When Rosie Casals was 10 and barely net-high, she and her father once slept a couple of nights in the family’s 1949 Studebaker because the sponsors of a junior tournament failed to come through with the promised rooms. “It was a rude awakening,” remembers Casals about her early confrontation with class distinction and snobbery. “The other kids had nice tennis clothes, nice rackets, nice white shoes and came in Cadillacs. I felt stigmatized because we were poor.” Stigmatized, perhaps, but far from overawed; Rosie promptly trounced all her better-dressed opponents and took home the trophy.
Nor has the feisty kid from San Francisco’s inner city stopped battling. A pioneer of the women’s pro circuit, holder of more than 90 titles (including, with pal Billie Jean King, five Wimbledon doubles), and winner of more than $1 million since 1970, Casals, now 33, surveys her beloved game and pronounces herself disappointed. “As far as I’m concerned, the tour is not women’s tennis anymore—it’s junior tennis. We have to deal with parents, coaches and agents who are searching down in the qualifying tours and signing up kids when they’re 14. Everybody cares only about themselves and protecting their ranking and to hell with everybody else.”
Typically, Casals plans to take matters in her own hands—she’s the prime mover behind the proposed Women’s Classics tour for players 30 and over. King has already lent her support, and if the sponsors currently studying it come through with backing, the circuit will begin next spring. “I want to create a future for women tennis players who still enjoy the game,” Casals explains. With the exception of 25-year-old Martina Navratilova—”a great athlete who moves fast and hits great shots”—Rosie feels today’s young players produce “the same boring tennis. It’s all moonballs and baseliners with two-handed backhands. You know the ball is going to come back 20 million times before you get a point.”
But Casals’ complaints range far deeper than the aesthetic. A voracious reader, she’s distressed by the fact that outside of Tracy Austin, 19, and Pam Shriver, 19, most younger players are high school dropouts. “One of the girls took a correspondence course, but I’m sure somebody helped her—certainly not her dad, because he’s not bright enough. Those kids need a chance to finish their educations and a chance to grow up. They’re not getting it.”
As a result, she feels, “Some of the younger players are spoiled brats. For instance, at tournaments we get a car to use, but more often than not these kids won’t put gas in it or get it washed or even return it—they leave it somewhere and tell the people to pick it up. They don’t even help in promoting a tournament, because now it’s easy come, easy go. In the early days players stuck together, because if we didn’t, the game was going nowhere. Whether you liked it or not, you had to be friends. Today’s kids are not friends because they’re so competitive, and so are their parents. I mean, if Andrea Jaeger  beats Kathleen Horvath , her old man is yelling at Mrs. Horvath in the locker room.”
In fact, Casals wants the Women’s Tennis Association to bar players younger than 16 from turning pro. “It isn’t because I resent them,” she insists. “It’s to benefit those youngsters physically as well as mentally. They’re all developing injuries because they’re thoroughly exhausted. Their parents or their agents tell them they’ve got to practice more—eight hours a day, often hitting against guys—and still play matches. Right now Austin has a back problem, Jaeger has had serious problems with her arm and her feet, and Hana Mandlikova [who is 20] has a back problem. I assure you they’re going to burn themselves out young.”
If Casals is blunt, it is in the service of an abiding concern which the public, accustomed to her moody on-court demeanor, rarely appreciates, but which her fellow players do. “She’s a very giving person,” says Evert Lloyd, a former doubles partner. “She’s the mother hen on the tour who organizes everything from breakfasts to Scrabble tournaments. She’d give you the shirt off her back if she likes you. That’s probably been the problem with her career. Rosie has never been selfish enough—like Billie Jean or me or Tracy—because she just doesn’t have a big ego.”
Great-niece of the late master cellist Pablo Casals, Rosie is the younger of Manuel and Maria Casals’ two daughters. Her father emigrated from El Salvador to San Francisco, where he started a modest vending machine business and took up tennis. He taught Rosie to play when she was 8 and has been her only coach. A year later she began competing—and winning. By the time she was 16, Rosie was ranked No. 1 in both juniors’ and women’s levels in Northern California; when she began competing nationally, she became fast friends with fellow Golden Stater Billie Jean. Together they brought color and emotion to a sport lacking in both. More important, in 1970 they infuriated the tennis establishment, which then hypocritically countenanced under-the-table payments to alleged “amateurs,” by agreeing to participate in the first professional women’s tour. The USTA threatened to suspend the new pros, and fellow players scorned them. “They felt we prostituted ourselves,” Rosie recalls. But the women went ahead and played in Houston—top prize at that first Virginia Slims tournament was all of $1,600—and the winner was Rosie Casals.
In the tennis boom that followed, Casals parlayed her share of the riches into a tri-level, glass-and-cedar home, complete with custom indoor pool, high in the hills of Sausalito. (Cracks a fellow player, “She’s the only person I know with a $72,000 house and a $124,000 pool.”) Age and career-threatening knee surgery in 1978 have cost Rosie her habitual Top 10 singles ranking. She and Wendy Turnbull remain a formidable doubles team, however, and Rosie will play Team Tennis this summer for the Oakland Breakers.
On the circuit fewer than 26 weeks a year, Casals still grosses more than $100,000. “That’s not too shabby,” she says. “Where else could I make that kind of money? But I thank God for tennis for much more than the financial aspects—it opened up a whole other world for me.” When her playing days end Rosie plans to stay involved in the game. She’s formed a company, Sportswoman Inc., to handle her affairs, manage the planned Women’s Classics tour and, in the future, even represent players. Says one of sport’s true rebels with a cause, “There isn’t one agency controlled by women—they’re all run by men. And that gripes my butt.”