Larry Nagler. USC, across town, has the strongest team in the country: 1960 Wimbledon doubles champions Dennis Ralston and Rafael Osuna, plus 10th-ranked Bill Bond and comer Ramsey Earnhart. Allen Fox, a graduate student at UCLA and No. 8 nationally, comes out to practice almost every day; Jon Douglas stops by frequently, and so do a handful of other ranked players. "The quality and depth of competition that Charlie is facing is terrific," says Morgan. "He knows if he doesn't play well he'll be beaten soundly. And if he plays just so-so he'll probably be beaten, too. He's not the king here yet, though he has a great chance of becoming it."
Pasarell's game fundamentally is so sound that Morgan is not tinkering with his strokes. He is working on strategy and tactics and on what he calls "match toughness." Charlie's game has toughened considerably since he first played in the San Juan international tournament six years ago. He had never won a match in it until this year, when he beat seventh-ranked Ron Holmberg 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the very first round. In the second round he startled even his most fervent admirers by beating Mexico's Mario Llamas 6-0, 6-0. Then he took on Laver. For nearly two sets Pasarell seemed clearly the better player. He broke service three straight times and won the first set at love. All Pasarell's shots were working beautifully, but his volleying in particular was incredible: he did not miss a single volley until the ninth game of the second set. At 2 all in the second set, with Laver serving, Pasarell nearly made the breakthrough that would have won the match. On ad out he moved around Laver's second serve and hit a low cross-court forehand. Laver volleyed the ball off his shoe tops into the forehand corner for a winner. From that point on, the Australian gradually regained confidence and took command in predictably championship style.
But Charlie Pasarell was not too downhearted and neither were his American fans. "I used to get scared whenever I started to win," said Charlie Pasarell last week, "but not anymore. Now I'm not afraid to beat anybody."