Harold Solomon went up to the woman who arranges transportation for players at the French Open tennis championships and, summoning up his best Gallic intonation, asked for a car to take him and his girl friend back to their hotel:
"S'il vous plait, Madame. Un chauffeur. Pour Sofitel, Pour deux."
Solomon grinned at a fellow American standing nearby. "That's about the extent of my French," he said. "Except, of course, when it comes to reading a menu or scoring a tennis match."
If it's Mardi, this must be Paris. And if it's "Quinze, trente, quanrante, jeu" instead of "15, 30, 40, game;" "avantage" instead of "advantage," "egalite" instead of "deuce," these Americans in Paris must be tennis players.
"If somebody in the U.S. was playing a word association game and said to me, 'Paris,' Brian Gottfried said the other day," The first thing would pop into my mind is, how you keep score in French.
"That and 'sandwich jambon,'" he added, motioning toward a tray piled high with ham sandwiches the way they make here - big slabs of French bread smeared with unsalted butter with a slice of very thin but flavorful meat in the middle. "I eat those things until they're coming out my ears."
Paris in the spring is a romantic place for Harold Solomon and Jan Lindsay, Brian and Windy Gottfried and the other couples of the international tennis set.
But they don't get to see that much of it. They have a different perspective from others who come here to lose themselves in continential delights because, contrary to the popular imagination, they are not here on holiday. pro tennis is a serious business that imposes a discipline and strict regimen.
A typical day for Solomon and Gottfried begins with room-service breakfast at the Sofitel, a rather antiseptic American style hotel at Pont de Sevres, on the western outskirts of the city. Most of the players stay there because it is close to the scene of the tournament, and they get a special rate arranged by the French tennis federation - $10 per night for a single instead of $26.
After breakfast, there is a car ride to any one of four practice facilities, none more than 10 minutes away. Then back to the hotel to change and out to Stade Roland Garros, five minutes by car to the northeast, on the southern lip of that famous, lovely park, the Bois de Boulogne.
Meal time is four hours before a scheduled match. Today, Solomon played Peter Elter, whom he beat, 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 starting at 2:30 p.m. So he had a big breakfast at 10:30 - four eggs, ham, corn flakes, two glasses of orange juice and a banana. When he arrived at the courts, he had two containers of yogurt and a chocolate bar.
Solomon is 5-foot-6 and 138 pounds.
A match in the French championships - all best-of-five sets on slow, red clay - can last anywhere from two to 4 1/2 hours or more. Solomon match today, for example, consumed more than three hours, even though it was straight sets.
Afterward, a massage is essential to revive muscles worked to a frazzle by constant running and sliding. Then a long leisurely shower, as much to cool the nerves as to cleanse the claycaked body.
Since the fading light of day lingers long enough to permit play until 9:45 p.m., matches stretch to that hour. Late dinners are the rule but at least good food, like fresh flowers, is a commodity available in Paris at all hours.
Cozy little restaurants are the one attraction that most tennis players get to enjoy in Paris, at least after they have come here a couple of years and are weaned away from the American fast-food joints that som many are conditioned to seek out in any city they go to.
When Solomon first came to Paris in 1972, there were no boat rides down the Seine, no visits to the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon's tomb or Notre Dame. (One Australian player on his maiden voyage, however, did ask one of his mates anxiously," Do they really have a hunchback there?")
Solomon occasionally wandered down to the Champs-Elysees, but not to gaze at the Arc de Triomphe. He was interested in other arches, the golden ones that signaled McDonald's invasion of Paris. Since the final of the Washington Star International in 1974, he has often favored a prematch meal of a Big Mac, large order of fries, root beer and hot apple pie.
Jan Lindsay, Soloman's globetrotting companion, said, "When I came here for the first time two years ago, I asked Harold, 'Where is everything? All the Paris landmarks?" He said, 'I don't know, I've never seen any of it."
Gradually, they have explored Paris together on foot, often at odd hours. "We've been out shopping quite a bit. He likes to buy clothes, and there's so much nice stuff here. More than you can fit in the suitcase," she said.
The problem was solved neatly by Vitas Gerulaitis, the bon vivant of the young American players, who took a week off from World Team Tennis to play the Italian championships because he was committed to do so in his endorsement contract with the Italian clothier, Sergio Tachini.
Gerulaitis arrived in Rome with only a smaller tot-bag containing a pair of jeans, some underwear and a white linen suit. "I figured I'd go to Gucci's, buy some luggage and fill it up," reasoned Gerulaitis, who went on his shopping spree at the first opportunity.
He also won the tournament and threw a victory party for himself at Jacie O's, the fashionable discotheque off the Via Veneto, buying champagne for the house as well as for the two girls he escorted in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. But Gerulaitis is the flamboyant exception to the rule, as well as the first American to win in Rome since 1960.
Lindsay considers it something of a tripump to have gotten Solomon to sample the sights and shops of Paris, especially the youthful free-spiritedness that is the Left Bank.
"We have a lot of fun on the tour. We do a lot of things, more so than a lot of the couples," she said. "In fact, we have to drag some of them along sometimes, like the Gottrieds. Brian used to do nothing. he went from the hotel to the courts and back. Those were the only ports he knew.
"I even got Harold over to the Louvre for a day. Now he likes that sort of thing. This year, he's only been to McDonald's once. It was the other night. We had dinner and went to a show on the Champs - "The Last Tycoon." I dragged him to that. He wanted to see "Obsession," but I knew that was gory. He stopped and picked up a hamburger on the way home, but he hasn't eaten there before a match yet."
Solomon said that the reason he has withstood the Big Mac Attack so far is that in Paris the "special sauce" has been changed to accommodate local taste. He doesn't like it.
"But anyway, he got to the final last year," Lindsay added, nothing that Solomon was the first American finalist here since 1957. "So I told him, "Whatever you did last year, do the same thing. Have a quarter-pounder with cheese without the sauce. You set the routine and I'll follow it."
Stan Smith and his wife, Margie, dined at Maxim's a couple of nights ago, guests of the suave, urbane Philippe Chatrier, president of the French tennis federation.
"It was great, a lot of fun, and certainly different," said Margie. "I had never seen that aspect of Paris before. The elegance. All the beautiful people were gathered there. The food was fantastic but it was fun watching everybody else.
"Here we've gone out to eat every night. We haven't eaten at the hotel yet. At tournaments in the States, we eat at the hotel practically every night."
Smith's wife is the former Marjorie Gengler of Locust Valley, N.Y., who was captain of the first women's varsity tennis team at Princeton and a fringe player on the women's circuit for several years before the women split off from the men's tour.
Bright and energetic, she keeps active and has been instrumental in organizing the tennis wives into a women's auxiliary for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the official charity of the Association of Tennis Professionals. Among the current fundraising projects is a tennis player cookbook, featuring three receipes each from a number of pros for which several of the wives are also taking photographs.
But Margie Smith has also developed a kind of domestic routine for the life out of a suitcase that is the international tennis circuit, once characterized aptly as, "A plesant but endless road trip."
"I've done a lot of laundry here," she said, nothing that Melissa Roan, girl friend of Raul Ramirez, and Windy Gottfried had sent out laundry at the Sofitel for $120 and $109, respectively. Such unsettling experiences are not uncommon for newcomers to Paris and other parts of Europe, such as the struggling young player who found out his utter horror that the 16 pairs of socks had sent out to be washed were in fact being drycleaned at $5 a pair.
"So this week," Margie Smith continued, "all the wives and girl friends congregate at the laundromat. You learn where all the ones near the hotel are located, what they shrink and starch, what times they're open and at which you can leave stuff and pick it up later.
"Laundry is a very big part of your life on the circuit, especially here, where after a match the socks have so much clay in them they look like flower pots. Colin Dibley wears his into the shower so that they're easier for Carol to clean."
The tennis circuit assuredly has its rewards, material and otherwise. At current money rates, the rich get richer and the poor get richer, although not quite as fast. There are the joys of the game itself, the shared experiences on the road that cannot be found in a 9-to-5 job and a house in the suburbs, a camaraderie and cosmopolitanism that are enriching.
But there are hassles, too. The circuit is not the carefree, heaven-on-a-round-the-world-ticket that it sometimes appears.
"If a player is doing fairly well in a tournament, he doesn't have time for much else," said Margie Smith. "The last thing he feels like doing afterward is going out on the town. Stan and I danced two dances at Maxim's, and I think that's only about the fifth time we're gone dancing in the 2 1/2 years we've been married.
"The average person can't conceive of what it's like, packing and unpacking every week. I don't like or dislike the travel at this point, I just do it.
"For us, it's a normal way of life to pack up and leave after a week. Everybody else is doing it with us. The nice thing is that Stan and I get to spend so much time together. But it would be different if we had children. I think that gives you an entirely different outlook on the circuit."
Ray Moore, 30, is a South African player who now lives in London. He is witty, unfailingly cheerful, universally popular. He used to be known as "The Wolfman" because he was one of the first tennis players to wear his hair long, before it became fashionable. Now he has an Afro and answers to the nickname "Hippie."
Moore is one of the journeymen of tennis, ranked 43rd on the computer, never a world beater but good enough to make a comfortable living, perhaps $80,000 or $90,000 a year before expenses.
"Dick Crealy and I are the socialists of tennis," he said with a grin. "We only own Mercedes to see how the other half lives, to get a feel for it."
Moore is of the middle generation that can remember the days before big prize money started coming into tennis a decaded ago, but has grown up acclimated to the changes in the game.
Tonight, he was heading for "La Couple" - "The Dome" in Montparnasse, a huge, cavernous restaurant in a remodeled train station where artists and other creatures of the Left Bank wander in at all hours. "You can sit next to people in dinner jackets on one side and the world's biggest hippie freaks on the other," said Moore, runner-up in last week's Grand Prix tournament at Dusseldorf but a loser in the first round here.
He is an enthusiastic raconteur who loves to tell stories about the great characters on the circuit: Australians Crealy and Bob (Nails) Carmichael; the Dane, Torben Ulrich; Romanians Ilie Nastase and Ion Tiriac.
He says, "The new guys are a different breed altogether. They're more professional, more dedicated, more single-minded, more competitive. The tennis player's life today centers on the tennis courts, the hotel and the shortest route between them.
"Perhaps that's the way it should be. The standard of the tennis is certainly higher," he says. "That's progress. But I think maybe it was a little more fun in the old days."