Wednesday, 10 May 2017
I wrote this a while back. Vitas Gerulaitis played in an era where I learned the game by hitting against a brick wall. He was Borg's best mate and Borg was my hero. Any friend of Borg's was a friend of mine.....
As a kid who was starting to gain a liking for the game of tennis I vividly remember 4 players , Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and another American Vitas Gerulaitis. I always used to get Vitas mixed up with Vilas (Guillermo), easy thing to do when you are just learning the game and the names.
Vitas was not unlike Andre Agassi with the long blonde locks , the rock star appeal and a personality to match, as they say , a marketer's dream. Vitas also had a flair about his game that fitted his looks and personality, a serve and volley as well as a regular net approach off anything that resembled a short ball.
Vitas was in a word 'gutsy'. Fiery too. I once watched him leave the court in a tournament in Australia, possibly Sydney, without even finishing the match, technically anyhow.
This particular match he was playing Ivan Lendl and Vitas was leading Lendl by a set, 7-6, and had match point in the second set tie breaker, from memory perhaps several match points. Problem was there was a linesman who refused to give Gerulaitis the match, he kept calling his shots wide.
It was a long , long time ago but if I remember rightly the shot by Vitas on maybe his third match point was in, but called out, so by this stage Vitas had had enough. Vitas walked ! Yep he strolled over to Lendl , shook his hand and left the court !
The match was not OFFICIALLY over but it was in Vitas's eyes , he had won it not only on that last shot but perhaps the shot before which was also called wide.
The most humorous part about it all was that I am 99 per cent sure it was an exhibition event, though Vitas did not treat it like one.
I once saw him throw his racket into the crowd at Wimbledon after losing his match to Australian Mark Edmondson. It wasn't a violent throw, he simply walked to the back of the court and asked a spectator if he wanted his racket then gently tossed it up to them.
At the time Vitas probably thought he wouldn't be needing it for a while , partying maybe appealed to him more and from many accounts it appeared that Vitas did a lot of it.
In the Bjorn Borg biography Bjorn spoke highly of his best mate Vitas and even mentioned that on some nights out Vitas would pay for everything that was served up, food , drinks and anything else, a generous man he was.
Gerulaitis also had some funny habits, like not stepping on court lines as he walked to his chair at the change over, a superstitious habit that looked rather funny if you ever had a chance to see it. I also watched him in one tournament change his wrap around grip at every single change over, perhaps more a habit than a necessity.
That was back in the days when advertising was not as obsessive as it is now and you were allowed to gain an insight into the way a player spent his 90 seconds in between games, I found it educational.
Vitas died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty pool heater as he rested before a Senior's Tour match in the US in 1994, he was only 40. He won the Australian Open singles in 1977 and the Wimbledon Men's doubles with Sandy Mayer in 1975.
A real character of World Tennis in the late 70's and through the 80's.
Vitas Gerulaitis was one of those larger than life personalities in World sport, they don't make 'em like that anymore......