By the time Bob Lutz had graduated from USC in 1971, he and his partner, Stan Smith, had won the doubles title at the U.S. and Australian opens.
Even so, he said, his future as a professional tennis player was hardly assured.
"When I was in college, I never thought there would be a professional circuit out there," Lutz said after defeating Dick Stockton, 7-6 (7-2), 6-1, Friday to advance to the semifinals of the Prudential-Bache Grand Champions event at the Rancho San Clemente Tennis Club.
It's hard to imagine a time in the tennis world when the players didn't share million-dollar purses. Lutz, who is from San Clemente, remembers because he lived it.
He was among the players who bucked the tennis establishment by signing on with Lamar Hunt's World Championship Tennis tour in the early '70s. The renegades who signed with Hunt lost their eligibility for Grand Slam events such as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open because the associations governing tennis at the time forbade the signing of such contracts.
In the beginning of WCT tour, the 32 best players in the world split $50,000 purses at each stop, which Lutz said seemed like plenty at the time.
"Now (John) McEnroe can make $75,000 in one night," Lutz said. "It's incredible what's happened to the prize money."
By 1974, the dispute had been settled, and WCT players were again eligible for Grand Slam events. That year, Lutz won his second U.S. Open doubles title with Smith. They would go on to win two more, in 1978 and 1980.
So despite his early uncertainty, Lutz made a good living playing tennis, eventually winning more than $1 million in prize money.
You could say Lutz, now 42, is winding down a second successful career. His 19 Grand Champions titles are the most on the 35-and-over tour, but he is one of the older Grand Champions and has only won once in the last two years.
Friday, Lutz, the tournament's third-seeded player, started slowly but beat Stockton, a man four years his junior. After Lutz won the tiebreaker in the first set, Stockton seemed to come apart.
"After a tiebreaker in a long set, there is often a letdown," Lutz said.
Lutz then broke Stockton's serve the next three times and held his own serve to win, 6-1, and get a chance to play Hank Pfister in the semifinals today.
Pfister defeated Kim Warwick, 6-4, 6-4, in another quarterfinal match. John Lloyd held on to defeat Jose Higueras, 6-1, 7-6 (7-5). Lloyd meets Sandy Mayer, who defeated Tim Gullikson, 6-3, 6-4.
In the doubles semifinals, Lutz and Sandy Mayer will play Gullikson and Pfister. Lloyd/Stockton defeated Ross Case/Higueras, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, and will take on Sherwood Stewart and Warwick.