I have often been asked: "Just what does a nonplaying Davis Cup team captain do?" The nonplaying aspect of it seems to indicate non-work to many people, or at best a sort of tactical and organizational leader who cheers his boys on from the sidelines. This is misleading. A nonplaying captain has to be far more. He must be diplomat and locker boy, tough disciplinarian and father confessor. The ideal captain would be a combination of Leo Durocher, Anthony Eden, Bishop Sheen and Sigmund Freud, with the patience of a Job.
This is an article from the Feb. 21, 1955 issue
I suppose the best way to explain is to pluck out a typical day during a campaign. In Australia my day usually began at 8 a.m. when I would have breakfast served in my hotel room. This was the signal for the telephone to start ringing. Between bites of toast and gulps of cold coffee, I frequently answered as many as 20 calls in the space of an hour and a half.
ANGLES, TICKETS, RECEPTIONS
These generally were from newspapermen, all searching for a new angle. But calls came also from team well-wishers with nothing particular in mind, friends of the team requesting tickets for the matches and perhaps a local official reminding me of an afternoon reception. The ticket problem alone is enough to warrant the full time of one man.
These chores usually kept me busy until 10 a.m. when it was necessary to organize morning practice. I had to check on each of the players individually in their rooms, see how they were feeling, talk things over and advise them of the meeting time in the hotel lobby.
Then there were other details. Moss needed a dentist. The chef needed tickets in return for the choice steaks. Had the cars been ordered? Were Reg Dillon, our Australian handyman, Dinny Pails, our coach, and Husky Moore, our trainer, on hand? How about Jack Kramer? Would he be available to work out with the boys?
At the courts it was necessary to check the locker room. Had the laundry been done and shoes whitened? Was there plenty of everything to satisfy the varied needs of all the individual team members? Were soft drinks and fruit in the refrigerator? What about tennis balls?
Practice had to be organized with the idea of bringing each of the players to his peak at the right time. Also, practice pairings had to be made with the idea of working on known weaknesses and bolstering confidence. For instance, if Trabert was showing a weakening of confidence, it wouldn't be wise to put him against a peak-form Seixas and let him get his brains knocked out. It would only hurt his confidence more.
There was a quick lunch and the procedure was repeated in the afternoon. Practices were followed by informal press conferences and then huddles in the dressing room to iron out problems. Always, 24 hours a day, it was necessary to maintain positive thinking.
The captain had the responsibility—not an easy one—of seeing that all the "troops," as we called ourselves, were dressed and ready for dinner. Sometimes it was necessary to crack the whip to make the boys wear ties and jackets.
The team was often invited to receptions and social functions at which it rubbed elbows and swapped talk with such men as Prime Minister Menzies, U.S. Ambassador Amos Peaslee, Sir Norman Brookes and the heads of local and state governments. We were Uncle Sam under a microscope and our behavior had to be circumspect.
Of all the decisions I have ever made, the one that disappointed me most was a direct outgrowth of one such occasion. On the second day of the Challenge Round, with the decision already in, I had told Ham Richardson that I was going to play him on the following day. At the International Club dinner that night the Australian officials, the prime minister, the ambassador and the USLTA representative, Julian S. Myrick, all expressed their desire to see Trabert and Seixas play the next day because they were the "first team." Realizing that their wish was certainly that of the fans, I decided, with a heavy heart, to change the plan. That's why Ham Richardson did not get to play in the Challenge Round.
Strategy-wise, the main job of the captain is to see that the players reach their peak at the proper moment, that a high morale standard is maintained and that every means be taken to capitalize on our own strength and the other side's weakness.
Personally, I have never felt that the captain's presence at courtside can play an important part in the outcome of a match. If he has honed his men to a sharp physical and mental edge and if he has laid out a sound battle plan, there is little he can do to change the course of the contest once the ball has been hit (except to die a thousand deaths on the sidelines). He may detect and help correct a few errors which one of his players persists in repeating. He may pick out some flaws in the armor of the opponent. Also, he should help keep his man cool under pressure and in the face of recurring bad breaks. And once in a while he can really help to turn a threatening situation into a happy one for his side. One such occasion comes to my mind now.
BOOS AND A WHISPER
It happened during the Davis Cup Inter-Zone Final matches at Brisbane, in mid-December. Tony Trabert was playing Sweden's Lennart Bergelin. A light rain started to fall early in the match. To avoid possible injury to Trabert on the slippery turf, I immediately requested the use of spikes from Cliff Sproule, referee. Eight thousand spectators, realizing what I was asking and knowing Bergelin had no spikes, started booing and shouting: "Doesn't it ever rain in America?"
This was the kind of situation which a year ago led to temperamental blowups on the part of our players and to direct attacks upon American sportsmanship in the Australian press. Before we ever came over for the 1954 Challenge Round I had resolved that such outbreaks would never occur again. As Trabert was putting on his spikes, I whispered a few brief words into his ear. He nodded, then started off toward his end of the court
He walked with his head down while the crowd booed, the picture of utter dejection. But as he reached the base line he straightened up, faced the crowd squarely and gave them a great big Trabert grin. Then, with a wave of his hand, he settled down to play. There wasn't a boo left in the entire Milton Courts.
The spectators in Australia are as sharp as tacks. They are an extra factor which a nonplaying captain must take into account. But, in the last analysis, it's up to the player to win. I have heard football coaches say that games are won or lost by Thursday afternoon. "I've done all I can do—now it's up to the boys," a coach may say on the day of the game.
A Davis Cup captain may say the same.