SITTING in the stands at Forest Hills next week will be a gnomish, sandy-haired man who will draw far less attention from his fellow spectators than he deserves. Only a few old-timers are likely to recognize him as Harry Hopman, 47, nonplaying captain and full-time mastermind of the invading Australians.
A LAD SHOULDN'T GRUMBLE
Hopman prefers to sit in the stands because "I can see things the lads miss in the heat of the match, the little things they are doing wrong or perhaps some weakness in their opponents. You might say I am acting somewhat like a fight manager at ringside."
But unlike fight managers, Hopman will also be alert for the slightest evidence of "bad manners," which he deplores not only as a breach of the proprieties but because "slouching and groaning are a damnable waste of effort. The lad should be thinking of winning the next point instead of grousing over one that is lost."
August 29, 1954
At the Newport tournament two weeks ago, Hopman twice impressed this general point on his 19-year-old whiz kid, Lew Hoad. When Hoad showed up for his opening match with bristles on his chin, Hopman flagged him down. "The fine for not shaving is five shillings," said Harry. Later, Hoad missed a shot and hurled his racket to the ground in disgust. "That's another five shillings," said Harry.
The Hopman insistence on perfection has given rise to the charges that he runs a "chain gang." Hopman himself deplores such stories as grossly untrue. The opinion of his players on this point is not likely to become available, for before leaving Australia they all signed an agreement which, in effect, acknowledged the Hopman word to be law. And it is Hopman law that none of his players can be interviewed unless Hopman is present.
Hopman freely admits to being a strict disciplinarian.
"Have to be," he says. "After all they're just youngsters, some of them away from home for the first time. Take your eye off them for a moment and they're likely to do something terribly foolish—like going to a movie at 7 o'clock and eating dinner at 10. Can't have that sort of thing, y'know."
The question that exasperates U.S. tennis circles—faced with the skill of teen-agers like Lew Hoad and his companion whiz kid, Ken Rosewall—is: "How do they get good so young?" Also, how can a sparsely settled continent like Australia consistently come up with youngsters who outclass our own topflight players year after year?
Harry Hopman is willing to suggest answers to these questions up to the point where he considers them to involve personalities on the U.S. tennis scene, whereupon he closes the discussion by smiling apologetically and switching off his hearing aid.
"We're awfully keen on the game," says Hopman. "We have 750,000 players—that's almost 10% of the population. If the same proportion played tennis over here, you'd have no problem of congested highways on the weekends. Sixteen million players would be on the courts and very likely the rest of the population would be on the side lines watching the matches."
But Australians do more than play the game. Each of the six states has its own association, its own championships, and every member is a self-appointed talent scout eager to tip off the national governing body to promising youngsters.
FACTS OF TENNIS LIFE
There is no nonsense, as in the U.S., about higher education. College is almost automatically ruled out as detrimental to the best interests of tennis. The genuinely talented boy is advised to quit school at 14 or 15 and take "employment" from a sporting goods firm. Thus relieved of pressing financial worries, young men like Rosewall and Hoad are able to give their undivided attention to Harry Hopman.
Hopman frankly admits that his players are not simon-pure amateurs by American definition. "But," he adds, "I don't think there is one player in the world's first 10 who abides by the rules of the International Lawn Tennis Federation. International tennis today is in the semiprofessional class and should remain there. As I see it, a new definition of 'amateur' in tennis is a world-wide necessity."
For U.S. tennis Hopman has some short, specific advice: "Get someone like me to take charge."