The world is full of short people. We are here so tall people may feel superior. It is God's compensation to them for having given us all the brains and good looks. Short shortstops loved Phil Rizzuto, who came up to Mickey Mantl's waist, and no quarterback was more majestically short than Eddie LeBaron. Alan Ladd stood on a box to kiss his leading ladies while John Wayne, who is tall, spent the night with his horse.
For everyone who ever wondered why the silly racket was so large, who ever asked why the net was so high, who ever reached and stretched the limit and still hit the cursed fuzz ball on the cursed wood - for all of us who would trade a lifetime of shortness for one long day of tallness on a tennis court, our hero is Harold Solomon, a Lilliputian who kicks the Brobdingnagians in the shins until they double-fault the match away.
Solomon is 5-foot-6 and weighs about 140 pounds. He is 24 years old, a native of Silver Spring, the winner of nearly a half-million dollars in five seasons. currently ranked the 13th best player in the world. A week ago he won at Cincinnati and next week he defends his 1976 championship at Louisville. Curiously, the sustained excellence has gone unappreciated by a lot of people (who are, one suspects tall).
Those complainers say Solomon is a freak. All he does they say, is hit it back. The golden retriever, he's been called Chinese water torture inshort pants. A night-club comedian said. "I watched Solomon start a match. I left to have lunch. I went to the john. I took a nap. I came back and Solomon had just won the first game." If Solomon ever gets married, the ceremony will be at the baseline. He never leaves it.
And who cares? That is Solomon's game. His serve is more a rainbow than bullet and his two-handed backhand is a deadly accurate dart not a bomb. His forehand is his best offensive weapon, combining strength and precision. It makes sense, then, for Solomon to stay at the baseline, getting it back, for he is most vulnerable at the net. With his equipment. Solomon has done an athletic wonder and see him at work is to see a man extend the limits of his resources. This guy is trying his socks off and it is lovely to watch.
For three hours the other night at the Washington Star International tornament. Solomon and an Australian, Phil Dent played a match that tested not only their tennis ability but their will.
Both passed on both counts, turning away from opportunities to give to weariness to surrender, in whatever desguised fashion to the pressure of a match in which the other guy was playing superbly hitting winners getting it back sprinting from side to side diving for a shot.If this is the game that Solomon creates even tall people should recognize it merits.
"Harold's size dictates his style of play." said Lenny Solomon, the goldern retriever's sire. "And so far we haven't been able to convince the public of that. If a guy's the best 120 pound boxer in the world, he doesn't step in there and slug it out with a heavy-weight, does he? A baseball pitcher doesn't throw all fast balls, does he? He throws a let-up once in a while. Why not in tennis?"
The moon ball. That is Harold Solomon's let-up pitch. A mon ball is a lob that jumps over the moon. In reference to Solomon's lob, the words "moon ball" are usually a said with a touch of disparagement. It is as if Solomon does nothing but lob, lob, lob. It is as if he has won a half-million dollars playing like your Aunt Alice.
Wrong. "Harold is a great competitor and a great player no doubt." Dent said. When someone asked Dent if that we really truly, tennis that Solomon plays - hitting it back, hitting it back, eternally hitting it back - Dent seemed surprised. "Yes, it is tennis. He's in the first 10 (sic) in the world, so it must be tennis. It's just a painful way to play it. I go bonkers doing that."
Solomon was maybe 8 years old when he began bonkering folks. He had this strange forehand, with the racket seeming to come out of his socks, and his backhand was self confessed junk. People gave him advice. Poor, short kid.
"They tried to make me use a conventional forehand." Solomon said. "I wouldn't let them do it. I hit every ball out of the stadium."
"And I paid for them." Lenny Solomon said.
Why wouldn't Solomon change?
"It was good forehand." A half-million dollars into a pro career, Solomon now sneers at the memory. "Everybody was full of balderdash, weren't they?"
The backhand was another matter. "The worst one-handed backhand you ever saw. Solomon said. So when he first saw a two-hander, he switched. "I figured it couldn't be any worse. And all the pros said it wouldn't work." Another sneer.
Solomon's twohanded backhand seems to be him impression of a man flipping a shovel full of snow over a hedge. The racket starts out nearly perpendicular to the court and somehow rises to meet the fuzz ball in time to drive the tall guy out of his 6-foot mind. Meanwhile, Solomon is composed.His work requires patience. He is painting a mural every time out, not penciling in a sketch.
"people have knocked his game from the beginning, even when he was No. 1 in the country under 21 and Jimmy Connors was No. 3." Lenny Solomon said. "But harold always had one thing. I'LL put his nerves against anybody's. Maybe not strength, not style, but nerves. He's always had heart."
Lenny Solomon is 5-foot-6 too.