Spectators at Kooyong edged forward in their seats. It was match point in the first singles rubber of the 1957 Davis Cup challenge round.
After two and a half hours of titanic tennis, Mal Anderson of Australia had moved ahead 5-3 in the fifth set by breaking Barry MacKay's service, and now he led 40-30, needing only one more point for the match. MacKay had fought off two match points in the fourth set to win the set, and knot the match. The crowd became tense and quiet.
At this point MacKay ambled over to my captain's chair and in a calm, unflustered voice said: "Cap, I would like a new wrist band. This one is a bit loose."
MacKay adjusted the new band—a sweat-absorbing cloth band worn on the racket hand—and strode back to the base line to receive. Anderson cracked across another service. MacKay returned. Anderson volleyed to MacKay's backhand. MacKay returned it too high and Anderson sent a sharply-angled cross-court placement. Set, match and first rubber to Australia.
January 6, 1958
Fans rose to their feet and gave the players a deafening ovation. It was obvious the applause was as much for the gallantly beaten MacKay as for the victorious Anderson. As MacKay lumbered to the sidelines with that stiff-legged walk of his, head down and shoulders sagging, I saw large tears well up in his eyes. To save him possible embarrassment I threw a towel over his head. And I must confess, somebody should have thrown a towel over my head, too, as we both walked damp-eyed the full 50 yards to the dressing room.
MacKay was beaten. Later that afternoon, reliable old Vic Seixas also went down in five hard sets to Australian Champion Ashley Cooper, who at 21 is 13 years his junior. The next day, our scratch doubles team—formed at the last minute on a desperate gamble—bowed to Anderson and Mervyn Rose in straight sets, and Australia again had clinched the Davis Cup.
But the campaign was far from a failure. On the final day Seixas, playing what he said would be his last Davis Cup match, won a battle over suffocating heat, aging legs and Mal Anderson in five sets. The young MacKay, already an idol to tennis-loving Australia, took the court to cut down Cooper, the Wimbledon and Forest Hills runner-up, also in five sets.
The dramatic climax—making it the first time in Davis Cup history the four singles matches had gone five sets—emphasized the extreme closeness of the tie. With one break—one tiny break in either of the two opening-day matches—today we might be hauling back the cup instead of talking and thinking about it.
But the 1957 Davis Cup challenge round will not be remembered for this trivial statistic. It will live—for Australians and Americans alike—in the stirring picture of Barry MacKay, the big, good-natured boy from Ohio, and the miracle fight he made against unbelievable odds.
CALM AND CONFIDENCE
I do not know when a player has been thrust into such a crucial and important assignment with so little experience and met the responsibility with such nerveless calm and confidence. The incident of the wrist band is symbolic of his fantastic attitude and approach to the game. With match point against him he refused to feel he had only one or a couple more shots to make. So he asked for a new wrist band. He knew the match would go much longer. He thought we would eventually win.
The emergence of MacKay was the most heartening feature, from the American standpoint, of the ill-fated Davis Cup campaign. On this seemingly awkward 6-foot-4 giant America can pin firm hopes for the future. Personally, I do not feel anybody will be beating him in the next year or so.
I have a rather soft spot in my heart for MacKay. He hails originally from Cincinnati, my home town. He is a king-sized replica of Tony Trabert, another Cincinnatian who reached the tennis pinnacle. Like Trabert, Barry has problems of mobility and agility, but in his powerful arms and shoulders he packs hitting dynamite. His service is one of the most powerful and destructive in the game.
Yet MacKay's promise does not lie just in his equipment, which is good. It lies in his temperament, which reflected itself from the moment he was named to the team to the time he hit the ball which beat Cooper in the final match. In the dressing room after losing to Anderson, Barry could not restrain his disappointment. Crying unashamedly, he apologized to all of us for not winning, as if he had let the team down, and then he blurted: "We will beat those sons of guns yet."
After losing in the doubles, MacKay came to the dressing room and sought out Gardnar Mulloy, whose place he had taken. "I am sorry, Gar," he said. "I let you down."
Putting MacKay into the doubles as a partner of Seixas was the toughest decision I ever had to make as Davis Cup captain. Gardnar is one of my oldest friends. We were doubles partners for years, four times U.S. champions and ranked first in the country nine times. But I felt I had to gamble on the doubles after being two matches down, and I had to go with MacKay's big service.
MacKay won the hearts of Australia with his big game, relaxed attitude and refreshing court demeanor. "We shall be seeing a lot of that boy, and Harry Hopman won't like it," was a common observation among Melbourne citizens after the matches. In his opening match MacKay was footfaulted seven times. He served 20 double faults. But not once did he glower at or complain to the foot-fault judge. He took it all in stride.
Barry's court mannerisms kept the Kooyong galleries in hysterics, but never once did they seem faked or phony. He is not a Shakespearean actor on the court. He is perfectly natural. Sometimes after he hit a shot, Barry would run up behind it until it landed, like a golfer following a long putt into the hole. When he hit an important winner he would jump up and down in glee, like a kid with a new toy. When he scored the clinching point against Cooper, he threw his arms high in the air and did an Indian war dance. What delighted fans most, however, was the way MacKay would upbraid himself when he made a bad shot. "Barry," he would yell at himself, within earshot of all. It never seemed corny.
A HELPING OF CAKE
MacKay is the perennial college sophomore. His dry humor spread an overcoat of good cheer over the team's breakfast, lunch and dinner sessions. His pranks produced laughs, and in the team's most trying times he helped keep tensions low and spirits high. It was not until two weeks before the challenge round that I told Barry he probably would have to play singles against the Australians. This is enough to freeze the sinews of any man. For young MacKay, who never had won a major victory and who never had played before more than a few hundred fans in his life, this could have been frightening.
It wasn't. He greeted the news with a bright look of eagerness in his eyes. It was like offering him a second helping of cake. I could almost see his mouth watering. He couldn't wait to get at the Australians. On such short notice we could not make drastic changes in Barry's game. We simply had to refine him as much as possible without destroying his basic strokes or his confidence.
Barry is big-legged and naturally cumbersome, so an effort was made to get him moving into his volleys more quickly. This was so he could volley offensively instead of taking the ball on the half volley for a defensive stroke. And we changed his service stroke slightly so he hit the ball more in front of him instead of behind his head. I had Professional Dinny Pails working with him daily. We crammed a year's experience for Barry into a couple of weeks. This only goes to show what might be done with some of our talent if we were able to devote time and energy to it. But our system, unlike that of Australia, doesn't permit such concentration on amateur tennis.
After the Davis Cup challenge round, a group of enthusiasts wanted to get up a fund for MacKay, such as was raised a few years ago for Frank Sedg-man. Their only reason was that they liked the boy. The fund might have reached a couple of thousand pounds or close to $5,000. Naturally, I had to discourage it.
The name of Barry MacKay will not soon be forgotten in Australia. But it could have been otherwise. After our Davis Cup squad was named, the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association began reviewing the situation and decided for reasons of economy that it probably would be wise to send only four men instead of six on the Australian campaign. These four were to be Vic Seixas, Herbie Flam, Gardnar Mulloy and Ron Holmberg. Mike Green and Barry MacKay were to be left home. I knew the two boys would be disappointed. I began making inquiries to see if they could not be included on the trip with outside financing. While I was checking this, the association decided to go ahead with the full six-man team.
That decision may mean an early return of the Davis Cup to our shores. I sincerely believe so.