Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Legends share compelling stories, including opioid battle

Left to right, International Tennis Hall of Famers Rosemary Casals, Charlie
Pasarell and Dennis Ralston answer questions during the Sutter Lawn Tennis
Club's 100th-anniversary celebration on Saturday night in Sacramento. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Dennis Ralston overcame an opioid addiction.
   Rosemary Casals and Charlie Pasarell played key roles in the astronomical growth of professional tennis over the past 50 years.
   The three International Tennis Hall of Famers, who played in the Central California Championships early in their careers, returned to the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club on Saturday night to help celebrate its 100th anniversary. Sutter Lawn is one of 10 clubs in the United States and 77 in the world that are at least that old.
   Ralston, Casals and Pasarell told several poignant stories during a Q&A with emcee Pam Shriver, another Hall of Famer.
   Ralston, a 77-year-old native of Bakersfield in Southern California, was dubbed "Dennis the Menace" during his playing days. He won five Grand Slam men's doubles titles, reached the 1966 Wimbledon singles final, played on one Davis Cup championship team and served as the captain (coach) on another.
   But Ralston paid a heavy price for his success. He underwent eight operations on each knee, and his left leg was amputated below the knee in 2010 because of an infection after foot surgery.
   After retiring in 1977, Ralston coached Hall of Famers Chris Evert, Gabriela Sabatini and Yannick Noah and the Southern Methodist University men.
   Casals, a 71-year-old San Francisco native, helped launch the first women's pro circuit in 1970. She amassed 112 doubles titles, second in the Open era (since 1968) behind Martina Navratilova's 177.
   Casals won 12 Grand Slam crowns (nine in women's doubles and three in mixed doubles). They include five at Wimbledon and two in the U.S. championships with Billie Jean King.
   In singles, Casals reached two U.S. Open finals and climbed as high as No. 3 in 1970.
   Shriver called the 5-foot-2 (1.57-meter) Casals "pound-for-pound the greatest player in women's tennis history."
   Pasarell, 75, from Puerto Rico was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a contributor. He helped found the Association of Tennis Professionals in 1972 and built the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells into what is considered "the fifth Grand Slam."
   Also an outstanding player, Pasarell was ranked No. 1 in the United States in 1967 and No. 11 in the world in 1966.
   In 1969, Pasarell and Pancho Gonzales played the longest match in Wimbledon history until John Isner and Nicolas Mahut broke the record in 2010. Gonzales, then 41, outlasted Pasarell, 25 at the time, 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9 in 5 hours, 12 minutes.
   Following are highlights from Saturday night's Q&A.
   Ralston: I came up here in 1964 because I was kicked off the Davis Cup team for a match in Bakersfield. The captain had scheduled a match against Canada at my home club, which is very much like Sutter Lawn – a real family club with nice people. The reason I got kicked off was I got married in 1964, and I went on the six-week Caribbean circuit with Linda, who's still my wife – lucky for me ... 56 years, that's a long time ... poor girl ... I've been blessed. She got very sick in Baranquilla, Colombia, so she came home, but I had to play a few more tournaments.
   The last tournament I had to play was in River Oaks in Houston. George MacCall, the Davis Cup captain, could tell you who you had to play with. He told me I had to play doubles with a gentleman named Ham Richardson, who was a good player.
   I said, "George, I don't really want to play doubles in River Oaks. If I lose (in singles), I want to go home." He said, "You have to play doubles with Richardson. We're thinking you guys might be the (Davis Cup doubles) team for this year. I said, "Well, I don't want to play doubles."
   He didn't listen to me, and I lost my singles. He entered me in the doubles with Richardson, and I went to the tournament director and said, "If I play, I'm going to tank." I had tanked a match in Australia in 1962. It was embarrassing; I was such a baby and such an idiot. The guy would serve, and I'd hit the ball over the fence. There were about 5,000 people watching and booing me. That's why I made No. 10 in the Bad Boys of the Game.
   I vowed I would never tank a match again, and I knew if I played this doubles match, I wasn't going to try. So I went to the airport in Houston. In those days, they had that white phone. You could call people and say, "Please, Pam Shriver, the white phone is for you – answer it." I knew it was George MacCall. He had tracked me down at the airport, and I didn't answer it.
   I flew home to Bakersfield. When I got home, George said, "You're off the team" for the match at my home club. And I said, "Well, that's nice." I got a call from Bill Demas (the tournament director of the Central California Championships), and I came up here. I had a great week at Sutter Lawn, winning the singles and doubles. They would call Bakersfield during the Davis Cup match and tell the people at the stadium the score over the loudspeaker.
   So Bakersfield was pretty happy. Originally, they weren't going to have the match because I didn't play, but I said, "You've got to have the Davis Cup," which is a real honor.
   Shriver: Charlie, I assume since you're from Puerto Rico that, like me from Baltimore, you hadn't heard of this club as a junior. Was your first recollection of this club when you were a college player at UCLA?
   Pasarell: No, I used to read World Tennis magazine. Sutter Lawn was much talked about in World Tennis. I used to read all the results when I was 8, 9, 10 years old. I knew about this club and California. I had to come to California all the way from Puerto Rico if I wanted to become a good tennis player.
   Unfortunately, I only got to play (at Sutter Lawn) one year. That was in 1968. (Former UCLA teammate) Arthur (Ashe) and I were in the U.S. Army, and we were part of the U.S. Davis Cup team. We could get some leave to go play Davis Cup matches. We played this tournament to prepare for a match against Colombia in Charlotte, North Carolina.
   We finished the tournament and went to the train station because Robert F. Kennedy was running for president. He would have won the Democratic nomination. Bobby was a good friend of ours, and we went to the station to meet the train and listen to his speech. We were in the caboose while he was giving the speech at the station. Afterward, he came and talked to us for about 45 minutes or an hour. He was feeling very up.
   We got on a plane and flew to Charlotte to play the Davis Cup match. Dennis was our Davis Cup coach, and he met us there. The next night, we heard on the television that he had been shot, so we were with him in the last 24 hours. Maybe it's not a nice way to remember Sutter Lawn, but it certainly was a meaningful time in our lives.
   Shriver: Rosie, when you reflect on the Original 9 (women's tennis pioneers) and the recent U.S. Open, what stands out to you about how our sport has grown?
   Casals: It's definitely evolved from the '60s and'70s, the Open era coming in with prize money. (Bianca) Andreescu won $3.85 million ... wow! I think it took Billie Jean a whole year to win $100,000. When we started, we were playing for $10,000 total prize money (in tournaments), so it took a long time to make $100,000.
   I'm proud to be one of the Original 9 who took that risk (to sign $1 contracts) with Gladys Heldman to start the women's tour. We were very fortunate to get Virginia Slims on board. They knew how to market, and they had the dollars to put women's tennis on the map.
   Even further, the "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973 really put women's tennis on the map. God knows what would happened if Billie Jean had lost that match (against 55-year-old Bobby Riggs). We know what happened when Margaret Court lost her match (to Riggs). That meant (King) had to play.
   I remember coming back from Japan (with King) and stopping in Hawaii. They had those little TV sets at the airport where you put your quarter in to see what was going on. We saw that (Court) was down a set and 5-2, and I said, "I can't believe she's going to lose." Billie Jean said, "If she loses, damn it, I've going to have to play him." That's what happened.
   Tennis is in pretty good shape, and I'm very proud to be a part of all that.
   Shriver: Tell us what happened this morning because you've done quite the doubleheader, speaking of Billie Jean King.
   Casals: They named the Long Beach library the Billie Jean King Library. It was a great moment obviously for her to come back to (her hometown of) Long Beach and a great honor. It's a beautiful building. ... It wasn't a long flight (from Long Beach to Sacramento).
   Shriver: Dennis, when you watch a match – maybe the U.S. Open final between (Daniil) Medvedev and (Rafael) Nadal that had plenty of tactics or the Wimbledon final – put your coaching hat on and share with us what you might say to a player you were coaching in today's game.
   Ralston: The gal from Canada, (Bianca) Andreescu, played really well in the U.S. Open. I think Serena (Williams) has made a remarkable comeback, but it's really tough when you're out for a period of time. Whether she continues to try to get that (24th Grand Slam singles title to tie Court's record), that's up to her and her team. I think she has to get in better shape because physically she hasn't played a lot of matdches.
   I thought the men's final was going to be boring. For the first two sets, it was. I happened to come in at 3-all in the third set. I've watched a lot of tennis in my 70-plus years in the game, and I was on the edge of my seat. That Medvedev guy, he's (6-foot-6, 1.98 meters), he moves like a cat, and he's as smart as a whip. He played unbelievable. You could never tell that the guy was down. He changed tactics. He was the first guy I've seen to do something other than try to beat Nadal from the baseline. Nadal was lucky to win that match.
   You asked Rosie about (tennis' growth). When I won Wimbledon (doubles) in 1960, I got a £5 – $7.50 – voucher for a sweater at Lillywhites. Now, I think you get £50,000 if you lose in the first round, plus your hotel. I kind of think the money has gone crazy, but all sports have gone crazy. Guys that hit .250 are making $50 million in baseball. It's just the way it is.
   People say, "Don't you feel bad that you didn't make a lot of money?" I say, "No, I played at a great time. I've had a great life, and I'm very blessed to have the memories that this great game has given me. ... I wouldn't change anything."
   Shriver: I think most of us feel that way. You play when you play. I played when Chris Evert was winning 18 singles majors and Martina Navratilova was winning 18 singles majors. Then Steffi Graf came along and won 22 singles majors. Monica Seles was probably on her way to winning 20 singles majors when the tragic thing happened in Hamburg.
   It's tough if you're on the men's tour right now. Charlie, how frustrating would it be if you were a top-10 player for as long as people like (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga or (David) Ferrer, and you played in the era of Nadal, (Roger) Federer, (Novak) Djokovic, and then throw (Andy) Murray and (Stan) Wawrinka in there.
   Pasarell: It's very frustrating. I want to talk first about women's tennis. I think women's tennis is wide open today. There are 50 girls that could win any tournament at any given time, including the majors. That's very exciting, in my opinion.
   Men's tennis is an interesting thing. Since 2005, only seven players have won the majors (in singles): Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Murray, (Marin) Cilic and  (Juan Martin) del Potro. So think about how frustrating it would be all those young players who have been trying to come up the last 15 years or so. It'll change.
   I grew up in a generation of players that I am so fortunate and so proud to be among: Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Rosie, Dennis and Cliff Drysdale. They had a huge impact on the game. We were in our prime when (pros weren't allowed in the major tournaments). The first year of Open tennis was 1968. It didn't happen accidentally. It happened because all of us felt we needed to make this game bigger and better. To Rosie's point, (the pioneers) said, "Someday we'll be playing for a million dollars." Well, a million dollars now is nothing in some of these big tournaments.
   Billie Jean and Arthur went outside of the tennis court and had a huge impact on society. Those are the people I grew up with. I really consider myself to be very fortunate to have been part of that generation.
   Ralston: This is way off the mark from tennis, but you've probably all read about the pharmaceutical mess that the world's going through. I was one of those victims of the pills. I took stuff for 10 years, and I can tell you it is absolutely insidious and horrible.
   I had knee problems all my life, and two doctors told me, "You'll take these for the rest of your life. You'll be fine; it's OK." That was when the pendulum swung toward chronic pain was not good for you. I went to (the) Betty Ford (Center) for one month to get off this stuff, and I vowed if I made it out of Betty Ford, any chance I had to talk to an audience, I would say this: One out of four of you could be around somebody who's taking this stuff from Purdue Pharma, basically OxyContin and Vicodin, and you don't know how dangerous it is.
   The last prescription they gave me – if you can believe this; some of you are doctors here – was for 12-a-day, 80-milligram OxyContin pills. And they were giving me Adderall to stay awake during the day and sleeping pills at night. That was 2010 when I went to Betty Ford, and thanks to Charlie and a lot of other people, my family – I had intervention – I got off this stuff, and it was not easy. I could have been dead; some scary stuff happened.
   If you know someone that's dealing with that, help them. Don't let them say, "I don't need your help," because it's a worldwide epidemic, especially in the United States. It's bigger than you think.
   Rehab is not a lot of fun. I used to live in Palm Desert, and I'd go by Betty Ford and say, "Oh, those poor people." I learned so much. I was there with Lindsay Lohan. She had to listen to a couple of my talks. They asked you to get up and say, "I'm an addict," and all this stuff. I met a guy there who was in charge of Asian medicine, and he really helped me. He said, "You're not an addict – you're addicted." I never took the stuff illegally; I took it prescribed, but I was addicted to the stuff.
   Shriver: In 2010, it sounds like you had one of your great matches, and you had a win, so congratulations, Dennis, and thanks for sharing.

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