The impressive American victory at Wimbledon has left a lot of people feeling that right now Uncle Sam is safely up on top in the tennis world. It's easy to overlook the fact that most of the glory won on foreign battlefields is due to the efforts of one man—Tony Trabert. The unpleasant and disquieting truth is that one man doesn't make a tennis team; that we need a tennis team for our next big hurdle, the Davis Cup matches at Forest Hills in August; and that we are in real trouble on that score.
For a Challenge Round there must be another singles player plus a doubles team. Who will be our other singles player and who will play the doubles? We may hope that Vic Seixas gets over his ailments and that Ham Richardson will pull out of his slump, but our bench is still lacking in able reserves for these spots. Never has our need for good players been greater, and seldom in recent years has the prospect of getting them been gloomier.
Wimbledon led me to hope that one man might be available—that American in Paris, Budge Patty. This 32-year-old tennis war horse with a yen for continental living shot into the tennis spotlight with a brilliant showing, highlighted by his straight-set victory over Australia's strong young ace, Lew Hoad. Patty might have been just the ingredient our Davis Cup team needed—a stylist with an effortless, poised game, an excellent repertoire of shots and plenty of savvy picked up in years of playing the European circuit.
But Patty turned me down when I tried to persuade him to come to Forest Hills and make the team. He likes the life in Europe. He has made many friends there. He hasn't wanted to break these ties by coming to America for the Eastern grass court swing which winds up with the national tournament at Forest Hills.
July 17, 1955
Then there's Dick Savitt, the big bear from Orange, N.J., now at Houston, Texas, whose great ability was demonstrated once again when he gave both Trabert and Seixas a hard run for their money at the River Oaks Invitation in Houston (SI, May 2). Savitt was top news in tennis four years ago—an overpowering player who defeated Australia's best, Frank Sedgman and Ken McGregor, on two successive days and, with the Aussie championship under his belt, went on to win at Wimbledon. But then Dick virtually retired. He went to work in the oil business, played weekend tennis regularly but seldom showed up in the big time.
Yet, as I said last May, if he chose to make a comeback he could certainly make the team. He could make our big three of today uneasy, and might even become the head man of a new big four. I wish he would.
THE SPIRIT OF THE LITTLE NATIONS
Perhaps what we need is more of the spirit that animates all the little nations of the Davis Cup who year after year come out and keep this worldwide competition a living, animated and exciting thing. Each time the Davis Cup play starts rolling again I am amazed—and at the same time heartened—to see players of countries like Norway, where skiing is the major sport, or the Philippines, where tennis is still in its infancy, take up their rackets and try once more. They know they haven't got a chance but they keep on plugging.
The last 11 Challenge Rounds have been the monopoly of the United States and Australia with the U.S. winning six and Australia five of the matches. Of all the other countries in the world, only France, Belgium, Japan and Britain have enjoyed the prestige of a Challenge Round performance.
Yet 24 countries were entered in the European zone eliminations, which began several months ago in scattered cities of the old world. There are seven in the American zone waiting to begin July 15. There were three originally in the Eastern zone, with Burma already eliminated by the Philippines who in turn went down to Japan.
This repeated failure to crack the United States-Australia tennis orbit certainly must discourage the other nations at times. But hope of pulling an upset—plus perhaps the fun of engaging in a fine sport—inevitably brings them all back.
It's different when you're always in the top ranks knowing you will stay there. Perhaps a winning player gets jaded, surfeited with victory. But here is something for Americans to think about, a new note which is creeping into the annual Davis Cup play:
I recall at the Davis Cup dinner following the Inter-Zone matches, Gunnar Calin, the diminutive captain of the Swedes, said he didn't know how long Europe could keep challenging. The expense of sending a team all around the world was great. The returns were always slim. And Calin added a remark which has, perhaps, the significance of that well-known cloud no bigger than a man's hand. He said he had heard some talk in European circles of a possible European competition. The countries participating would bolt the Davis Cup and play among themselves.
Such an eventuality would seem no threat to so traditional and honored an affair as the Davis Cup, were it not for one factor: the unrest among European nations, Calin said, is being fed by the Russians. Bent as they are on winning prestige in the sports world, they would like to enter international competition but fear to do so while the U.S. and Australia remain so far ahead of the world.
Russia has sent delegates to many European tournaments to talk of a new tennis alliance, a strictly European affair with America and Australia barred. So far, it has been only talk; I don't think any country would lightly bolt the Davis Cup. But I can readily see how, with a push and a promise, they could get the urge.
It's up to us—the U.S. and Australia—to keep the Davis Cup the living tradition it has been. It's up to Americans to provide the players. The door is wide open. Get your rackets out, men, and walk in!