When the $100,000 Volvo Tennis Classic is played in Washington next month, Arthur Ashe will be training in a New York gym, taking daily Spanish lessons at Berlitz, and spending more time with a television microphone than a tennis racket.
Ashe, 1975 Wimbledon champion, is scheduled for surgery on his left heel Wednesday and will be out of action 2 1/2 to three months. But he came to town yesterday to boost the 32-man tournament at George Washington University's Smith Center, March 14-20, because he is a longtime supporter of the beneficiary, the Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation.
In Ashe's absence, the top drawing cards will be 1976 Wimbledon and WCT champion Bjorn Borg, defending Grand Prix champ Raul Ramirez and 1977 Australian Open champ Roscoe Tanner, Borg. 20-year-old Swede ranked No. 2 in the world, will be playing locally for the first time.
Four of the world's best doubles teams also are entered: Ramirez and Brian Gottfried, Fred McNair of Chevy Chase and Sherwood Stewart are not far behind, having beaten the Wimbledon champions in the French Open and Grand Prix Masters finals last year and split six matches with them. Okker-Riessen are reigning U.S. Open champs. Smith-Lutz ranked No. 1 in the U.S. five times before being supplanted by McNair-Stewart on the basis of 1976 results.
The two most promising young American pros also are entered - former U.S. Junior champ Billy Martin and NCAA champ Bill Scanlon, who has beaten Ilie Nastase twice this season.
Defending champion Harold Solomon of Silver Spring will not compete. The Volvo tournament is part of the Colgate Grand Prix series, and Solomon is playing WCT's rival "World Series of Tennis," which has a stop in St. Louis the same week as the Volvo.
There will be a 32-man qualifying event to fill four places in the draw, March 11-13 at the Regency Racquet Club in McLean, site of yesterday's Ashe reception.
Ashe, 33-year-old native of Richmond who maintains residences in New York and Miami but considers himself a "citizen of the world," is popular in Washington and will be missed. Although understandably apprehensive about surgery of any kind, he sounds relieved at the thought that the heel which has ailed him for five years finally will be fixed.
For some time Ashe has worn an artificial heel and special supports in his shoes, but he aggravated the old injury on three occasions last year. It bothered him more than he let, on, undoubtedly contributing to his worst record in many years, and became more painful the last two months.
"The heel is constantly inflamed, and since November I've had acute tendinitis in the Achilles tnedon as well," Ashe said. "It's gotten to the point where I had three options: play at bout 70 per cent effectiveness, quit the game or have the operation. I want to play another three to five years, so I'm having the operation."
Ashe said the surgery, intended to remove calcium deposits and relieve friction between the bone and Achilles tendon, is dilicate, but has been performed successfully on a number of athletes, including pro basketball players Rick Barry and Earl Monroe.
It will be at least mid-April before Ashe can play competitive tennis, but he will start working out in a gym shortly after leaving the hospital.
A thoughtful man of varied interests, Ashe also is looking forward to having time to pursue other activities.
"I'm finally enrolling at Berlitz, which I've wanted to do for a long time," he said. "The Americans are the only players on the tennis circuit who don't speak two, three, four or more languages. I was going to take French, but I think Spanish is the most useful second language these days.
"I'll also be writing a lot, if I get some assignments, and working for ABC on the weekends."
Ashe recently finished what he calls my first assignment as a journalist," writing about and photographing the Australian Open for Tennis Magazine.
He also has begun a three-year contract with ABC-TV as a commentator, a bit of moonlighting that he hopes to expand into a possible full-time profession after he retires from tennis. "I'm profoundly disappointed that ABC didn't pop for $80 million for the 1980 Summer Olympics," he grinned, "because I was looking forward going to Moscow."
While in town, Ashe did some shopping for Christmas presents he didn't give because he was in Australia during the holidays. "I'm giving most people the same gift, although I had to impose on a friend to do it," he said. "I bought a lot of copies of 'Roots' and had had Alex Haley autograph them for me."
Ashe's Australian journey, as did most of his 1976 from April on, yielded much frustration on the court. He won only three of eight matches in four events and reinjured his heel. The only salvation was that he won the Australian Open doubles with Tony Roche, his second Grand Slam doubles title. (He won the 1971 French Open with Marty Riessen.)
"That was a nice addendum to my biography," said the winner of the U.S. Open singles in 1968, Australian in 1970, and Wimbledon in 1975. "Otherwise those four weeks really would have been a disaster."
Ashe did the most abrupt nosedive of 1976 after starting the season as if he would reassert the No. 1 world ranking he held in 1975. He won 29 of his first 30 matches, five of six tournaments, but got beyond the quarter-finals of only one tournament the rest of the year. Frequently he did not get that far - and plunged out of the world Top 10 for the first time in years.
Now, with the prognosis for his operation encouraging, he is hopeful again. "I tell you, I'm going to win Wimbleton next summer," he said, after finishing his shopping yesterday.
"I'm going to win it," he smiled, "and when I'm interviewed on NBC-TV, the first thing I'm going to say is, 'Too bad this couldn't be on ABC.'"