November is springtime in South Africa, and spring is a time for tennis. That, anyway, is how the International Professional Tennis Players Association reckoned last year when it decided to hold the finals of the Kramer Cup in Johannesburg. As it turned out, however, the pros knew more about tennis than they did about South African weather.
Named in honor of the man who hires them all, the Kramer Cup is the professionals' answer to the amateurs' Davis Cup, and the pros who play for it (in this case for expenses only) hope that someday, when the tennis picture gets less clouded, it will supplant the Davis Cup as the supreme trophy. Someday, perhaps, that hope will be justified, but—thanks largely to South Africa's thoroughly clouded weather—the day was not last week.
After a brisk and successful semifinal round in sunny Barcelona a month earlier, a round in which America and Australia emerged as the finalists, the Kramer Cup reached the southern tip of the African continent just as the worst drought in 70 years came to a chill, dank and soggy end. Some 4,000 South African fans braved the cold to watch the first-night matches in Ellis Park stadium, but no sooner had gangling Barry MacKay (representing America) and sturdy Lew Hoad (representing Australia) begun their first rally than the drizzle started. Like good pros, the Aussie and the American ignored the weather and kept banging away for 40 minutes or more. Then the rain started pelting so hard they had to quit. The crowd held their seats, and 40 minutes later the rain stopped. Ground crews promptly went to work with the stadium's newest and proudest acquisition—a water-sucking vacuum cleaner. Thirsty as it was, however, the vacuum couldn't devour all the water that lay on the special "all-weather" court.
As the ranks of impatient spectators began to thin, one of the officials had a sudden inspiration. Grabbing a microphone, he issued a plea to everyone in the stands with a pocket handkerchief. If, he begged, each man would just mop three square inches they would soon have the whole court dry. Within seconds 400 or more tennis fans were on their hands and knees mopping industriously. Ten minutes later the court was dust-dry—and then it began to rain again.
November 20, 1961
After that everyone called it quits for the night. During the next two days rain threatened but somehow held off. In five matches of sometimes superb tennis, the Australian team of Hoad and Rosewall defeated the Americans—Trabert, Buchholz and MacKay (Pancho Gonzales finally did retire)—to become the first winners of the Kramer Cup. But after the Big Mop-up of the first night it seemed almost an anticlimax.