Australia finally recovered the Davis Cup at Forest Hills last week. When Neale Fraser finally finished off Barry MacKay on Monday 8-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, it gave the Aussies the victory, three matches to two. Both MacKay and Alex Olmedo, the Peruvian who was supposed to carry the main hopes of the U.S. team, had beaten Rod Laver, the No. 2 Australian, but those were our only points. The rest of the time, due largely to Olmedo's disappointing play, it was a field day for the boys from down under.
Two days before the challenge round, munching hors d'oeuvres at the Commodore Hotel where the Davis Cup draw was being made, U.S. Captain Perry Jones confidently predicted his tennis forces would sweep past the challenging Australians 5-0.
This was not a mere psychological thrust. There appeared sound reasoning for such an optimistic outlook. America had Alex Olmedo, who eight months before had crushed a far finer Australian team in the tennis upset of the generation. Barry MacKay was now playing the best tennis of his life. And only a few days before, in the U.S. championship at Brookline, Mass., Olmedo and 18-year-old Earl Buchholz Jr. had carried Australia's World Doubles Champions Neale Fraser and Roy Emerson to five sets, with Olmedo obviously off form.
Jones's reasoning was that if Olmedo and Company could beat Ashley Cooper and Mal Anderson, then rated the top amateurs of the world, as they did in Brisbane last December, then they should have little trouble with the second-stringers Captain Harry Hopman had assembled after Cooper and Anderson turned pro.
September 6, 1959
First of all, Olmedo, whose tennis is dictated by his moods, suddenly turned sour. He was not mentally prepared for the big assignment, and as a result the power of America's resistance crumbled.
At Brisbane, Olmedo had been prodded to his superior effort by a team of Jack Kramer's hardened professionals, particularly Pancho Gonzales. Since then Kramer had quit as the team's chief counsel because of criticism, and Gonzales now was back in Los Angeles, pouting over a contract feud with Boss Kramer.
In the opening singles match against Fraser, Olmedo was dull and listless. There was no fire or determination. He merely went through the motions.
Explanations for this letdown were many. Some said he was still smarting from the official slaps he took after his lackadaisical loss to Abe Segal and subsequent suspension in the clay-court tournament in Chicago. Others said it was the tension and responsibility of being recognized as the best amateur in the world. Captain Jones said he thought his star player was spoiled by too much adulation. At any rate, Olmedo was definitely down.
Fraser served remarkably. He completely confounded Olmedo with his high bounding spin service, which he put into the backhand or forehand corners with a deceptively similar motion. Alex put in play only 40% of Fraser's serves.
There was no reason that in the long four-set match Olmedo should not have solved the tricky delivery and learned to return it. Yet he never changed tactics. A chipper, particularly off his backhand, the Peruvian
stood just inside the base line and tried to catch the service on the rise. Often he barely touched the ball, and there were times he missed it completely.
The spin service is not new. Players used it as far back as the early 1900s. One of the cardinal rules of competitive tennis is always to change a losing game. Olmedo should have tried standing back of the line catching the ball at its height, driving instead of chipping on the return.
Jones said he suggested this to Olmedo, but the Inca youngster declined to change. "Alex is a touch player," said Jones, "and he always felt his touch would return."
Jones, of course, had the disadvantage as captain of never having gone through the competitive grind. He is a tennis administrator—a wonderful one—but by his own admission he is not a tactician, and from courtside could not be expected to catch the little faults that are quickly obvious to a man like Hopman, a former Davis Cupper himself.
Hopman deserves immeasurable credit. He did an excellent job of bringing his team of second-stringers and raw youths through the campaign into the challenge round. Ha took his team more than 25,000 miles and played on various surfaces and in various climates in beating Mexico, Canada, Cuba, Italy and India en route to Forest Hills.
Hopman's one big coup was the development of a first-rate doubles team, Fraser and Emerson, which swept through the Wimbledon and U.S. championships and won the Davis Cup doubles point.
The U.S. was derelict in organizing a good pair. Olmedo and Buchholz were teamed after Wimbledon and, while I think they are probably the best we could choose under the circumstances, they should have been forged into a stronger team. For one thing, they might have been paired earlier so they could learn to play together better. For another, Olmedo might have been more effective playing the forehand court, as he did with Ham Richardson last year. Hopman himself expressed private fears that Olmedo might be shifted to his more familiar station.
He was surprised that our team did not use more imagination. Olmedo, still plagued by Fraser's service, played poorly. He didn't poach and cut off enough shots. Buchholz, whose tension in such circumstances is excusable, made too many errors and wild gambles instead of playing percentage doubles.
While losing so decisively, the American team might have tried formation changes which worked so effectively in the past—such as the scissors play used by Vic Seixas and Tony Trabert in their big upset victory in 1953 or the tandem that Olmedo and Richardson sprang on Fraser last year. In serving to Fraser in the backhand court the netman on the Olmedo-Richardson team stood on the same side as the server, nullifying Fraser's crisp cross-court return.
Olmedo played better tennis-but not his best—in his Sunday match against Laver, the bowlegged Queenslander who had set points in each of the sets he lost Alex still showed lapses in concentration. At times he was brilliant, particularly in clutch spots, but at other times his play was shaky. Once in the third set—at a critical stage—he had Laver completely out of position and he tried a difficult stop volley. The ball hit the net cord and bounced back. There were other safer shots he might have tried. This was the Olmedo of the 1959 challenge round, tentative and unsure. A clue to what was wrong may be found in James Murray's study of him on the next page.