America's eight months of tennis glory are ended. The Davis Cup, proud symbol of international court supremacy, is being crated and prepared for a return trip to Australia, half a world away.
With the same lightning tactics employed by our own forces in Sydney last December, Australia's bold young team has pulled a racket blitzkrieg, clinching the Challenge Round on the first two days and going on to a 5-0 victory.
These developments, surprising in their decisiveness if not in the final result, left tennis followers pondering two questions:
1. With virtually the same lineups on both sides, how could such a complete reversal be effected in so short a space of time?
2. Now that America again has lost the Cup, what are her chances of recovering it? When and how?
As the keenly disappointed captain of the vanquished troops and one who as a result is fairly close to the picture, I shall attempt to answer these questions as best I can.
First of all, I must say that as captain I know of nothing which could have been done—nothing left undone—which might have saved the Cup. I have no excuses.
There were factors, of course, which I would have preferred to be otherwise. But under the conditions the team was brought to the best physical and mental shape possible for the big test. This was not enough.
Our team was the same which struck down the Aussies in three straight matches at White City last year—Tony Trabert, 25, who should have been better as the result of a brilliant winning season which included an impressive sweep at Wimbledon, and Vic Seixas, 32, the in-and-out but ever formidable United States titleholder.
The Australians again had their "tennis twins," Lewis Hoad and Ken Rosewall, each just now nearing voting age, and grim-jawed Rex Hartwig, who teamed with Hoad in doubles.
Eight months can bring about a tremendous difference—favorably—in 20-year-olds. The same period of time can only slow the step and dull the edge of a man 32, like Seixas.
Nevertheless, I thought Vic played a terrific match against his old bugaboo, Rosewall, on opening day. Scrapping for every point, he performed every bit as well as last December when he conquered Rosewall in four sets.
He also followed the 1954 winning pattern—the attack on Rosewall's forehand instead of backhand. But it was not enough.
Rosewall's backcourt marksmanship, the deadliest in amateur tennis, was the best I've ever seen it. He rifled his returns at the feet of the net-charging Seixas and passed him with radar-guided shots that brought white chalk flying.
Furthermore, for a player renowned for his weak service, the little dark-haired Australian served brilliantly. His delivery was usually deep and well placed, giving Seixas little opportunity to attack it.
Our big disappointment, of course, was Trabert, who had been counted on to win two matches for our side.
Tony, I thought, was several notches below the form he displayed in the Challenge Round last year and also in his sweep to 16 tournament victories since that time. He never got the full effectiveness from his cannon-ball service and his volleying was timid and tentative.
To satisfy my own mind, I have tried to find an explanation for Tony's sudden slump, without attempting to alibi for it. I do feel that the long competitive layoff following Trabert's shoulder miseries in the Southampton tournament contributed to his rustiness.
A BLOND BLOCKBUSTER
He also turned up with a new blister on his racket hand which forced him out of the final day's singles. I'm inclined to believe Tony's blister troubles are the result of nerves. They always seem to coincide with important events, such as the Davis Cup in 1953 and Wimbledon last year. They pop up on different parts of his hand and have even infected his heel.
But nothing should be allowed to detract from Hoad's fine victory. The thick-shouldered, blond Aussie was at his blockbusting best. I have never seen him play with such sustained power.
Our defeat in the doubles marathon was just one of those things. It was a magnificent match, perhaps one of the greatest in Davis Cup history, one which could have gone either way.
In substituting Hartwig for Rosewall, the Australians have strengthened their team immeasurably. Rosewall's half-paced service always was a weak link in doubles. Hartwig, an aggressive, slashing-type player, not only gives the team a "big" service but added sinew elsewhere. His service returns and over-all play against us were superior to the performance of Hoad.
A ROUND TRIP TO AUSTRALIA
Now America must face up to the fact that Australia not only has the Cup again but possesses the tennis youth and squad depth to defend it for years to come. Our outlook is far from hopeless. But we must start a rebuilding job now with an eye on the Challenge Round 16 months hence.
Seixas has indicated this is his last season of concentrated competitive tennis. Hamilton Richardson departs in a month to pursue his Rhodes Scholarship in England. That leaves Trabert, whose professional ambitions probably have been sidetracked temporarily by his Davis Cup reversals. To team with Trabert we need at least three young men of international caliber.
Behind Rosewall and Hoad, who should be improving for the next several years, Australia has Hartwig, who has beaten them both; 21-year-old Neale Fraser, a good-looking lefthander, and Ashley Cooper, a tall 18-year-old with classic style. The Australian assembly line is never idle.
Behind Trabert, with Seixas and Richardson now indefinite, we actually have no one. On this year's squad we had Eddie Moylan, 31; Gilbert Shea, 26; Herbie Flam, 26, and Sam Giammalva, 20. Moylan, Shea and Flam are veteran internationalists but they have not shown an ability to match strokes with the likes of Hoad and Rosewall. Giammalva, a hard-hitting Texan who has scored some big wins, is a definite "comer" but he may be a couple or three years away.
Perhaps our national championships coming up will produce a couple of new bright tennis hopes. The prize: a round trip to Australia, all expenses paid, and bring along a tux.
FINAL SCORE: AUSSIES-5, U.S.-0
SUPREME MOMENT as Rex Hartwig tosses racket and bounds happily toward partner Lew Hoad after his placement passes prostrate Tony Trabert and a dejected Vic Seixas.