The medical profession scoffs at the notion, but several prominent international tennis pros insist they were cured of potentially career-ending injuries by a Filipino "faith healer" to whom they went after orthodox treatments had proved ineffective.
Australian John Newcombe, the three-time Wimbledon champion who went to the Philippines for treatment of an arm ailment in the fall of 1974, even had snapshots taken of his "operation." To skeptics, he says, "See with your own eyes." To the layman, the photos look realistic enough.
The most famous case is that of Newcombe's longtime doubles partner, Tony Roche, who was apparently "cured" of chronic elbow miseries in this exotic way.
Ranked No. 2 in the world in 1969 and generally considered heir-apparent to the No. 1 Rod Laver, Roche was runner-up once at Wimbledon, twice at Forest Hills, and won the U.S. Professional Championship in August, 1970.
But shooting pains and a near-constant stiffness in his left elbow were becoming progressively worse. He adjusted his strokes to relieve strain, hired a trainer to travel with him, engaged in a vigorous exercise program and then gave up practicing to take stress off his arm. Nothing worked.
By mid-1971, he couldn't stand the pain, which he said felt like someone was jabbing on ice pick into his funny bone every time he struck the ball. He went home to Sydney for therapy at a sports medicine clinic and underwent surgery in September. An ulnar nerve was transplanted. "That turned out to have nothing to do with the problem I had," he remarked a trifle bitterly, a couple of years later.
Roche played in tournaments in 1972, winning the Washington Star International in July of that year, but the pain was building again and he needed weekly injections to keep going. In August, he had another operation in New York.
After six months of carefully supervised rehabilitation, he returned to the circuit. The pain was worse than ever.
By July, 1973, Roche thought he had exhausted all avenues and come to a dead-end. "That's ehen it hit me that my career was probably over," he said.
Newcombe had mentioned that some friends of his in London - a dentist and his wife, a radiologist - had gone to a faithhealer in the Philippines. About the same time, a lawyer friend in San Francisco told Roche he had seen incredible films of a Filipino opening a man's foot and removing a growth without using surgical instruments.
"I had nothing to lose at that stage. I had tried everything else," Roches said. After talking to Newcombe's friends and being reassured, he booked a flight to Manila and drove with his wife to Baguio, a university town in the mountains 45 minutes from the capital, seeking a faith healer named Placido, said to be at the height of his powers.
The story Roche tells, somewhat reluctantly, of that visit is astonishing.
He found Placido living in the slums, but the inside of his house was clean. The healer, who lived with his wife and four children, was a slight, soft-spoken, shy man of middle age who chain smoked cigarettes.
Roche and his wife, Sue, chatted with Placido and a young American who had been studying with and assisting him for two years. Then Placido went into another room, presumably to meditate.
Roche lay down on a bed and tried to relax. He kept his eyes shut throughout the next few minutes, but his wife stayed in the room, observing, except for a brief time that she felt faint and went outside.
Sue Roche says Placido "X-rayed" her husband's elbow by holding a piece of paper above it, the "gave injections" by making several thrusting gestures with his hand. He then massaged the arm lightly, and it opened as if slit with a clean incision.
The inside of the elbow - blood, tissue, bone, etc. - was clearly visible, she says, and the healer reached in with his thumb and index finger and removed what he said were three blood clots, depositing them in a bowl. He then closed the arm by making a lateral motion above it, never touching the surface. Roche said he had a scar for two days, but it disappeared.
He says the only thing he felt during the "operation" was Placido taking his head in his hands and pressing down firmly with his fingers, then massaging the wlbow lightly.
Placido told him not to play tennis for two weeks, and Roche flew home to Sydney the next day. When he resumed play he had no pain and has had no further elbow problems the ensuing 4 1/2 years. He has played tennis full-tine since January, 1974.
Placido never discussed religion, preached or asked for faith in his powers, according to Roche, nor did he ask for remuneration. "They can't make money or they lose their power" Roche said, adding that he had left a modest contribution: $20.
"I don't expect people to believe it.I probably wouldn't have believe it myself if I hadn't been part of it." Roche said, noting that he was both mocked and besieged by people wanting more details when his story was first published by a Sydney newspaper.
Roche also described the episode to Australian Davis Cup teammate Ray Ruffels, who had been sidelined nearly 16 months with an injury to his right foot, diagnosed as plantar fasciaitis - inflammation of the dense, fibrous membrance of the sole that binds together deeper structures of the foot.
His condition had gradually deteriorated since he hurt it initially in August, 1972. He had injections and treatments; he worked with the trainer and team doctor of an English football club; he wore special shoes and tried therapy and exercise programs, all to no avail.
After talking with Lance and Pam Mesh, Newcombe's friends in London, he scheduled a trip to the Philippines, but postponed it when women's champion Margaret Court referred him to a specialist in London. The specialist prescribed a diet that included a moratorium on beer - torture for a perenially thirsty Aussie - and Ruffels went home and tried it. It failed to help his foot.
He had just about given up and written off his career when Roche returned from Baguio. Ruffels decided to go there several weeks later and at Roche's suggestion, took his mother along to watch and lend moral support.
he experiences he relates are even more astounding than Roche's.
"The first day, he told me it would take three days - he had to take a growth out of my foot and do some other things," Ruffels said. "He just massaged my foot and it came open. Mum said she saw inside my foot and almost got sick.
"He closed it up, and I had to go back to the motel where we were staying and lie perfectly still for half an hour. The next day, I went back and he opened another part of my foot and took out some dead tissue and blood clots. There was blood all over the place, and Mum got kind of shook, but I had no scars afterward.
"The third day was the strangest of all. He had me lie face down on a bench. He took a bottle with cotton in it and an alcohol solution, lit it, and put it on the back of my calf. Mum said my whole leg was drawn up into the glass and looked as if it was going to burst, but the flame didn't go out and bubbles started coming up around the glass. He said that was oxygen that had been obstructing the circulation of blood.
"'You get really sore there, don't you?' he said, and I told him I did. He moved he bottle up and down my leg and said the different amount of bubbles that came out showed how the blood was circulating. . . .
"He was massaging my leg and he needed some tape cut, so he had Mum hold it, and he just blew on it and it was cut clean as if he had used a razor. It felt like he had stucka funnel in the back of my calf, and Mum said the flesh was drawn into the glass, all red and distorted, like it was going to explode all over the place. But it was okay."
Placido told Ruffels to wait three weeks before playing tennis. He waited two months, and has had no reoccurrence of the injury he thought had finished his career.
"When we went into the room the first time, he kind of prayed over the foot." Ruffels said. "His only explanation was, 'if you believe in God, anything is possible."
"I'd call it a religous experience. I don't think you'd ever say there isn't a God after you've been through something like that. I think you acknowledge that you believe in something outside this world."