In which our columnist meets his (tennis) match in Jausovec
This story is coming to you in living color -- the result of my red face after losing an exhibition match at the Los Angeles Forum to Yugoslavia's Mima Jausovec, who has been ranked as high as ninth on the women's professional tennis tour. The score was 6-0, and almost all of the crowd of 15,000 came dressed as empty seats.
For years I've been telling my wife that any weekend male tennis player good enough to have won a couple of tournaments against his peers could probably pick off at least a game or two against almost any ranking woman on the tour. I based this on two things: (1) that females don't serve many aces; and (2) that women rarely return balls with the force of a man.
My theory stood up very well against Mima Jausovec, but I didn't!
Jausovec is a stylish right-hander, who has beaten players the caliber of Martina Navratilova and Evonne Goolagong; won the French Open in 1977; been a US Open semifinalist and a Wimbledon quarterfinalist. She gets to everything you hit; has maintained a five-year computer ranking between 9 and 24; and has won all of the major European clay court titles.
Mima was in such control of our match and defeated me so easily that you wouldn't believe it. After the first game there was no doubt who was going to win. In fact, although I got points in every game, we never went to deuce even once. She was the pro, I clearly the amateur, and I should have known what was coming when she played me without bothering to remove her warmup suit.
Basically this is what happened. Jausovec got in all of her first serves, except two, and I returned all of them except one, which pulled me off the court. Every teaching male pro I have ever played against hit the ball harder.
Although I would be an excellent model for a Salvador Dali painting of someone playing tennis, the one thing I can do well is run. I have a lot of obvious weaknesses like getting caught out of position; running around my backhand; and living with a serve that would need a booster-jet just to break stained glass.
But if there is a lot of dog in me there is also a lot of retriever. I can usually force even good players into long rallies, and although Jausovec chased me from one side of the court to the other, I got most of her shots back without much trouble.
Only twice, if I remember correctly, did she hit the ball where I couldn't return it, and she promised that at no time would she take it easy on me. She got practically all of her points as the result of my either hitting the ball a little long or a little wide.
Now I don't want anyone to get the idea that I think I beat myself -- that if those same shots had been in I would have gotten the point. No way. remember a few of those shots did stay in and she still got them bak. In fact, she took one of my lobs that kissed the baseline and returned it as easily as though it were a forehand.
The only chance I had to get into the win column was in Game 3. I was leading 30-0 (the result of two cross-court shots that went under Mima's racket) , when I forced her to return a backhand deep in the corner. all I had to do was volley her return to the other side of the court and I had the point. Instead I hit the ball into the top of the net.
Jausovec, a very likeable 25-year-old, started playing tennis at age eight at a government-sponsored club three minutes away from her home in Maribor, Yugoslavia. By 14, she told me, she was the best woman player in her country; worked regularly with a male coach; practiced four to five hours a day; and became a celebrity in a soccer-mad country, where tennis ranks at the bottom of the ladder.
When the Yugoslav Tennis Federation sent her to play in the US in 1974, several officials of the US women's tour liked her style and suggested that she turn professional.
"I had exactly $100 when I became a pro and I had to win three qualifying matches just to get a chance to play in the first round, where I could make some money," Mima told me. "I won $370 because I couldn't afford to lose."
Jausovec now plays professionally ten months of the year. She spends the rest of her time in Yugoslavia with her mother and father (both retire), and her brother, a nationally ranked player.
All I can say at this point is that anyone who thinks playing tennis against women pros is a 50-50 proposition doesn't know the half of it!