After several years, the research seems conclusive. There is no cure for Vitas Gerulaitis.
The 22-year-old tennis pro whose name sounds as if there should be a treatment for it is a flamboyant showboat, a New Yorker through and through Brash and brasey. Flip and sassy, Eminently likeable. Occasionally insufferable.
His tastes can be described politely as expensive, more harshly as extravagant. He prefers European fashions, mod but not modest. His accessories are by Gucci, Bally when he's slumming. In an era of two-car families, he is a three-car single: two Rolls Royces and the Mercedes he bought recently to celebrate signing a $250,000 contract with the Indiana Loves of World Team Tennis.At a postmatch interview after hebeat defending champion Arthur Ashe to reach the quarterfinals of Wimbledon for the first time last summer, as was asked if he still owned a $25,000 Lamborghini. "No, i sold it. It was kind of a lemo n,= said Gerulaitis, cautioning the assembled sportswriters, most of whom could live a year on his tipping money, "Never buy a Lamborghimi."
A few weeks earlier, during the Italian Open, he had created an Ugly American considered the selection of boots in his size unsatisfactory. Waving a credit-card case that accordioned to the floor, he berated a clerk: "No more boots? Why do you think I came to this tournament?"
A Brooklyn native who grew up and lives in Howard Beach. Queens, Gerulaitis has often been confused with Bjorn Borg, the 20-year-oldWimbledon champion who has sent so many pubescent hearts afluttering. They are built along the same slender but muscular lines and are similarly coiffed with shaggy blond manes. "When people ask me for Bjorn's autograph, I sign his name," Gerulaitis said once. "I figure that maybe some of his groupies will follow me home."
The son of a former Lithuanian Davis Cup player, who named him for a KIng Vitas of his native country, Gerulaitis played on public parks before he became a member of the elite West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y. Some of the writers who now interview him from the late 1960s as a smart-alecky but engaging kid who delivered wisecracks along with bologna sandwiches as a press-box attendant at the U.S. OPen.
He knows how the other half lives.He wants to live his way.
BUt Gerulaitis, who earned $15,000 in a World Championship Tennis tournament at Richmond and $32,000 for winning the Ocean City International, last month, plus another 15-grand as runner-up in a WCT event last weekend, says he doesn't have a terminal case of conspicuous consumerism.
"I don't do anything to show off or impress people, I just like to enjoy myself, and I'm lucky enough to be able to," he says.
"The cars? That's my hobby. It's a sickness. I've got stacks of antique car magazines. I love to hang body shops, stuff like that. My father and firends look at me like I'm a sicko. I guess I am.
"A lot of people give me static about it. They say, 'You haven't won Wimbledon or Forest Hills. Borg doesn't own a Rolls Royee," But I don't buy these things for show.
"When friends of mine are in New York, they're welcome to use the cars. I just built a new tennis court at my house, everybody comes over and uses it. I like to share what I have because I think I'm very fortunate. I've gotten more breaks than most players. I'm making more than a lot of players ranked ahead of me.
"I know I get taken advantage of. People abuse the privilege. My family's always saying, 'Don't you know that when you're nobody again, just hacking around the Bowwey looking for a second serve, everybody's going to forget. You'll just be a guy with a name that sounds like a disease.'
"Unfortunately, that's the way life is. I'm not going to change it. You might as well enjoy what you've got while you've got it."
Once the parochial schools champion of Greater New York. Gerulaitis had the academic credentials for an Ivy Leaague college, columbia, and the tennis credentials to drop out afte rone year and earn $67,452 in his first two pro seasons. Last year he won $90,217 in tournaments, more from WTT and exhibitions for which he isin demand because of his live-wire personality.
On court he is a crowd-pleasing showman, flashy, fast afoot, quick with a humorous aside. He has been known to white unbecomingly at linesmen, but generally his theatrics are in better taste than those of Ilie Nastase or Jimmy Connor, with whom he is frequently parired in those lucrative eexhibitions.
But afflence haas not spoiled his appetite for bigger titles. He haas been working hard on his game, which he says is "falling into place,"
He has improved his serve, especially the second delivery that used to be as a fearsome as a marshmallow. His backhand, almost non-existant four years ago, has become respectable. He has finally taken a suggestion Arthure Ashe msde to him long ago and is keeping a "book" on opponents, jotting down notes on tactics to aid a memory he admits is "so bad I cna't remember the names of people I've known for years."
He is developing a new mental aggressiveness.
"You can 't bent a great player by chipping the ball, just keeping it in play. (Rod) Laver's told me that a dozen times. (Chuck) McKinley told me the same thing," Gerulaitis said.
"On a big point against the top players, you can't expect them to make a mistake. You have to go out and win the point. And you've got to be aggressive match after match. I've realized that if I ever want to win a major ttitle, four matches don't mean anything. You win four matches at Wimbledon or Forest Hills, you're in the quaterfinals."
Newlywed Arthur Ashe says that he should not get along with his wife, the former Jeanne Marie [WORD ILLEGIBLE] , because they both are Cancers. Her birthday is July 9, his July 10, "I guess our Love transcends astrology," says Ashe, 23, who married the 25-year-old graphic design artist and freelance photographer three weeks ago at the United Nations chapel.
"We have similar interests and a compatible lifestyle," says Ashe, who shares with his wife a passion for African culture. She spent seven months in West Africa photographing tribal life as her senior project at New York's Cooper Union, "We are both kind of nonmaterialistic. I guess,"says Arthur. "We like a simple approach to life and would rather send our resources on experience rather than things."
Ashe's father is a Presbyterian, his mother was a Baptist.Ashe describes himself as "nothing specific . . . religious, but not conventionally so . . . kind of a fundamental skaptic." So what kind of a wedding ceremony did U.N. Ambassador Andrew J. Young, who officiated, perform?
"Call it [WORD ILLEGIBLE] -denominational," said Ashe.