When Tony Trabert won the National singles championship at Forest Hills last September, a lot of people—myself included—felt that the U.S. had found a new Kramer or Budge or Tilden. So far, it looks like we were wrong. Tony lost in Australia, where he was the No. 1 man on the Davis Cup team. He lost again at the indoor in New York, and again in the national clay court in Chicago. This past summer he went to Wimbledon and was put out in the semifinals by Ken Rosewall, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1. A fortnight ago in Denver, Tony needed five sets to beat Gardnar Mulloy, who is old enough to be his father.
Trabert is just 24. He is tall, strong, keen, experienced, and he possesses a power game of infinite potentialities. Other American champions, some of them with less natural talent and relatively slight physical powers, consistently annihilated their opposition. What's the matter with Tony Trabert?
I am asked this question often, and with good reason: Tony and I are both from Cincinnati, we have played together successfully in doubles [The combination of Talbert & Trabert has won 25 of 27 tournaments] and I was his captain for the Davis Cup matches in Australia. People think I should know the answer; I think I do.
So, for that matter, do Gar Mulloy and Jack Kramer. We were talking about what might be called "the Trabert problem" during the Denver tournament. Although Kramer is a professional now, his interest in amateur tennis is not academic. Kramer sincerely wants the U.S. to have a great amateur champion. He also has a legitimate personal interest. If and when Tony becomes "the best player in the world," as he has said he hopes to be, he probably will turn pro and play for Kramer. That could mean money in the bank for both of them.
"One trouble with Tony," Jack said, "is that he's not as good as he thinks he is. He's got to quit looking for alibis, and work hard to improve his game. Another thing—he's got to toughen up his hide. A great champion can't let himself be upset by a bad call or a heckler. Finally, he's got to eat, sleep and live tennis. You can't do this if you're worrying about outside problems."
Kramer is right on all counts. I've seen Tony lose too many times, by now, because of a bad call or because the crowd got under his skin. In the Pacific Southwest tournament he had Ken Rosewall all but beaten when he received a doubtful ruling. He fell apart. In the Australian championships the crowd quite naturally was pulling fiercely for old John Bromwich, who was down two sets to none. Tony was upset by this violent partisanship and he blew the match.
After Trabert's defeat at Wimbledon, I heard from mutual friends that he was "tired." Tired? How could he be that tired at 23? He had managed it, I subsequently learned, by knocking himself out in a series of unexpectedly difficult doubles matches badly scheduled by the Wimbledon committee. His subsequent loss in the singles is thus less surprising than some of his other misadventures.
I said earlier that Tony's game has infinite potentialities. The key word is "potentialities." Tony may be the defending champion of the U.S., but he is still a challenger for the world's championship. He is not on top of the heap, but only on one of the slopes. Many people who were hailing him a year ago have already written him off.
I have not, but I think it is time Tony grew up. Nobody is going to hand him any titles. He will have to work hard to keep what he has, harder to achieve more. He will have to acquire emotional control on the court and he will have to make many sacrifices off it. In short, he will have to devote the next year unconditionally to tennis; unless he becomes a willing slave to the game, Tony Trabert will never become its master.