New book takes to courts for hard tales, lob stories

June 24, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

WIMBLEDON, England -- Self-centered players. Greedy agents. Manipulative parents. Craven bureaucrats.

This is the behind-the-scenes picture author John Feinstein describes in the book, "Hard Courts: Real Life On the Professional Tennis Tours." The book is being released today in London, and its publication likely will be the talk of the Wimbledon fortnight. The U.S. release is scheduled in August.

Among the book's revelations, based on U.S. uncorrected proofs, are these:

* Peter Graf's excessive drinking was an open secret on the women's tour long before his alleged affair with a German model became public and ruined his daughter Steffi's year. "The real surprise among tennis people was that a woman and not alcohol was the source of the scandal," Feinstein writes.

* Chris Evert smoked marijuana on more than one occasion, although she doesn't smoke it now and does not endorse children trying it. "It's illegal, and it's dangerous," Evert is quoted in the book. "When I smoked it, it made me brain-dead. I was out of it completely."

* Boris Becker came closer than anyone imagined to retiring after he completed his Davis Cup commitment for Germany in 1989. "I thought to win the Davis Cup at home and then walk away was hTC the right way," Becker is quoted. "It would be a clean break. I wouldn't be letting anyone down or not fulfilling any commitments."

* Peter Graf, Stefano Capriati and Karolji Seles made the International Management Group's informal year-end Association of Tennis Parents list. The rankings, devised by unnamed agents, were based on "the more you were a pain in the butt, the higher you ranked."

Feinstein also shreds the calculated image of Andre Agassi. In the book, Agassi is portrayed as a phony, often security-obsessed star who is surrounded by sycophants. When he arrived for a tournament in Cincinnati, Agassi demanded that security guards escort him from the airport. A volunteer driver, Lynn Gottschalk, is quoted as telling him: "Andre, it's 11:30 at night. We're in Kentucky. Unless you've appeared on 'Hee Haw' lately, no one here is going to mob you."

Opposing players, led by Becker and Ivan Lendl, even rooted against Agassi during his 1990 French Open final loss to Andres Gomez.

"He's [Gomez] one of the good guys in the game," Lendl is quoted. "He's worked a long time. And the other guy [Agassi] is so bad for tennis. He's just a bad guy. I thought [Thomas] Muster was a jerk, but this guy is much worse."

Feinstein wrote the best-selling account of Indiana basketball, "A Season on the Brink," and formerly was a staff writer with The National sports daily and The Washington Post. To research his latest book, he traveled to 33 tournaments in 12 countries, beginning with tuneups for the Australian Open in January and ending with the Davis Cup final in St. Petersburg, Fla. in December.

"I want the reader to understand what life on the tour is like and the complete lack of normalcy in the lives of these players," Feinstein said from his home in Shelter Island, N.Y. "These players never went to senior proms, high school football games or dances. They never knew the joy and tragedy of being teen-agers."

The year Feinstein detailed was tumultuous in tennis. The Association of Tennis Professionals and the International Tennis Federation battled for control of the men's circuit. Women's tennis was dominated by the debut of Jennifer Capriati and the travails of the Grafs.

Tennis leaders constantly bent rules to accommodate the game's stars, according to Feinstein. Guaranteed appearance fees -- ranging as high as six figures for stars such as Becker, Lendl and John McEnroe -- were handed out at men's tournaments, even though the ATP officially prohibited the practice. The Women's International Tennis Association also altered its bylaws to clear Capriati's path to the tour and a season-ending championship. The U.S. Tennis Association bowed to Agassi's every wish so that he would play in the Davis Cup.

Feinstein analyzes the agent bidding wars to sign rising American stars Pete Sampras and Michael Chang. Sampras signed an agreement with ProServ on the back of a paper plate. Advantage International representatives intercepted Chang at an Atlanta airport in a bid to prevent him from bolting the firm. The blitz failed.

Even the normally taciturn Stefan Edberg is quoted as saying, "Most agents shouldn't be trusted. When I signed, I was 16, my mother spoke very little English, and my father spoke none. We barely knew what we were signing. The agents do that all the time. They sign everybody up and then worry only about the ones that do well. I'm lucky I did well, but now I make the decisions, not my agent."

Few heroes emerge.

"Boris Becker comes across as a hero," Feinstein said. "So does Elise Burgin and Ted Tinling and Mary Carillo. There are good people in the game."

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