Such green bowers of U.S. tennis as Forest Hills and Longwood lay under coatings of hard gray frost last week; in the U.S. north it was even a little cold for football. But in Australia, under the warm skies of late spring, the annual tennis fever was mounting with the thermometer. In tropical Brisbane, some 10,000 miles from Forest Hills, the heat had reached 95°. Clothes clung awkwardly to the skin, even if a man walked at a leisurely pace. There, in Brisbane, the U.S. Davis Cup team was working its way toward the 1954 Challenge Round. By the end of the month they should be ready to face the Australian champions in a fourth attempt to recapture the Cup in four years
Tennis is big news in Australia at any time of year. In December it is front page news. Airborne visitors look down on hundreds of courts in every major city. Business men carry rackets to work, nip off during lunch hour for a quick game. Everybody knows the score—from bartenders to government officials. Everybody also knew—or thought he did—something about the troubles of blond, thick-shouldered Lew Hoad who made a hero of himself in the 1953 Challenge Round only to finish up the current tournament season with a five-star crash in the Victorian championships (SI, Dec. 13). Some newspapers busily hinted in pictures and headlines that Cupid is the culprit in Hoad's case, and that a romance with attractive Staley—also a tennis player—is more on his mind than Harry Hopman's famous discipline for young tennis players.
So disturbed were some veteran Davis Cup observers that at the sight of a slumping Hoad, they were ready to concede the Cup to the U.S. even before the rival squads could go about settling the issue on Sydney's White City Courts, Dec. 27-29.
The assumption in Australia is that these two teams will surely meet at Sydney. As far as assumptions go, this is a pretty safe one. First, however, on Brisbane's Milton Courts this week, Bill Talbert, the American nonplaying captain, will give his team a final tune-up. His one-two punch, American champion Vic Seixas and former titleholder Tony Trabert, go against Sweden's Lennart Bergelin and Sven Davidson in the Inter-Zone finals. The Swedes, survivors of 23 challenging nations in the European zone, appear to have only an outside chance against the champion of the seven-nation American zone.
But Talbert can take no chances. Davidson, after all, is the current U.S. indoor champion, and although he and Bergelin are more at home on the slow composition surfaces found on the continent than on the slick Australian turf, he is fully capable of an upset. Nobody has to remind Talbert of last year's Inter-Zone final when Seixas, in the throes of a nine-month slump, lost his opening match to Jacques Brichant of Belgium. "This time," says the U.S. captain, "we'll have our best foot forward."
SEIXAS' MOVING SPIRIT
His best foot, by a happy turn of events, may well be this same Vic Seixas playing at the top of a game notable for its rise and fall. Trabert, as past experience has shown, is capable of brilliant tennis when the spirit moves him. Captain Talbert hopes for just the right sort of moving spirit this week. If something goes wrong with either player, Hamilton Richardson, certainly one of the strongest reserve players in Cup history, will get the nod. If all goes well—as expected—Seixas and Trabert will pair off against Hoad and Ken Rosewall in the Challenge Round. A recent attack of mumps may not only eliminate Rex Hartwig, a third member of the Australian team, but will relieve his country's five-man selection committee of much of the pressure being put on it to use Hartwig (who has beaten Trabert in three straight matches) instead of a rebellious Hoad.
Practice sessions will go on to the last day. Harry Hopman, the stickler for superb condition and discipline, has his boys up early for a few laps around the track and later in the day prescribes a gym workout along with two court workouts. Would-be visitors to the dressing room are met with a "No Admittance" sign; no interviews are allowed. Hopman occasionally grants evening "passes" to his players, but an evening of liberty terminates with the captain's personal 11 p.m. bedcheck. The U.S. team lacks stern regimentation. "But," says Talbert, "we do what is necessary to keep in shape, and nobody has to be driven. We feel our boys are intelligent enough to look out for themselves."
More than 25,000 people will watch each day's play during the Challenge Round. Many times that number, having been turned away by the ticket sellers, will settle down with the rest of the population to listen to the play-byplay radio accounts.
As they prepare to face the Swedes this week, the American team seemed better adjusted for Cup play than on any of the three previous disappointing invasions. They worked with a purpose on specific tactical points and did their best to keep out of the limelight. Australian sportswriters, who won their badge of loyalty in former years by falsely accusing the Americans of drinking champagne in fancy night clubs, have now turned their guns on the home forces. Strongest newspaper dig at the U.S. players so far was an accusation that Americans rode about in luxurious limousines while Hoad and Rosewall were forced by their own officials to walk the streets. This hardly disturbed Talbert and his men, who have no limousines at their disposal. Said Trabert, "They can write what they please about me, because I don't read the papers." Seixas added calmly, "I wouldn't say anything if somebody dropped an atom bomb on center court."
Players ready? Linesmen ready?
EVENT: 1954 Davis Cup Competition.
ORIGIN: Inaugurated in 1900 when Dwight F. Davis presented the Cup for annual international lawn tennis competition.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Australia.
CHALLENGERS: Starting field of 30 nations; 23 in European zone, 7 in American zone.
INTER-ZONE FINAL: U.S. vs. Sweden, Milton Courts, Brisbane, Dec. 16-18.
CHALLENGE ROUND: Inter-Zone winner vs. Australia, White City Courts, Sydney, Dec. 27-29.
TYPE OF TOURNAMENT: Four singles, one doubles match. Best three out of five matches wins.
FORMER WINNERS: U.S.—16 years.
Great Britain—9 years.
NO COMPETITION: 1901, 1910
PRIZE: Possession of Davis Cup by winning team and privilege of conducting next Challenge Round on home courts.