Most of the modern generations of tennis fans has never heard of Bill Alverez, a legendary Colombian who in many ways epitomized the touring player of the professional era. Endowed with modest shotmaking ability but unlimited entrepreneurial skill and chutzpah, he was the true "tennis bum," wheeling and dealing his ways the court of Europe for fun and profit.
"William was the most amusing character I ever met in tennis," says Australian Barry Phillips-Moore, 41, a little left-hander who played the international circuit for more than two decades, combining tennis with a racket and gut importing-exporting business. He still has his own business but remains on tour as an employe of the Association of Tennis Professionals because he and his wife enjoy the globe-trotting life-style.
"Alvarez was a much better performer than Ilie Nastase. He has the worst game in history, but was the most feated player on the circuit because there was no way you could concentrate against him, and he got every ball back," remembers Phillips-Moore.
"He was about 20 pounds overweight. with bowed legs. In Spain they called hin 'Pato Donald', meaning Donald Duck, because he kind of waddled. But you could not hit him the ball past him. He ran everything down and never got tired. One year he beat Roy Emerson was the Whimbledon champion.
"He also has the worst temper you ever saw. He wouldn't have been allowed to plays nowadays. He would have been fined, banned, run out of the game. He wouldn't have lasted a year.
"He always swore in the language of the country he was playing in. There wasn't one foul word he didn't know and use. He'd hit himself in the head with his racket so hard you'd think he knock himself unconscious. He'd throw his racket on the ground, jump on it, hurl it over the back fence, but somehow he had the knack of never breaking one - and those were before the days of metals rackets.
"He always had the place in an uproar. There were probably 25 clubs in Europe that would never invite him back because he had offended them, and another 50 that wanted him back every year. Bill was never lacking for a tournament, but he wasn't particular about whom he offended. Even in the stuffiest clubs, he never changed.
He was the best businessman I've ever seen," Phillips-Moore continued. "He could sell anything. He would get extra rackets and clothes and sell them to spectators. He knew the import duties in every country, and when there was a market. Tournaments were close enough together in those days that would drive from one to another. Bill would load up a car with all the gear he could get his hands on, and off he'd go."
"Every year Alvarez played Wimbledon, even though he couldn't play a lick on grass courts," recalled Jim McManus, who played internationally for years and now works for ATP. Every years he made more money than the champion, trading in scalped tickets."
Where is Alvarez now?
"He stopped playing the circuit about seven years ago, and he's the head pro at a very nice club in Madrid. He owns a bunch of apartments and has lots of money in the bank - a Swiss bank, I suspect," says Phillips-Moore. "I reckon Bill made as much money out of tennis as anybody did before the game went professional in 1968. Not from playing, but from knowing all the angles."
In the days before open competition between pros and amateurs ushered in the commercial era in tennis, the life of a touring player was completely different from what it is today.
There was no price money in tournaments. Modest appearance fees for the top players were paid under the table. All players got free equipment from manufacturers, but only a handful of the best got cash payments.
There were only two tennis clothing companies to speak of - Fred Ferry and Lacoste, both owned by former great players. Perry was the English star of the 1930s, the last man to win Wimbledon three times in succession. Rene was one of the fabled French "Four Musketeers," who monopolized the Davis Cup from 1927 through 1932. Players got all the free shirts, shorts and sweaters they could wear, but none of the huge endorsement fees common today.
Players competed internationally at the whim of their national tennis associations, which has absolute authourity over them. The U.S. Lawn Tennis Association demonstrated its disciplinary muscle in 1950, for example by suspending a top 10 player - California Earl Cochell - from tournaments for life misbehavior and "extreme discourtesy to the referee" at the U.S. Championships at Forest Hill, N.Y.
Only a few players, such as Alvarez, were exempted. He presuma Federation , having obtained it in exchanged for a 1948 De Soto.
Australian players left home in early March and toured for seven bly owned the Colombian Tennis months, not returning until the start of the Australian grass court circuit in October. The Aussies comprised the foreign entry in most small European tournaments.
In a typical year, if you were going to play in Europe, you'd come across at Easter time," says Phillips-Moore.
"We usually started on the French Riviera: Nice, Menton, Monte Carlo. Then we'd small tournaments in Southern France, Germany or Spain.
"It was a much easier life if you were among the top 35 players in the world, and impossible if you weren't. Then your only recourse was to write good letters to tournament directors. It didn't matter so much how you played tennis as long as you made yourself sound qualified in the letters you write. Some fellows were master con men. They'd include practice wins or make up imaginary good results over players they knew wouldn't be there to dispute them.
"If your ranking was high enough that they knew who you were, you just wrote and said, I'd like to come to "your tournament. How much can you pay me?' They write back and say "We'll give you $300'." You either agreed or tried to make a better deal some place else.
"Hospitality and meals were always supplied. It was quite a simple existence. We played a lot in beautiful resort areas because the local tourist bureaus and hotel sponsored most of the tournaments and put the players up.
But it was a rotten system, because unless you were one of the very best player, French or Wimbledon or U.S. champion, you weren't supposed to win. All the draws were fixed except in the major tournaments. If you seeded, you'd play the local club secretary in the first round and the No. 3 junior in the second. They'd make you sure you didn't meet another good player until at least quarterfinals.
"If you were not a 'name' player and were about to beat one of the "ticket-sellers," the tournament director would literally run out on the court and tell you to lose. If you went ahead and beat him, you would'nt get an invitation back.
"I was ranked No. 5 In Australia, and I wasn't expected to beat an Emerson or a Manuel Santana. In the tournaments that I had my best results, I was not invited back.
"The great holiday area tournaments - Nice, Menton, Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden, Lugano, and so forth - have all disappeared now, because those places can't afford to put up $750,000 in prize money to get a pro tournament.
"Something has been lost, but it's much more pleasant playing now than it was then," concluded Phililps-Moore. "It's much better organized and it's honest. If you win, you get paid. If not you don't. The good players aren't protected any more, so you earn what you deserve."
Bob Carmichael, 38, is only No. 175 now in the computer rankings of the Association of Tennis Professionals, but he continues to bounce around the tournament circuit, a once and present tennis bum.
A delightful Australian, Carmichael is nicknamed "Nails" (pronounced "Niles" in the New South Wales inflection) because he used to be a carpenter (a "chippy," as they say Down Under). He is a marvelous raconteur who relates the wealth of anecdote he has accumulated in resonant baritone voice.
Carmichael first left Upper Fertree Gulley, 30 miles east of Melbourne, in 1962, at the age of 21. "I was going away for two years, to have a look at the world for a little bit, and then I was going back home to take up my job again," he says.
"I played tennis nine months a year - mostly little tournaments in Europe. I wasn't a true international in those days because I didn't go to the United States and couldn't afford to go home for the Australian circuit. My first three years, I worked the winters in London. One year I was a clothing salesman at Simpson of Picadilly, another year I was an 'internal messenger' there, and the third year I worked as a carpenter."
"I wasn't making much money, but the life was better than carpenter, so I decided to stay on. Then I got a little better, and started making more money than I could as a carpenter."
"In 1970, I had a big year. I was a quarterfinalist at Buenos Aires. I beat Ken Rosewall in the semifina's at Orange, N.J., and lost in the final to Rod Laver - a very good Laver too, my goodness.
"Suddenly, I was a professional tennis player. I had never planned it. The two mates I came away with had gone back home after two years, but here I am, still hacking around."
Carmichael misses the carefree life that characterized the tennis circuit of the 60s. "The tournaments were more relaxed then. Three or four nights of the week there were functions to go to. People had house parties that all the player went along to," he said.
"Gradually, since open tennis, the tour has become big business. The top 50 players in the world now are there because they practice all day, every day.
"I wonder sometimes if some of them enjoy their lives. I suppose they do enjoy winning tennis matches, and the money that comes as a reward. But I wouldn't mind betting there are a few guys who have been to Paris a half-dozen times amd have never seen the Louvre, or been up the Eiffel Tower. All they see is their hotel, the courts and an occasional English movie.
"The circuit isn't much fun anymore. We don't get together with the tournament organizers as we used to. They're businessmen too - they have sponsors to answer to and need to get people through the gate." Carmichael sighs. "We used to socialize with them, with the local people, have a nice meal and some wine, maybe practice for an hour in the morning and play a match at 2 in the afternoon. But I'm afraid those days are gone forever."
Arthur Ashe first played in Europe in 1963, but never toured the small tournaments on the continent because he was a student at UCLA.
"In those days, if you had a college scholarship, you finished four years," he said. "I came over a week or two before Wimbledon and played one week after. That was all the USLTA allowed. After that, you had to be back for the U.S. grass court circuit.
"The really good players, what they called 'special designated players' from each country, got 100 pounds at Wimbledon, or maybe a little more. Denny Ralston and Chuck McKinley got 100 pounds because they were on the U.S. Davis Cup team.
"The rest of us didn't fight it because we knew they were special," Ashe said. "We all hoped that we could get to be on the Davis Cup team some day, so that we'd get 100 pounds, too."
Nikki Pilic, 38, sat under the spreading chestnut tree near the entrance to the locker room at Stade Roland Garros one afternoon last week. "I first came to the French championships as a junior in 1957. It doesn't seem possible that it could be so many years ago," said the Yugoslav left-hander, runner-up to Ilie Nastase in Europe's premier clay court test in 1973.
"The big tournaments - the French, Wimbledon, Forest Hills, and Davis Cup - had too much pressure to be really enjoyable for the players, even then. But the little tournaments were relaxed, a little bit like family atmosphere," he said.
"If you lost, you didn't throw your racket on the ground. In the dressing room, you weren't thinking all the time about Grand Prix points, computer rankings, how much money you could get, whether you should play with a tin racket because some company would pay you a fortune to endorse it.
"Today the guys are a little bit like computers. There aren't so many great characters left, or great sportsmen like Emerson, who would try his hardest and then go and sing in the shower.
"There are still a few guys who break up the monotony in the locker room - Eddie Dibbs cracking jokes, Pat Cornejo accepting life as it is, Nastase being Nastase. They are a little loose, not uptight all the time.
"But tennis bums?" No, I don't think we have them anymore - not like in the old days."