There was a moment on the second day of the Davis Cup matches at Forest Hills last weekend that won't soon be forgotten by this generation of fans and players. For the 13,500 sunbathed spectators in the sweltering stadium it was the supreme, gnawing moment of suspense; for the experts it represented an audacious cocking of the snoot at all tennis precepts as well as the law of averages.
Lew Hoad was serving, and to understand the situation fully you have to picture this towheaded, 20-year-old Australian. Husky though he is, he lacks the height of most great players, standing more than an inch under six feet. Yet he hits the ball as hard as any top player ever has, and this is especially true of his flat first serve which he delivers like something out of a bazooka. He is temperamental and headstrong, but in the crisis of a match he plays, as one old Davis Cupper put it, "real loose."
Comes now the moment. Hoad and Hex Hartwig were two sets apiece with the U.S. doubles team of Tony Trabert and Victor Seixas. The game score was 5-all in the fifth set, and the Americans, who had lost the first two singles matches on the previous day, were fighting to keep the series alive for another day. The Aussies had only to win this set for the third point they needed to wrap up the Cup and take it back home. But Hoad was in trouble as he faced Trabert in the left-hand court with the advantage point to the Americans. If he lost the point the U.S. would be leading 6-5 on their own serve (Seixas') and all odds would favor them to run out the match. Every known theory of tennis doubles called for Hoad to serve deep, safe and only moderately fast with a lot of spin to Trabert's backhand, then follow the serve to the net so the Aussies could have control.
Instead Hoad gambled, hitting a flat all-out first serve that crossed the net like a white blur. It was good, so good that Trabert could just barely get his racket on it for an error. Twice more, however, the Australians lost advantage point to the U.S., and twice more Hoad took the big, the incredible, the unwise gamble, and twice more it paid off as Trabert futilely tried to return it. Finally the Aussies had the advantage point, and after a short exchange Hoad played a perfect drop volley for the game. The crisis past, they stormed Seixas' serve and won it for the set, the match and the Cup.
September 4, 1955
THE UNWINDING SCRIPT
It was theatrically fitting that this most dramatic moment in the whole Cup engagement should have starred Lew Hoad's tremendous, blasting service. That was the feature of these matches that will remain longest in mind, and this in no way undervalues the stylish precision of Ken Rosewall's singles play or the solid, often brilliant partnership of the unsmiling Rex Hartwig, who was a steadying influence on Hoad throughout the long nip-and-tuck doubles. But it was Hoad who caught the fancy of the crowd (to say nothing of the attention of the professional tennis recruiters), beginning with his first singles victory over Trabert on Friday afternoon to put the Australians in their commanding 2-0 lead.
When Hoad and Trabert took the court it was generally conceded that Tony was the finest amateur tennis player in the world. Nothing except a strained shoulder muscle had given him the slightest trouble on the courts for at least a year. Seixas having already lost the first singles match to Rosewall as expected, Tony was now called on for the first of his two singles victories. Combining them with a win in the doubles would keep the Cup at home. That was figuring without Hoad.
The advance script was accurate for only a set as the contest of the "big" games—the tremendous service followed to the net for the putaway volley or smash—began to unwind. Yet there were a few omens around for those who cared to notice them. During the warm-up Hoad had let fly with three dazzling flat serves, the kind that nobody ever returns. Then, starting the match on his own serve, he aced Tony with the first ball he hit. In the stands a voice said: "Long as he doesn't finish that way it's all right."
The games followed service as they should in a battle of "big" shot makers until Hoad's serve at 3-all. Trabert opened that game with a great cross-court forehand, passing Hoad at the net. Two Hoad errors brought the score to love-40, from which he worked to 30-40 before double faulting. This was the first service break, and it was all Tony needed to run out the set at 6-4.
As the second set began, Hoad's game suddenly seemed to let out a notch, almost as if Captain Harry Hopman, sitting at one of the small tables on the sidelines where the players stopped for rest and advice before changing courts, had advanced some psychological throttle. Now Lew's blinding first serve was just a bit more consistent, his volleys and ground strokes just a bit crisper. It was enough to switch the offensive initiative to Hoad, and from here on the missed volleys, the nets and the outs that had previously been winners came off Trabert's racket. The command of a match between two such splendid hitters as Hoad and Trabert hinges on a delicate edge in timing and disposition. Now Hoad had it, and with it his touch and confidence grew, while Tony's receded. The question in all minds was simply how long he could hold this edge. The answer seemed to lie in his big serve; as long as it was biting the corners he would be safe. In the broadcasting booth behind and above the court, Jack Kramer, whose own big game once dominated the amateurs, told his audience he couldn't believe that such a serve as Hoad was displaying could last through such a match. Yet it grew surer as the games rolled by. The second set went to Lew at 6-3 and the third by the same score.
When the two players came out from their 15-minute rest and shower, a few sharp eyes saw something they didn't like: a piece of adhesive tape across the fleshy base of Tony Trabert's right thumb. Nothing was said about it then or later by Trabert or his teammates, but the tape covered a deep, raw blister about ¼ inch across. There was nothing in Tony's subsequent play, however, to indicate it bothered him. In fact the two players seemed lifted and sharpened by the growing importance of each shot. The careless errors were rare as Hoad won his service at 15; Trabert his at 15; Hoad his at love; Trabert his at 30 after two fantastic passing shots by Hoad; Hoad his at 30 as Tony kept moving in to catch the ball on the rise; then Tony took his own serve at 15; Hoad his at 15; Tony his at 15; Hoad his at 15; Tony his at 15; Hoad his at love to lead 6-5; Tony his at 15 for 6-all; Hoad his at love with four unreturnable first serves to go 7-6. Here Tony faltered, and missing four volleys he was out of it, 8-6.
HISTORY BY SHORT WAVE
The next day's doubles match shut the door on the last slim hopes of the U.S. The two singles matches of the third day, although possibly as fine as any tennis of the series, served simply as a lagniappe to the magnificent Australian victory, giving them a clean sweep of five matches to none for the record books. It should be recorded, however, that Hamilton Richardson, the tall, slim Louisianan who has served on five Davis Cup teams without playing a match, was finally sent in for Tony Trabert, whose blistered racket hand was given a welcome rest by Captain Bill Talbert. Richardson showed some tennis of brilliance while losing in four sets to the calm perfections of Ken Rosewall's strokes.
Here then were three days of superb tennis deserving to be seen, as it was, by the largest audience tennis has ever known—some 9,000,000 on the coast-to-coast television hookup in addition to the 36,000 who cheered their way through three days in the stands at Forest Hills. And there were another 3,000,000 off in Australia—nearly one-third of the population—who got up at five in the morning to listen to the direct short-wave broadcast. Down under it was an event of history.