Arthur Ashe, who had been looking forward to resuming his tennis career this spring after a heart attack last July and quadruple bypasss surgery in December suffered a "minor setback" two weeks ago that could signal the end of his hopes for making a competitive comeback.
"I'm in no danger or anything like that," Ashe said yesterday by telephone from Elkhart, Ind., where he addressed a group of high school students.
"As far as playing again, we just don't really know yet. I'm going to have at least one more test in the next couple of weeks, and when that's finished I'll have quite a few answers. Right now things are up in the air."
Ashe was in Egypt two weeks ago, fulfilling a promise to Egyptian pro Ismail El Shafei to appear at a tournament in Cairo, when he experienced chest discomfort while making a routine training run.
"It wasn't the heart attack-type chest pains. By now I know the difference between angina and the onset of a heart attack, or at least I would hope I know the difference," Ashe said.
Accompanying Ashe on the trip to Egypt and Europe, where he had business commitments, was Dr. Doug Stein, a close personal friend who is a surgical resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Dr. Stein monitored Ashe's symptoms and prescribed medication. They then flew to Holland, where Ashe had dinner with business associates. He told them he had to cancell the rest of his trip, which was to have included promotional appearances and last week's meetings of the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, of which Ashe is a member, in London.
"The problem was big enough for me to cut my trip short and come back from Europe. I was that concerned about it," Ashe said. "But having had two tests, with another one to go, it turned out that it wasn't so major as to necessitate my going into the hospital, curtailing my activities, or having my cardiologist postpone his three-week skiing vacation.
"None of that was necessary. In fact, I'm back on my usual crazy schedule. I'll be in Omaha on Wednesday, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., on Thursday and Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday. Then I go home to New York for a couple of days, and I'll be covering the Sugar Ray Leonard fight at Capital Centre next Monday (for ABC-TV)."
On Dec. 21, eight days after undergoing a three-hour bypass operation to relieve blockages around four of his arteries, Ashe predicted at a hospital press conference in New York that he would play at Wimbledon in June.
"My training plans revolve around very formal stress tests. I will, in effect, go to the tennis courts hooked up with a monitor," the 26-year-old former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion said at the time.
"If I'm doing well, I'll keep going. If I'm not going so well, I'll stop. By next summer, we'll know."
While his latest episode dims the prospects of a comeback on the courts, Ashe has not yet ruled out the possibility. The outcome of the first two tests -- a treadmill stress test and another that uses low-level radioactive isotopes to study heart functions -- encouraged him.