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Sunday, May 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cheap Seats

Everybody’s a comic

When Texas beat powerhouse Nebraska in last year’s Big 12 football championship game, it gave the rest of the league hope of dealing with the Cornhuskers this season.

Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, speaking for the Big 12 teams that are keeping the faith, expressed the league view this way.

“When there’s a hole in Superman’s cape, that gives ol’ Batman a chance,” Dykes said.

Poor in payoffs, rich in memories

It wasn’t until 1968 that tennis’ open era arrived, bringing prize money with it and allowing professionals into the Grand Slam tournaments.

For more than 40 years beforehand, pro tennis consisted of a small band of barnstorming players wandering the U.S. and abroad, playing for a percentage of the gate receipts.

“It was one-day stands, like the big bands would do,” said Pancho Segura, the hard-hitting, pigeon-toed comedian of many a tour who at 76 calls himself “a tiebreaker now, 7-6.”

“It was tough, playing four or five nights a week, sleeping in the station wagon sometimes,” Segura said. “It’s not like today where Andre Agassi gets $100,000 to play an exhibition. We were playing for $1,000 for the group some nights.”

It was a hard way to make a tennis living, but it was just about the only way. The travel was grueling and the conditions extraordinary.

“We played on cow manure in India,” said Alex Olmedo, 61, who won Wimbledon in 1959 and turned professional in 1960. “It was dried, and you’d run and slide like on a clay court. We played on anthill courts in Africa, and in the Philippines, on some kind of court made of shells.”

“That cow dung,” Segura said. “Hell, it was so hard, the ball bounced straight, but it didn’t smell very good.”

Barnstorming, Part II

Words like circus and traveling road show crop up when people talk about the early days of pro tennis.

“Almost like Barnum and Bailey,” said Lornie Kuhle, a close friend of the late Bobby Riggs.

Riggs was said to bet with fans during his matches and signed Gussy Moran to a contract to take advantage of the publicity stirred by her lace panties.

Segura was both a darling and a target: “Nothing bothered me when I played,” he said. “A guy shouted at me, ‘I’ve seen better strokes in the hospital!’ because I played with two hands.”

The thing all the old-timers seem to remember about the days of the vagabond tour is the canvas court. It was split into two 800-pound sections and hauled from city to city.

When the court arrived at a new building, it had to be rolled out and then stretched tight and secured by a system of ropes that attached the canvas to the stands.

“I remember going to Vancouver and putting down the canvas over ice,” Vic Braden said. “It was freezing. Finally, I said, ‘How long does it take to heat this place up?’ And they said, ‘What heat?’ (Pancho) Gonzalez played (Ken) Rosewall, and both went out in overcoats and gloves. It was unbelievable.”

The last word …

“If you’re known by your enemies, I’m happy to be his.”

- Larry Merchant, HBO boxing analyst after being called a “hater” by Don King

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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