It used to be a very simple thing to know when another September had come round: Doris Hart would lose in the finals at Forest Hills and, on another front, a new Miss Rheingold would loom into view. Times have moved on, and today, if you are a tennis fan, the end of summer seems to go hand in hand with the inevitable discovery that Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall are one year older. Today, four years after their first visit, the boys from Sydney are 21, Rose wall has filled out a bit and become if anything more laconic, Hoad is a trifle faster and his set llama-like expression of pained boredom projects itself a few rows farther, and the two together are a shade more dominant than ever before in the world of amateur tennis.
On Friday, the day of the quarterfinals, while the air at the West Side Tennis Club was beginning to gain the particular pungency of Hoad-Rosewall week, there were a lot of other flavors to be breathed in. It was one of those really wonderful tennis days, due partially to some aberration in the scheduling which gave Thursday's patrons nothing more to chew on than some dull women's matches and consequently spread a terrific smorgasbord of interesting stuff all over the premises on Friday. For example, there was Jean Borotra, the famed Bounding Basque of three decades ago, still bounding around at 58, trying to get the net against Phil Hanna, the defending Seniors champion, in their very good semifinal match which Hanna ultimately won 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. Borotra's black pompadour has trailed off into a salt and pepper color, and this, along with a certain spareness and the steel-rimmed glasses he now wears, give him the curious aspect of a New England schoolmaster. The last leaves of the old polyglot international crowd were with him every step of the way, flicking out those cries of "A vous, Jean" whenever Borotra culminated a sortie with a placement. Jean would wipe off his glasses and dig in harder, unable, as ever, to stop working at winning. Simultaneously on the clubhouse court another blithe spirit from out of the past, Bryan (Bitsy) Grant, was making his way to the Seniors, final. My, the years have treated Bitsy well! He is still all over the court, he still gets everything back, and he is still interpolating those little gestures which were always part and parcel of tennis for him—spread-eagling himself on the turf on the adjoining court after chasing a loser, educating the ball boys on how to feed him, walking a few Shakespearean yards behind the baseline before serving, to "feel the air" with a sensitively clawing hand. (In the final against Hanna, old Bitsy, playing steadily and well, won in straight sets.)
A SEIXAS MARATHON
On the stadium court—elsewhere on the premises Hoad was taking Emerson, Fraser was taking Richardson, Betty Rosenquest Pratt was upsetting Dorothy Knode, and Althea Gibson was pulling out a long first set due to the sudden largesse of Darlene Hard, who, at 7-7, double-faulted four times in a row—there were two matches, both of them exciting, one of them a classic. In the first, Vic Seixas, the Pearl White of tennis, tottered precariously on the brink of disaster for three hours before eliminating Ashley Cooper, the third-ranked Australian, in five heavy sets. Vic has been described as an extraordinarily gifted athlete who plays tennis; that is, his basic virtues are his wonderful reflexes, his speed afoot, his stamina, his competitive spirit, and not his stroke production, which has never been of the first order, off the ground especially. At 33, though slowed down, he can still do something with a match if he is playing a man who allows Vic to entrench himself in an elaborate production. Cooper couldn't prevent this, but on the following day in their semifinal match, Rosewall did, abruptly.
September 16, 1956
Friday's great match, of course, was Rosewall-Savitt. Whoever you talked to about it afterwards—Hazel Wightman, Wilmer Allison, Harry Hopman, Jack Kramer, etc.—had to go back years and years to recall its equal for superbly interesting tennis. Savitt, as you know, had been away from tournament play for four years and was reentering the lists somewhat reluctantly. The general feeling was that Dick, accordingly, would be doing very well indeed to take a set from Rosewall. He dropped the first 6-4 after leading 4-2. He dropped the second 7-5 after leading 2-0. He was playing topnotch tennis, however, serving effectively, getting beautiful length and that wonderful pace of his on his ground strokes, and pushing Rosewall to the finest exhibition of crisp, tactical tennis Ken has possibly ever given in this country. You must attack relentlessly and well against Rosewall, for otherwise the young man takes charge, like a "spot pitcher" in baseball, and never gives you the ball you want to hit.
In the third and seemingly final set, with Rosewall just managing to keep the upper hand with his marvelously accurate lobs and drop shots as they moved each other around the baseline in long, hard-hitting rallies, both men trying to force openings but not hurrying them, Savitt, behind 3-4 and 0-40 on his service, pulled out the game with some very forceful strokes and went on to break Rosewall's service and take the set 6-4. On into the fourth, with games standing at 8 all, Savitt, trailing 30-0 on Rosewall's serve, came crashing through with a series of spectacular passing shots, the winning point coming on a cross-court backhand which he blazed past Rosewall who had followed in to net after his own deep and forcing backhand. Rosewall looked at the ball whistle in, dropped his racket and stood for a moment applauding the shot. Savitt then held service firmly to win the set and square the match.
That was as far, though, as Dick could go. Four years away from tournament tennis are just too much for a man. His tiredness showed through from the first game, and Rosewall is too fine a player to give a tired man enough slack for regrouping his forces and concentration. The final set, 6-1, was, of course, an anticlimax to such an excellent match, but no one who watched them will ever forget the first four sets and the fourth in particular—absolutely wonderful tennis.