20150817

TENNIS

Vitas Gerulaitis earned $48,000 by winning the 1982 Canadian Open Tennis Championships. However he maintained, "The 40-grand means nothing; I can make more than that from endorsements and other contracts from winning the U.S. Open." Hence "Flushing Meadow's No. 1, and after that it's dollars and cents. Actually, they're a close first-second. The glory was great at 18, but it sort of fades away. I can’t go worrying about getting higher in ranking (his highest was at No. 4), but I do feel like I could still win at Flushing Meadow (Vitas was a finalist in 1979)." 

Neil Amdur of the New York Times reported at the start of 1980, "Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe are the fraternity in men's tennis. Their money earnings, computer rankings, major titles and head-to-head rivalries reflect the gap that exists between them and Vitas Gerulaitis, Guillermo Vilas and Roscoe Tanner at the second level." 

Vitas grew up in Brooklyn, New York, was the son of Lithuanian immigrants Vitas Sr. and Ladonna Gerulaitis. "My goal is to beat Borg once," Vitas  told the press after winning the $400,000 Grand Prix Masters in 1980. Both had met 16 times. "I'd like to beat all 3 in a row. All I ever read is I can't beat these guys, but can beat all the others. I'm happy considering I'm supposed to be one of 100 guys who can't beat 'The Top 3'. Now (in 1980) I've beaten 2 of them." 

On reflection, Arthur Ashe acknowledged, "There's a gap, no question about it. Borg, McEnroe and Connors do different things, but what they do, they do better. It's a matter of temperament, confidence, court presence and the ability to play the big points well." From 1974 to 1982, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe combined to win 22 of the 37(*) Grand Slam titles. (*) In 1977, the Australian Open was played twice with Roscoe Tanner winning in January 1977 and Vitas winning in December 1977. The remaining 13 Grand Slam titles were split between Guillermo Vilas (4); Arthur Ashe (1); John Newcombe (1); Manuel Orantes (1); Mark Edmondson (1), Adriano Panatta (1), Brian Teacher (1), Johan Kriek (2) and Mats Wilander (1).

Bjorn had made the observation, "Always when we come up to big tournaments, we play well. We really look forward to big tournaments, we're very hungry to win titles, and we usually win. Why? I'm not sure, but it's funny that way." Vitas won 5 titles in 1977, of which 3 were played in Australia. "I like my lifestyle as it is and I can probably go on for years as one of the top 6 or 7 players in the world," Vitas said on reflection. "I've got to work on my game if I want to be the undisputed No. 1 player in the world and I don’t know whether I am prepared to do that. I need somebody behind me pushing me. I couldn't do it on my own."

Vitas was known for staying out all night at Studio 54 and he also had a penchant for cars. By 1977, Vitas reportedly owned 5 cars - 2 Rolls Royces, one Mercedes, one Porsche and one Ferrari. "I think they are works of art, beautiful creations. I just get a great kick out of driving them and certainly they are not a status symbol to me," Vitas explained.

In 1980, Vitas reached the French Open men's singles final. But after losing in the first round of the Australian Open, he announced, "I'm going to spend 2 weeks in Florida with Mr Hopman (his first coach was Harry Hopman) and also talk with my coach Fred Stolle and decide what to do. I feel I've got a responsibility to people, and I’ve played so much in Australia it has become like my second home. I enjoy playing in front of the crowd here, and they've supported me over the years, but I don't want to play mediocre tennis. I've made enough money to stop playing if I wanted to, but I still enjoy playing and I feel I can play really well for another 2 and maybe 3 years (Vitas stopped playing in 1985). You try to capitalize on it while you’re playing well. I started off OK on Saturday, but I couldn't finish it off. You have to be able to say to yourself, 'I've got to win this point' and then do it, but I’m not eager enough (hence losing to Brad Drewett)." 

Harry Hopman believed, "I am a great believer in the fact that each player has his own style. It took me a while to learn that as a player but I finally figured out if you've got something that's pretty good, stick with it. I am not a coach's coach. I don’t agree with these groups who try to patent strokes and make everyone look the same. Look, tennis is a habit. And if it is a bad habit, you’ve got to give it proper attention until you get into one that is better. I'm not looking for beauty…I'm looking for results."

Harry made known, "I've been disappointed in Arthur Ashe for the past 5 years (1970-75). In 1966-67 I thought he'd be a world champ in 2 years (Arthur Ashe won the 1968 U.S. Open and the 1970 Australian Open). But he got disinclined to work and didn't put much into his game. He had it all to become world champion, but he let it slip away. You can't do that because you never know what is around the corner. In this case it was Connors, which made Arthur's victory (at the 1975 Wimbledon) more dramatic. He shouldn't have won." 

Vitas won one tournament in 1981. "This year I just haven't worked as hard as I have in the last 5 years," he admitted. "I'm just starting to get interested in it again. It's my 10th year as a pro and that's a long time. I've got a lot of interests. Doing nothing is a big hobby of mine. I just got tired of practicing 8 hours a day and working that hard all the time." Back in 1977, John Newcombe told Vitas, "You've got the game but not the dedication. You've got to suffer to be the No. 1." Vitas acknowledged, "I need someone like Newk to push me along. He's done it all before and if only I could get someone like him behind me I'm sure I could gain the inspiration." In 1982, Vitas won 5 titles.

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