One of the incongruities of world tennis is that while the dashing Aussies—under the relentless direction and inspiration of Harry Hopman—have dominated Davis Cup competition in recent years, they have failed to establish a beachhead in the big prestige tournaments like Wimbledon, the most coveted of all.
Since 1950 Australia has won the Davis Cup five times out of six, but has managed to capture the All-England title at Wimbledon only once (Frank Sedgman, 1952). She has won the French once (Ken Rosewall, 1953) and the U.S. championship twice (Sedgman, 1951, 1952). These are indeed lean pickings for what today is supposed to be the world's No. 1 tennis nation. Yet look who was the prohibitive favorite among the tennis fraternity for the men's championship when play opened at Wimbledon this week: Lewis Hoad, the blond bombardier from Australia. When SI queried five tennis professionals (Tony Trabert, Pancho Gonzales, Frank Sedgman, Jack Kramer and Don Budge), all predicted that Hoad would win, and all but Trabert, who favored Richardson, had Rosewall as their second choice. (For another view, see box in third column).
Judged strictly on physical ability, the 21-year-old Sydney boy with the quizzical expression and unpredictable temperament was a lead-pipe cinch. Since Tony Trabert turned professional, there's not an amateur in the world who can stand up to the flaxen-haired court killer when he is on his game. His crackling service can jar the arm of a receiver. With bull-like shoulders and iron wrists he strikes the ball with overwhelming power off both forehand and backhand. He is deadly at the net. He covers the court like a cat, and his stroke production is so smooth and effortless it gives the impression of flowing water. He is one of the game's all-time "naturals"—indisputably.
Yet the tennis champion is made up of mind as well as matter, and it's in this area that doubts surge around the slashing Mr. Hoad. He should be able to beat any amateur in the world, but he doesn't. Why?
July 1, 1956
Nobody knows what goes on behind Lew's stoic face. What problems are there? What are the mental machinations which one moment make him seemingly unconquerable and the next listless and unimaginative, given to careless errors?
Some say Hoad is simply a victim of varying moods. That is plausible. Others contend that his troubles in the past have stemmed from his resentment of Davis Cup discipline. When he blew up just before the Davis Cup Challenge Round two years ago and said he was "fed up" with tennis, some observers thought he actually was fed up with Harry Hopman, Australia's stern Davis Cup captain. Others blamed Cupid, saying Lew was emotionally involved with his best girl, Tennis Player Jennifer Staley.
Since then Hoad has pulled loose from Hopman's apron strings and, in effect, grabbed on to those of Jennifer. He married Jennifer in a surprise wedding just before last year's Wimbledon and this year decided to tour the world independently with his new wife, not as a member of the official Australian team.
This new-found independence may have been responsible for certain concrete gains in young Hoad's sporadic career. Until this year he had never won a major championship. Now he has won two—the Australian and the French—and he is aiming for two more, Wimbledon and the U.S. If he completes his slam, he is almost certain to join Jack Kramer's pro tour with a sizable dollar contract.
While American chances of beating out Australia's Davis Cup stars, Hoad and Rosewall, don't appear as bright as in previous years, they cannot be discounted. U.S. players have a faculty for hitting their peaks at Wimbledon, and we have scored several surprise triumphs. Our best bets are Seixas, Richardson and Budge Patty because they are hardened to international play. But Herbie Flam, who has sprung major upsets before, Gil Shea, Sammy Giammalva and Art Larsen cannot be overlooked. Nor should we forget Don McKay, Ron Holmberg and Allen Morris, who are probably a couple of years away.
America will be watching Wimbledon more avidly than usual because of the appearance of many of our up-and-coming young stars, from whom, it is hoped, will emerge players capable of returning the Davis Cup to U.S. shores. It is a little too much to expect that one of them can go all the way this year, but they may produce some surprises.
As Wimbledon opened this week, Billy Hill—biggest of London's legal bookmakers—quoted these odds on the men's and women's singles: