It was spring in Australia last week but dispatches from the American Davis Cup team were wintry with despair. Durable Vic Seixas was eliminated in the quarter-final round of a regional tournament, and a doubles team of nobodies upset Seixas and Gardnar Mulloy—America's best available pair. Beset with dark, perhaps insoluble, problems, Captain Bill Talbert, who gazes somberly from the opposite page, can only envision the Challenge Round with the Aussies Dec. 26-28—provided the U.S. gets by the Philippines and Belgium—as a Black Christmas. The Australians, puzzled by the Yanks' dilemma, have been asking pointed questions. Here are Talbert's frank replies
It was reasonably quiet in the men's locker room of the Memorial Drive Courts in Adelaide. Outside, one of the preliminary matches was in progress; inside, players lounged in chairs and on benches amid tired sweat socks, smelly shirts and stacks of tightly strung rackets. The eliminated Americans were dressing for practice.
"Tell me something," called out a voice, addressing the Yanks. "Why is it you couldn't get fellows like Dick Savitt, Ham Richardson and Budge Patty to come over with your team? It's something we can't understand."
The idle question touched off a discussion on an explosive subject sensitive to all of us.
December 9, 1957
Richardson is the United States' No. 1 player. Savitt, properly conditioned, is one of the three best amateurs in the world, if not the best. Patty, present holder of the Wimbledon doubles championship with Gardnar Mulloy, is the tennis nomad who is one of the most feared competitors on the Continental circuit. Yet here was the U.S. Davis Cup team campaigning again in Australia with three of our best players some 10,000 miles away.
"Why?" the man asked.
I attempted to explain the reasons the players themselves gave when they were picked for the squad and then declined with a "No thanks." Richardson refused to make the trip without his wife, an arrangement forbidden by USLTA policy. Patty wouldn't come unless it could be guaranteed that he would play singles as well as doubles. Savitt's excuse was work.
"That is so much hogwash," blurted Mulloy, the 44-year-old elder statesman of our team. "There is no excuse for any of them not being here.
"These men owe it to their country and to tennis to play on the Davis Cup team. It is a selfish attitude which keeps them from doing it."
Someone else interjected the opinion that all three of these players had reaped many rewards from tennis, yet were unwilling to give in return. It was pointed out that Richardson was sent to Australia for experience when he was 17 years old and made three trips to Australia at great expense without ever having played in a still-to-be-decided Challenge Round. "Now, when Ham could be of value to his country, he refuses to come," said Mulloy.
Mulloy added that he had personally tried to persuade both Patty and Savitt to make the trip but his efforts had come to naught. "Patty told me he wouldn't come just to play doubles," Gardnar continued. "I told him he couldn't be guaranteed a singles spot, that he should come and prove he deserved to play singles by beating the dickens out of everybody else. He wouldn't listen. And Savitt kept giving me that lame excuse about work."
I recalled that once, in hope of getting Savitt on the team, I had telephoned his boss, Oilman David D. (Tex) Feldman, who was at that time in Paris, and had asked him would he let Dick off for six weeks to play. "Certainly," Savitt's employer said. I asked him if he would tell Savitt that. "No," he said. "But he has my permission if he asks me."
Savitt got his job as an oil salesman through tennis contacts. Richardson's tennis background didn't hinder his becoming a Rhodes Scholar. Patty has toured the world on the sport for years.
"I think they're simply scared," someone else said. "I think they're afraid they will come down here and possibly fail. So they're ducking it."
"That shouldn't be the case," Mulloy said. "The honor is representing the U.S. in the Challenge Round, not in necessarily winning. People forget who won or lost but never forget who played."
Neale Fraser, the Australian star, said, "It looks to me as if they just don't care. It would never happen down here in Australia. Guys would break their necks to make the team."
Whatever the reasons, something is sadly lacking in our tennis makeup when we are forced to beg, cajole and make special deals with players to represent their country in a great traditional competition. We are the only nation in the world challenging for the Davis Cup without all of our best players. If the Davis Cup is not important enough to warrant our best effort, maybe we should forget it.