11 JULY 1987, Page 41

High life

Cash and carry


0 n the first rained-out Monday of the Wimbledon fortnight, I went to the Van- derbilt tennis club for a practice session indoors. While I waited for a court I watched in amazement as last Sunday's Wimbledon champ threw his racket against the wall, swore loudly and often, and behaved in a manner that McEnroe would approve of.

Later, in the locker room, I heard him moaning about his sore back while he lay flat out on the floor in obvious agony. In fact I remember one of his flunkeys telling him to keep it quiet, as members crowded round. That evening, while dining at Aspi- nall's, I took Aspers aside and told him that there was absolutely no way Cash could ever get through a gruelling tourna- ment like Wimbledon, and he should bet accordingly. Aspers, who plays tennis the way his gorillas play the harpsichord, argued with me, insisting that Cash had the kind of game that wins on grass. My suggestion was that Aspers stick to Pri- mates, which he knows all about, and leave the tennis to experts like myself.

Well, as some of you may have heard, Cash did get through, a fact I have not been allowed to forget by the Aspinall family in general, and Damian Aspinall in particular. (Damian switched his bet after my advice, and wagered on Nystrom as a dark horse.) I guess it just goes to show how little the Greeks know about tennis. What we do know about is phony remains of the Colossus of Rhodes, and even phonier claims about Elgin Marbles.

Mind you, it's not the first time I've got it wrong where tennis is concerned. For five straight years I wagered Johnny Gold that Borg could not win Wimbledon, the years being 1976 to 1980. My most stupid bet was against Lew Hoad winning in 1957. I was travelling with Mervyn Rose, who had beaten Lew in five long sets in Rome six weeks earlier, and Rose convinced me that he would beat Hoad in the quarters at Wimbledon. As soon as I landed in Eng- land I began placing bets on Rose. Hoadie murdered him, as he did Ashley Cooper in the final.

One year later was my worse disaster where betting is concerned. I was playing the Volpi Cup in Venice, and getting the grand sum of 50 dollars plus expenses for the week. Throughout the spring and summer tournaments we had a poker game going. The players were Nicola Pietrangeli, the great Italian champ, Pancho Contreras, a good Mexican player, Beppe Merlo, known the world over for his loose- stringed racket and two-handed strokes, and a Yugoslav by the name of Plesevich. And yours truly. Players back then had the financial freedom of Jeffrey Bernard, thus I managed to keep my head above water by betting recklessly and bluffing a lot. Plecevich was the poorer, and owed every- one money. In fact his game was suffering as a result.

On a Thursday night, before the quar- ters, Nicola proposed we play without limit in order for the losers to have a chance to catch up, as the tour was breaking up, with some of us going on to Beirut and Istanbul, and others on to the grass court tourna- ments in the States. I agreed with alacrity. During a difficult hand I ended up with four tens and bet 10,000 dollars hoping the rest would think I was bluffing and see me. Everyone dropped out except for Plecevich, who sat with his eyes closed, twitching and murmuring strange Croatian prayers. I did not want his money and asked him to drop out. Just as Pietrangeli began to complain that I had ruined the game with my wild wagers, Plecevich screamed, 'Look.'

I reluctantly showed him my four tens and was about to tell him that he did not have to pay when his trembling hands turned over four jacks. Contreras almost fainted, Merlo whistled, Nicola apologised to me, and Plecevich got down on his knees and prayed. He never played another tournament. Ten big ones back then, and in Yugoslavia to boot, was a small fortune, and I later heard that Plecevich built a house and started a business with my four tens.

I thought of all this last week when I ran into my old buddy Neale Fraser, the only man who won Wimbledon without a back- hand. He was with Benson, and had dropped a lot racing. Not to worry, said Neale, I've got Cash at 16 to one. And took the time to explain to me why Cash would produce cash. Being Greek and a know-it-all, I told him that a man who goes bananas during a practice session can never get through Wimbledon. Next time I swear I'll stick to picking olives instead of Wimb- ledon winners.