If any further proof were needed that amateur tennis is on the skids, it was forthcoming in abundance during the 1960 Davis Cup play in the most tennis-minded city of the most tennis-minded country in the world. The Italians had captured the world's imagination with their victory over the Americans at Perth the week before and with their two strikingly different heroes—Orlando Sirola, the relaxed, laughing giant, and Nicola Pietrangeli, the tense, emotional Roman.
Everywhere in the big stadium at White City there were signs in Italian—Scala for stairs, Signori for the men's rooms—intended to accommodate the thousands of Italian-Australians expected to swarm into the huge stadium. But the Italians stayed home (SI, Jan. 9) and so did the Anglo-Australians. On opening day the hot Australian sun beat down on 5,000 empty seats in the stadium (above). The vacant temporary stands gaped like an ugly cavity.
While the players slopped about the courts, spectators wandered from their seats to grab a few beers at the club lounge. Others decided to take afternoon tea at home.
The play itself was as empty as the stands. Sirola won the first set from Wimbledon Champion Neale Fraser, but fell into a double-faulting slump (he served 12) and shuffled his way to an uninspired defeat. Pietrangeli looked as though he were weighted down with pasta. Rod Laver beat him easily in three straight sets.
Even in doubles, where the Italians placed their greatest hopes, there was no contest. Fraser and Roy Emerson won in four sets to clinch the Davis Cup for Australia on the second day.
By the final day, when Pietrangeli, under no tension, struck top form and beat Fraser, it no longer mattered. What should have been the world's greatest tennis show—the 48th Davis Cup Challenge Round between Australia, the holder, and Italy, the surprise challenger—had flopped.
Officials tried to explain away the emptiness and boredom in the stands by the fact that the Americans were not playing. "Everybody likes to beat the Yanks," said one man. "And why not?" asked Australia's Prime Minister Robert Menzies with a broad smile. But such glib dismissals of the sorry show at White City were attempts to ignore an obvious truth: even in Australia, a dominant force in Davis Cup play for two decades now, amateur tennis is dying fast.
Always in the past the Challenge Round had created a carnival spirit. The last time the Davis Cup was contested in Sydney, in 1954, 26,000 fans shouldered their way into White City to watch Vic Seixas and Tony Trabert take the trophy from Australia's Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. Not so in 1960. Not so, I am sure, in 1961 or 1962.
While the supposedly world-champion players from Australia and Italy worked out at White City almost in private, devotees flocked around the side courts near by to watch the professionals practicing. Promoter Jack Kramer's No. 1 attraction, Pancho Gonzales, sharpened his shots under the critical eye of his new bride. Alex Olmedo, the Peruvian who won the Davis Cup for America in 1958, sauntered lazily between clubhouse and courts. Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall worked out with the Australian team. The two newest additions to the pro ranks, Barry MacKay and Butch Buchholz, tuned up with Andres Gimeno of Spain.
In the swank, modern Chevron Hilton Hotel in the center of Kings Cross, where both the Australian and Italian teams were headquartered, the Davis Cup players lounged around the lobby almost unnoticed while guests shuffled past them to seek autographs from dark-skinned West Indies cricket stars.
One incident served to point up not only what was wrong at White City last month but what is wrong today with all of tournament tennis. On Wednesday, after the doubles match had been played, Gonzales was practicing on a back court with MacKay, Buchholz and Gimeno while an exhibition match between Sergio Tacchini of Italy and Bob Mark of Australia was going on in the stadium. Fans trooped out of the stadium to watch the pros. One of the Challenge Round organizers left his chair and went to the back court.
"You boys must get off," he said.
Gonzales flushed with anger, but he and his companions gathered their rackets and left the premises. Later Pancho said, significantly, "You'll never see me on these courts again." If tournament tennis is to survive it must welcome all its champions, it must find room for the players the people want to see.
As I watched the Australians and the Italians plod through their pathetically dull and meaningless matches in Sydney, I could not help thinking what excitement the professional players practicing near by could have given the Davis Cup competition. Suppose one of the matches had involved Pancho Gonzales or Lew Hoad or even the young cup hero of two years ago, Olmedo? I say let the pros play in all the tournaments, even the Davis Cup. If this violates the provisions of Dwight Davis' deed of gift, perhaps the deed could be changed. Let the amateurs play without remuneration—as amateur golfers do—to help their countries and the game. They'd be glad to, I'm sure, and everyone would benefit. Most of all, the game of tennis.