Leave it to World Team Tennis. In case you missed it, the New York Apples beat the Anaheim Oranges in the season opener. So who said you can't compare Apples and Oranges? Anything is possible in the tutti frutti world of WTT.
Here in a nutshell - which is where purists still think the inventors of WTT belong - is what has happened to the league since the last fuzzy ball of the 1977 playoff was struck last August:
Bjorn Borg and The Soviets are out. Rence Richards and extended playoffs, involving eight of the 10 teams, are in. Seattle has divorced Portland, Cleveland-Pittsburgh has relocated in New Orleans, and the homeless franchise represented last year by the Soviet Union's finest has settled in Anaheim, rechristened the Oranges, with neither a Soviet player nor a Disney character on its roster.
Wholesale personnel shifts have achieved better balance in both the East and West divisions, according to league officials. Even the Apples, 1976-77 champions, traded half of their players, including Wimbledon queen Virginia Wade and Sandy Mayer, the male MVP of last year's playoffs. No jokes, please, about the Apples having a new core to help worm their way to a third straight title.
And, oh yes, Ilie Nastase is back with the Los Angeles Strings. As player-coach. It's about time the world's wackiest league put a madman in charge of a team.
To the amazement of those who have been predicting its demise since it debuted on May 6, 1974. WTT is back for a fifth season, apparently solid and solvent.
The regular season runs through Aug. 12, with three weeks off (June 18-July 9) at Wimbledon time. Each team plays 44 matches to determine which one from each conference doesn't make the playoffs, which begin Aug. 13. The championship round will be played after the U.S. Open for the first time, commencing Sept. 13.
Perhaps in the interests of a balanced diet, the Boston Lobsters are in the East Division with the Apples, Oranges, Indiana Loves and Sun Belt Nets (formerly Cleveland-Pittsburgh, now playing out of New Orleans and other Southeastern cities). Why is Anaheim in the East? Well, this is WTT, and last year the Soviet Union's wandering "Big Red Machine" was in the East.
The West is more logical, geographically at least: the L.A. Strings. Golden Gaters, Phoenix Racquets, San Diego Friars and Seattle Cascades (formerly Sea-Port) are all back.
It is easy to snicker at WTT, which in its outrageous infancy gave us prosport's first coed locker rooms, plus intrasquad marriage and divorce. In Boston, Kerry Melville wed Lobster teammate RazReid. In Pittsburgh, Clark Graebner saw his [WORD ILLEGIBLE] 1964 Forest Hills runner-up Carole, sitting on his bench and demanded, "Play me and trade my wife."
The league encouraged yelling, booing and raucous deportment hitherto unknown to tennis audiences. The championship trophy was donated by a cookware company and called, honestly, the Teflon Cup. (The name didn't stick.)
In a ludicrous draft, owners made a mockery of themselves by selecting showbiz personalities such as Elton John and Johnny Carson.
Only one of the 16 original franchises survived, and Ion Tiriac, the glowering Romanian, summed up the maiden season with a shrug, "Only good thing you can say is nobody got pregnant."
Traditionalists said there was no way this sideshow could last, but it has become more stable each year. And as it approaches kindergarten age, WTT has pulled off the biggest upset of all: it is becoming respectable.
Some trappings of the early days remain The family tree reveals incestuous relationships - individuals owning all or part of more than one team, and sometimes stirring up publicity by mass trades from one to another.
But after going through a Kaiser, a Fuhrer and a King in three years - Jordon Kaiser, Frank Fuhrer and Larry King, the league's first three presidents - WTT passed over Sid Caesar and hired Butch Buchholz as com-commissioner in October 1976. A sensible choice - someone with a strong tennis background to ease the league into the sport's mainstream.
Buchholz, 37, is a former touring pro who became a succesful businessman in his hometown of St. Louis. His mission is to made WTT reputable, expand its market and make it dove-tail with the rest of pro tennis.
With the blessing of the owners, Buchholz has sought to tone down WTTs frenetic image. "We want the fans to participate, but not to holler obscenities or incite riots," he said. "No more cowbells, no more Dancing Harrys."
He has accentuated the appeal of the WTT format: a roughly 2 1/2-hour package of five one-set matches - men's and women's singles and doubles and mixed doubles.
In WTT, the winner is the team that accumulates the most games in the five matches. For example, if Boston's Martina Navratilova beats L.A.'s Chris Evert, 7-6, in the women's singles, and then the Lobsters' Tony Roche and Roy Emerson beat the Strings' Nastase and Vijay Amritraj. 6-3, in the men's doubles. Boston leads at that point by 13-9, with three sets to go.
A rule introduced in 1976 to keep matches from being decided prematurely provides that if the trailing team wins the last set, the match continues until the team ahead wins one more game or the one behind catches up, at which time a "Super Tie-breaker" (best of nine points) decides the whole contest.
WTT has other distinctive characteristics. Coaches can substitute for a player in midmatch, as long as no player competes in more than two events on a given night. Matches are played on a multicolored court and officiated only by an umpire and three roving linesmen. Team spirit and coaching from the sidelines are encouraged.
All this makes the purists wince, but the thing to remember is that team tennis is a completely different animal from regular tennis, with its own identity, flavor, strategies and pace. And for many nouveau tennis fans, it has a strong attraction.
"Our audience is the person who has started to play tennis recently, either in clubs or public [WORD ILLEGIBLE] who doesn't know or care about the sport's politics but wants to see Chrissie Evert and Nastase and Billie Jean King play. He wants to see a little singles, a little doubles, a little mixed, and for him WTT is a fun evening," said Buchholz.
"We're trying to build on that, and also woo back some of the traditional fans who looked at the burlesque stuff and said, 'Yuck.' We've calmed it down so that they'll like it, too."
Indeed, WTTs attendance last year was 952.821, an average of 4,331 per match. That is still modest, but an increase of 13.5 percent over the year before. Ever so slowly, WTT seems to be catching on, and still nobody has gotten pregnant.