Monday, March 4, 2013
Drysdale, Pasarell changed tennis
By Greg Garber
NEW YORK -- He sprinted out to the service line at Madison Square Garden as the applause swelled.
Cliff Drysdale is 71 years old and has spent most of his life playing, organizing and broadcasting tennis, his sport of choice. Monday, he was introduced as a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame's class of 2013, along with Martina Hingis, Charlie Pasarell, Ion Tiriac and Thelma Coyne Long.
Drysdale left the court almost as swiftly as he entered; his ESPN2 broadcast was only minutes from starting. Looked after by a security guard, he jumped into an elevator.
Was he surprised to be named a Hall of Famer?
"Yes," he said, looking touched. "It was very nice."
And then he jogged to the broadcast position, where he called the exhibition match between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka with partner Mary Joe Fernandez.
Although Drysdale was a formidable player in his day -- he was a finalist in the 1965 U.S. Open and a doubles champion there in 1972 with Roger Taylor -- perhaps his greatest contribution to the game was as an organizer. He was a co-founder of the ATP in 1971 and its first president.
Hingis, obviously, is the marquee name at the enshrinement ceremony set for July 13 in Newport, R.I. She slipped into the major mix after Steffi Graf and Monica Seles dominated and was fortunate to win five Grand Slam singles titles before the coming of the Williams sisters. Hingis, along with Justine Henin, was among the last of the mortal-sized multiple-major champions.
Pasarell, a nice player, too, joins Drysdale as an enshrinee in the contributor category. He was the No. 1-ranked United States player in 1967. More important, he was one of those who helped launch the ATP, which gave the players greater control of their collective destiny. He was an involved board member from 1971 to '78 and went on to build Indian Wells into one of the world's best tournaments.
This year, the ATP World Tour will stage 62 tournaments in 32 countries. Prize money is expected to exceed $95 million by 2014. Drysdale and Pasarell established the foundation that made it all possible.
Would Rafael Nadal be making a reported $1.5 million for a two-hour exhibition Monday night if those players hadn't been so brave?
This question was posed just as Nadal walked by Pasarell's front-row seat.
Pasarell smiled, shrugged and shook his head.
"Cliff and I were part of a very special generation of players," he said. "When the tennis went from the amateur days to the open days for professionals, that did not happen by chance. The best players were all pushing for that."
Although Roger Federer and Nadal have been vocal at times about the state of the game for the athletes themselves, they have done little to mobilize the players. The Grand Slams have increased prize money, but imagine if Rafa and Roger and their friends actually threatened a shutdown? That's what happened back in 1973, when the players united behind a suspended player, Niki Pilic, and threatened to walk at Wimbledon. The All England Club capitulated.
"We were made to look like the bad guys, but we did what we had to do," Pasarell said. "I'm not sure today's fans, or even the players, know much about any of this. We're proud that we helped give the players a say in how the business operates."