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Casals, Rosemary (1948—)

Casals, Rosemary (1948—)

International tennis star of the 1960s and 1970s. Name variations: Rosie. Born in San Francisco, California, on September 16, 1948; youngest of two daughters of Manuel Casals y Bordas (owner of a stamp-machine business); attended George Washington High School, San Francisco; never married; no children.

Described as a born tennis player and one of the fastest on the courts, Rosemary (Rosie) Casals is the daughter of San Salvadorian immigrants, who settled in San Francisco before she was born. In her paternal lineage, which reaches back to Barcelona, Spain, she is the grandniece of the late cellist Pablo Casals, an association that she has never exploited. "I get wild when people keep bringing up Pablo," she told Hugh McIlvanney of the Observer (July 9, 1967). "I've never met the man. … When I'm asked about him I feel that he is taking part of my identity away. If people know me I want it to be because of what I've done."

Casals' father taught her the fundamentals of tennis when she was eight and remained her chief mentor throughout her career. Once an outstanding soccer player, he had turned to tennis after suffering a serious injury on the playing field. Casals credits him with instinctively knowing what was wrong with her game and with encouraging her without too much pressure. Before tennis began to consume much of her time, Casals was a bright student who loved to read. By the time she entered George Washington High School, however, she had been winning tournaments for several years and had little interest in academics.

By age 15, Casals had won every trophy in California and was ready for national and international

competition. Opportunity arrived by way of a phone call from Billie Jean King , who had noticed her talent and asked her to be her doubles partner at Forest Hills. The two Californians became known as the world's best women's doubles team, winning numerous titles in the United States as well as five Wimbledon titles. In 1966, Casals also had two singles victories over King and wins over Kerry Melville and Maria Bueno , giving her international status. Small, at 5′2″, she was nicknamed "Rosebud" and credited in newspaper articles with daring and courage, although some called her game erratic. Kim Chapin observed: "Her forehand is hit with tremendous overspin; … Her service is rarely tempered and is hit with all the twist and body gymnastics of a Tony Trabert. … The missing fraction is her backhand, which so far tends to be a defensive chop."

In 1967, Casals won the women's singles crown in the Wills Invitational tournament in New Zealand, defeating Françoise Durr of France in straight sets. At Wimbledon, she was called the tournament's most improved player, which she attributed to better concentration. "I realized that most of my reason for losing was lack of concentration. You just can't allow your mind to drift away. You've got to control your mind as well as your play." Although losing to Britain's Ann Hayden Jones in the semi-finals at Wimbledon that year, Casals beat Billie Jean King in the semi-finals of the national clay court matches in Milwaukee. In November, she won over Margaret Court in the quarterfinals of the Victoria championships in Melbourne. In the semifinals of the U.S. championships, however, she lost to Maria Bueno. In 1968, she once again reached the semifinals in the U.S. championships, but once again was beaten, this time by Nancy Richey .

In February 1968, Casals became one of the first woman players to sign a professional contract and join the pro tour. Despite the hardships of life on the road, she went on to win more than 30 national titles and to become one of the world's top money winners. She also contributed substantially to the growth of women's tennis. In 1970, she and Billie Jean King led a group of female players in a protest against discrimination. Demanding bigger purses for women, equal exposure in center-court matches, and better coverage by the news media, the group threatened to boycott future tournaments unless their requests were met. The protest was effective, and in 1973, Casals won a total of $115,000 in prize money, including the biggest single prize in the history of women's sports, the Family Circle Tournament. Defeating Nancy Gunter in the final match, she took home $30,000. A sports writer for The New York Times called it one of the best efforts of her career: "[N]ever has she displayed such commitment of purpose and concentration as she did during this four-day tournament." Phil Elderkin, in the Christian Science Monitor, remarked on her powerful legs and the "dash of Pancho Gonzales in her serve."

Casals captured the attention of many Americans not even interested in tennis in September 1973, during the celebrated "battle of the sexes" match, when Billie Jean King trounced tennis hustler and avowed "male chauvinist" Bobbie Riggs in a highly publicized match. Hired by ABC, along with Howard Cosell and tennis pro, Gene Scott, to comment on the match, Casals' acerbic commentary even outdid Cosell, who built his reputation on the put-down. Although some admired her spunk, most felt she was brash and "unladylike" in her presentation. (Some even mistook her for Cosell's daughter because their last names sounded similar.) Although her image suffered, the television appearance boosted her career considerably, raising public curiosity about the intense young tennis star. She went on to win two additional Wimbledon doubles titles and was the winner of the 1988 Virginia Slims of California with her partner Martina Navratilova .

During the 1970s, Casals had a reputation for nonconformity. According to newspaper accounts, she kept late hours, had an enormous appetite, and smoked an occasional cigar. She retired from competitive tennis to run a company in Sausalito, California, that organizes tournaments, special charity events, and corporate outings. Casals was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1996, and is on the Board of Directors of the Women's International Tennis Association. In her spare time, she enjoys golf, poetry, and by her own admission "plays a mean game of table tennis."

sources:

Chapin, Kim. Sports Illustrated. October 24, 1966.

Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1974.

Elderkin, Phil. Christian Science Monitor. August 27, 1973.

Meade, Marion. Women in Sports: Tennis. NY: Harvey House, 1975.

The New York Times. May 6, 1973.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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