A four-man, $250,000 invitational event billed as "The Grand Slam of Tennis" by CBS-TV, which will televise it Saturday and Sunday from Boca Raton, Fla., has again raised the question of whether the network has unwittingly misled its viewers.
French and U.S. Open champion Guillermo Vilas was listed among the participants in promotions by CBS during its Super Bowl telecast last Sunday, even though Vilas had withdrawn because of an injury two days earlier. Brian Gottfried was designated that Friday to replace Vilas in the field with Jimmy Connors, Wimbledon champion Bjorn Borg and Australian Open champ Vitas Gerulaitis.
Additionally, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has appealed to CBS not to identify the event as "The Grand Slam of Tennis," charging that this title "will mislead the American public and do harm to the credibility of the sport."
Philippe Chatrier, president of the ITF, pointed out in a cable to CBS Sports president Robert Wussler Thursday that the term "Grand Slam" traditionally has referred to winning the national championships of Australia, France, Great Britain (Wimbledon) and the United States in one year, a feat accomplished by only two men (Don Dudge in 1938, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969) and two women Maureen Connolly in 1953, Margaret Court in 1970).
Chatrier suggested that use of the title to promote a four-player television event "is to cheapen the title 'Grand Slam' and destroy one of the game's great traditions."
Chatrier sent a copy of the cable to the House Subcommittee on Communications, which chastised CBS during hearings last fall for misleading the public in telecasts and promotions of "Heavyweight Championship of Tennis" challenge matches that were falsely billed as "winner take-all."
Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin (D-Calif.), chairman of the Subcommittee, told The Washington Post he was less concerned about the "Grand Slam" billing than about CBS's use of Vilas's name in promotions to the Super Bowl audience estimated at 86 million persons.
"This would precisely dovetail with the very first matter we went into - NBC's listing in their advertisements for a golf tournament players who were not competing, and in fact one who had never entered," Van Deerlin said.
"You'd think the negative exposure they (the networks) gave themselves in the hearings would discourage this type of thing . . . It's distressing to hear that the same kind of thing keeps happening."
Ray Benton of Washington, the man responsible for putting together the four-man event that is being promoted by Professional Services, Inc., and International Management Group and is officially titled "The Pepsi Grand Slam," said that Vilas was released Friday from his contractual commitment to play.
This followed examination by an independent physician who confirmed an earlier diagnosis that the Argentinian lefthander was "generally run down" and had a throat infection that was affecting the ankle injury he sustained in a victory over Connors two weeks ago in New York. They prescribed antibiotics and a two-week rest.
"Thursday (Dec. 12), I called CBS and Pepsi and told them that if Vilas couldn't play, Gottfried would be the replacement," Benton said. "They were aware that Vilas was questionable. The final decision was made Friday afternoon. I was in Denver working on a tournament and I should have called them (CBS), but I didn't put two and two together. It was an oversight on my part. It's my fault."
Benton said he called the office of Barry Frank, a vice president of CBS Sports, on Thursday and left a message that Vilas was "questionable" and that Gottfried was standing by to substitute. Frank was unavailable for comment yesterday.
No one is accusing CBS of being intentionally deceptive, but apparently the network was, despite past embarrassment, lax in checking on Vilas's status, having been informed that he was "questionable."
If someone at CBS had in fact been notified that Vilas was doubtful - and I don't know yet that someone was - then I certainly think it should have been incumbent on us to double-check the fact (before using his name in Sunday's promo)," Wussler said. He added that he was distressed that Benton did not make a point of informing CBS as soon as the substitution of Gottfried was made.
CBS officials said they planned no action as a result of the Chatrier cable, which also pointed out that the players who have achieved this feat did so by playing through four arduous tournaments on two surfaces (grass and clay) on three continents.
". . . For the good of all concerned, we ask you to take some honest measures to inform the public that this event is not 'The Grand Slam of Tennis,' that an appropriate apology be aired during the actual televising of the event, and that in the future you should determine not to use the title 'Grand Slam' or to pick titles for your television events that are likely to mislead the viewer," Chatrier said.
This is the third year that CBS has televised the Pepsi event, which is intended to bring together the winners of the previous year's four "Grand Slam" tournaments in the manner of the manner of the "World Series of Golf."
Benton called Chatrier's cable "unbelievable," adding, "If anything, this event helps glamorize the traditional Grand Slam."