As officials of the D.C. National Bank Tennis Classic chase down a teen-ager with a bad ankle in Monte Carlo, 12 men who were running down tennis balls before Boris Becker was born begin play today in the $40,000 Prudential-Bache Securities Grand Champions Tournament at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium.
Becker, who is expected to tell tournament officials by Thursday if he will play here next week, may not know all of his elders' names. Tennis fans who remember back only as far as Borg may not, either.
But, as 38-year-old Cliff Richey says, "There is a fascination about older athletes. The fans have reasons for coming out to watch. 'What do they play like? What do they look like? How much do they weigh?'
"As for me, I don't drink as much beer as I used to. I also eat more cereal and less red meat."
They are, Richey says, "the guys like me who sort of got tired fighting the Boris Beckers." Lutz. Dibley. Riessen. Gorman. All over 34, most are old enough to be 17-year-old Becker's father. Yet Becker has won more Wimbledon singles titles than all of them. Combined.
And, although play in their five-day tournament begins today at 5 p.m., they must relinquish the spotlight to Becker, whose first post-Wimbledon appearance in the United States is in jeopardy because of his swelled left ankle.
Virginia Beach attorney Tom Betz, Becker's U.S. legal counsel, said Becker was examined by a doctor yesterday in Monte Carlo, where he is on vacation and in hiding with his mother.
Becker will see the doctor again today, Betz said, and a decision will be made on playing in Washington "no later than Thursday, and as early as (today)," Betz said.
Becker must decide by 1 p.m. Friday or face the possibility of falling in the ATP computer rankings when the event is averaged in as a tournament appearance, even if he does not play.
Karl-Heinz Becker, reached by telephone at his home in Leimen, West Germany, said his son might fly home to see a specialist there if his ankle is not better today.
Last year at Wimbledon, young Becker tore tendons in his ankle during a third-round match against Bill Scanlon and was carried from the court. Last week, in the fourth set of a match with Tim Mayotte, he twisted the ankle. After winning a tie breaker to force a fifth set, he took a break, had the ankle taped and won the last set, 6-2.
"The leg is still very swollen," Karl-Heinz Becker said. "If he does decide to play in Washington, he will leave Monte Carlo on Thursday and probably stop in Germany for a day."
Becker said "it's still possible" his son will play here.
"It is purely a decision of the doctor as to whether he is capable of playing or not."
Marty Riessen, 43, who lost the Wimbledon men's over-35 doubles title with partner Sherwood Stewart to Jaime Fillol and Colin Dibley (all are entered in the Grand Champions tournament here), says there could be another factor.
"The ankle didn't affect him at Wimbledon," Riessen said. "I'm sure he's exhausted, and, with an injury, he will probably make sure (the ankle) is really good before he decides to play on it."
Also, Becker was told the night of his shocking 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 victory over Kevin Curren Sunday that his 78-year-old grandfather died of a heart attack June 25 in Leimen.
According to British press reports, Hans Becker, Boris' uncle, said, "Boris loved the old man very much. The two were very close. We held a family council and decided not to tell the boy until after Wimbledon. It would have upset him too much."
Young Becker will not be fined if he misses the tournament here, said Jerry Solomon, senior vice president of ProServ, the firm managing the tournament. "Provided he's got the proper medical papers, he could just withdraw for medical reasons," Solomon said.
He said the D.C. National tournament, which will begin Monday at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium, has sold "a lot of tickets in the last few days" because of Becker. With him or without him, the tournament will prosper, he said.
The tournament also will be without defending champion Andres Gomez, who injured his right thigh yesterday in the U.S. Pro Tennis Championships in Brookline, Mass. He will be out at least two weeks.