The WATCH circuit recently stopped at Orlando, Fla., on its spring tour. The initials stand for World Association of Tennis Champions and it is the nearest thing there is to a farm system in men's prop tennis.
Fame accompanies Jimmy Connors when he gets $200,000 for a challenge match or wins $100,000 in a tournament. But the sport is tough for the young players who want to share some of those inflationary purses that have marked the tennis boom.
In a WATCH tournament there are preliminary rounds to qualify to join the 24 exempt players in the round of 32. There were 204 competing for the eight open spots in the Orlando tourney.
The format is similar to the pro golf tour in which the "rabbits" have to qualify on Monday in order to join the exempt elite.
Included in the championship rounds were Alvaro Betancur of Colombia, who won the WATCH circuit title last year; Reggie Genois, Canada's No. 1 player; Rick Fagel, a former Ivy League champion from Columbia University; Francisco Gonzalev, the NCAA champion from Ohio State, and a couple of dozen foreign players trying to break into the big time.
It costs $15 to enter and $10 more for a player who makes the championship round. Once there, he is assured of a purse.
The Orlando tournament had a total purse of $6,000 which is above average. Usually, the winner of one of these tournaments receives a top prize of $700.
A 19-year-old Jan Kallquist, Swede, remembers that his countryman, Bjorn Borg, was the wunderkind of the tennis world at 17. Borg won the Wimbledon championship last summer at 20.
"We have many good players in Sweden," said Kallquist, "but the competition in this WATCH tournament is the kind we all need if we are to challenge the top players. That's why we're here. The money in the U.S. is very inspiring."
Kallquist and his countryman, Goran Bergstrand, who is only 17, came to the United States at Christmas to play in the Junior Orange Bowl event and other events. Their money ran out after the Orlando tournament and they went home.
Typical of the players in the WATCH tournament qualifying round at Orlando was Jim Breech, a 21-year-old black pro from Bridgewater, N.J.
Breech graduated from East Stroudsburg State last summer with a degree in health and physical education. Prior to the Orlando stop, where he was eliminated in the first round, Breech had played in four tournaments and made $100.
"You can't cut it on that," he said.
"It costs between $70-$80 a week for expenses and then you've got to hit the hamburger route. I share expenses on the circuit with three other guys and we make out. We get a room rate of $20 a day through the WATCH committee and we take turns getting the soft bed.
"We do what we can for them," said Gene Hamilton, the WATCH tournament director. "We try to arrange rates for good rooms that the players can share. Many of the players don't have cars so we arrange rides for them. Often, two guys playing each other ride in the same car. But there is not bitterness when one loses to the other. It's always on to the next town.
"I guess it must be worth it when you get 204 very good players trying to qualify for eight places."