When the stars of Australia's and America's Davis Cup teams step out this weekend onto the classic center courts of Forest Hills pictured at left, a tennis rivalry which has alternately flared and smoldered for nearly half a century will explode again. It was 1908 when a slender, left-handed flash named Norman Brookes started it by leading Australasia to a 3-2 Challenge Round triumph at Melbourne. It was no less fierce last December when, after four consecutive defeats, our team won the Cup back from down under. Australia and America have met in 19 of the 43 Challenge Rounds played, with the U.S. victor in 10 of these and loser in nine. This, then, is the match when Harry Hopman's boys could even up the score.
As matters now stand, it appears there will be little change in the lineups used in the last two years. I feel sure that Hopman once more will send Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad into the singles, though he will team Hoad with Rex Hartwig in the doubles. Our side is virtually compelled to go again with Tony Trabert and Vic Seixas, who came through so magnificently eight months ago.
Both captains have problems. Hopman's biggest one is Hoad, the man whose rocketlike game has been the bulwark of the Australian team for the last two years. Hoad has been ill, underweight and apparently depressed. He is inclined to moodiness. Unless he snaps back into top form, physically and psychologically, Australia's hopes seem dim. Rex Hartwig, though capable of brilliant flashes, cannot be depended on to fill Hoad's spot in the singles.
We have similar worries with Vic Seixas. Now 31 and inclined to spasmodic slumps, he has failed this year to show the razoredge form which characterized his sweep to the 1954 National Singles crown and his Davis Cup showing in Australia. But Seixas is capable of hitting an invincible streak at the bounce of a drop shot. Until he hits the first ball, no one can say how good he will be.
We have no worries with Trabert. His recent shoulder ailment turned out to be a blessing in disguise; it gave him a much-needed rest. The winner of 16 of 18 tournaments, including his clean sweep at Wimbledon, Tony is our prime hope, the world's best amateur who is supremely confident and ready. He stands to win both his singles and should give us a better than even chance in the doubles.
Other things, more subtle perhaps, make this year's Challenge Round an exciting affair. This year, we hold the Cup and it is Australia's job to wrest it from us. We are under added pressure; the incentive, our big ally in 1954, has gone over to the enemy camp. Prom the proud Captain Hopman on down, the Aussies have set their jaws. It's an important psychological factor.
On the other hand, we are playing at home. We can expect the crowds to be with us—a vital inspirational point.
In one respect, the doubles, the Australians will be tougher for us than in the previous years I have served as American captain. Since Trabert and Seixas proved themselves such a superior pair, Hopman has done some experimenting and has come up with a greatly improved doubles team.
Hartwig, who has a strong service and returns service exceptionally well, has been substituted for Rosewall, who for all his remarkable backcourt tactics lacks that booming serve. Since they were permanently teamed after last year's Challenge Round, Hoad and Hartwig haven't lost a match.
The national doubles tournament at Brookline, Mass. was expected to provide a preliminary test of American and Australian doubles strength. But Hopman, apparently not wishing to show his hand, held out Hoad and Rosewall, entering only the makeshift team of Hartwig and Neale Fraser. Then that unpredictable wind named Diane drowned out the tournament's early schedule and forced withdrawal of both the American and Australian Davis Cup players. Thus we will go into the doubles without really knowing Australia's strength. That adds interest if any more is needed. The staid old West Side Club will really be jumping.
DAVIS CUP FACTS
Defending champion: United States
Challengers: Starting field of 34 nations: 24 in European zone, 7 in American zone, 3 in Eastern zone
Challenge Round: Australia vs. U.S., West Side Tennis Club courts, Forest Hills, N.Y., Aug. 26-28
Type of tournament: Four singles, one doubles match. Best three out of five matches wins
Former winners: U.S.—17 years
Great Britain—9 years