The soft light of an Australian summer evening had fallen over center court at Memorial Drive Stadium in Adelaide as Chuck McKinley of St. Louis prepared to serve. "I have always wanted to represent my country in the final match of a Davis Cup and win the deciding point," McKinley once said. In Adelaide last week he got his chance. With the score between Australia and the U.S. tied at 2-2, McKinley faced 19-year-old John Newcombe of Sydney in the final match. For more than an hour McKinley was in trouble. He lost the first set, won the second but fell behind in the third 4-2. Newcombe faltered, and McKinley regained control of his game. He won the set and ran up a comfortable lead in the fourth. Now in the half-light of Memorial Drive Stadium he served to Newcombe and then volleyed sharply to his opponent's feet. Newcombe could not return it, and the match was over. For the first time since 1958 the U.S. had won the Davis Cup.
With the final point McKinley let out a wild whoop and leaped over the net in classic style. The first man to reach him was Dennis Ralston, his doubles partner and himself a winner over Newcombe. Ralston, along with the other members of the U.S. team—Frank Froehling, Marty Riessen and Gene Scott—hoisted McKinley high on their shoulders and marched triumphantly to the locker room, followed by a jubilant Bob Kelleher, the Davis Cup team captain.
Waiting for them were a squad of tennis officials, newsmen and Ambassador William Battle, who had had the foresight to bring along four bottles of German champagne. Somebody lugged in the Davis Cup and dumped it in an old wicker chair. The phone rang—a man in Los Angeles was offering congratulations. The champagne was opened, and nearly everyone made a speech. It was noisy and confusing and delightful. Dennis Ralston enjoyed it. Chuck McKinley enjoyed it. But no one enjoyed it half as much as Bob Kelleher.
Bob Kelleher has been captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team for two years, and for two years he has had the unenviable task of nursing the powder-keg temperaments of this country's two leading players, Ralston and McKinley. When Ralston starts to blow up, Kelleher rushes in to smother the explosion. When someone says McKinley is spoiled, Kelleher argues that he is misunderstood. It is not an easy job.
January 6, 1964
"I have to be a combination travel agent, ambassador, public relations man, booking agent, coach, locker-room custodian and father confessor," Kelleher says. "I count towels, get ice water, make speeches, conduct interviews and act as a buffer between my players and a sometimes controversial press. But, all in all, it's been fun."
Kelleher is 50, a tall, distinguished-looking man with a shock of curly black hair that is just beginning to turn gray at the temples. He is a lawyer from Los Angeles, but lately he has not been able to devote much time to that job. "My law practice is gathering dust," he says. "You either have to have a potful of money or be a complete idiot to take this job."
Kelleher's first year as captain, 1962, was a disaster. The team lost to Mexico in the American Zone final. It was the third straight time the U.S. had failed to reach the Challenge Round. "I was heartsick," says Kelleher.
This year the team beat Mexico easily, then England and India. In November, Kelleher took his boys to Australia and after letting them tune up their games in a few tournaments he brought them to Adelaide to begin serious training for the Challenge Round. And almost immediately Bob Kelleher found himself hard at work.
First there was the Gonzalez-Ralston incident. Because he is by his own admission an administrator, not a tennis pro, Kelleher hired Pancho Gonzalez to help get the team ready. "Pancho isn't there to give them lessons," Kelleher declared. "If they needed lessons they wouldn't be in Australia." What Gonzalez did do was discuss tactics with the team and play matches against them—tough, competitive matches.
It was on such an occasion that the incident occurred. Gonzalez had beaten Ralston in one set, but Ralston had taken a 5-1 lead in the second. Suddenly Gonzalez stalked off the court growling, "Get someone else to play with you." Later he said, "I get tired of these guys whining when they lose." The Australian press, hungry for action, pressed forward, but they were met by a smiling Bob Kelleher. "Dennis and Pancho are the best of friends," Kelleher explained. "They have had these flare-ups before and probably will again." No one is certain whether Kelleher spoke to the two men that night but, sure enough, the next day Gonzalez and Ralston were back on the same court, laughing and joking just like the good friends Kelleher insisted they were.
No sooner had Kelleher disposed of that problem than he was handed a column from a Sydney newspaper. "Irrespective of the [Davis Cup] result," said the columnist, "the Americans came as stinkers and go as stinkers, the most unpopular set of sportsmen that ever insulted their way from Mexico to Delhi." Faced with an explosive situation and a group of newsmen waiting to report his reply, Kelleher noted merely that, as far as he could recall, the team had never been to Delhi. Dennis Ralston cut the column out of the paper and pasted it to his locker wall. "This doesn't make us mad," he said. "Really. But it does make us want to win all the more."
Toward that end, Ralston and McKinley, the two players on the team who were obviously going to represent the U.S., worked long hours every day. At night they listened to Gonzalez and Kelleher talk about strategy and confidence. McKinley didn't need the confidence lecture. "I think I'm playing better now than I did when I won at Wimbledon," he said matter-of-factly two days before the Challenge Round began. His back, which he had injured six weeks before, felt fine, he insisted.
Ralston, too, seemed rid of his problem. "Everyone knows I've always had trouble controlling my temper, largely because I've always let my mind wander when I'm on the court. Now when I play tennis all I think about is tennis." Ralston reached a personal crossroads in England last September when Kelleher chose Frank Froehling to play singles in his place. Ralston stewed and fretted and considered returning home. Finally he came to grips with himself, went up to Kelleher and told him he would be happy to warm up Froehling before his match. Ralston has been a better player ever since.
If Kelleher had his problems in Australia, so did his counterpart, Harry Hopman, coach of the Australian Davis Cup team. Hopman had, essentially, no team. There was Roy Emerson, if not as good as last year, still very good and undefeated in four years of Davis Cup competition. But to pair with "Emmo," as Hopman calls him, there were only a retired star, a teen-ager and a mediocrity. Hopman had talked Neale Fraser, now 30, out of 10 months' retirement, and Fraser had worked hard. But as the Challenge Round drew near it was clear that he was not ready for singles. That left Fred Stolle, a fair-to-middling player, and the youthful John Newcombe. Hopman finally chose Newcombe.
"I needled him more than usual in practice to see how he came up under pressure," said the crafty Hopman. "We finally picked him not only because he has confidence but because his condition was so much better than Fraser's. I think we'll win 4-1. Emmo will win both singles and the doubles, and it will be the last time Newcombe plays if he doesn't win one match." Hopman said this with a smile, and Australian newsmen pointed out that Hopman only smiles when he is in trouble.
The first two matches were played on the day after Christmas before an overflow crowd of 7,200. It was a beautiful day, with a clear blue sky overhead and the temperature in the 70s. After a blue-uniformed band played God Save the Queen and The Star-Spangled Banner a small army of judges, linesmen and ball boys marched stiffly to their positions. Behind them came Dennis Ralston, 21, and John Newcombe, 19, referred to after introductions as the United States and Australia.
Understandably, both players were nervous at the start, but Ralston recovered quickly and won the first two sets. But in the third set Newcombe began hitting the ball with his full power, and, pulling off three dazzling shots against Ralston's serve, broke through and won the set. When he also won the fourth set, Ralston plopped himself down in a chair beside Bob Kelleher and groaned: "If I don't win this match I won't dare go home to Bakersfield." Kelleher grinned, patted him on the back and sent him out for the most important set of his life.
Ralston was leading in the final set 4-3 when Newcombe double-faulted at ad out to make the score 5-3. Three quick points, and Ralston was on the brink of victory. Incredibly, Newcombe rallied, fought off the three match points and won the game and the next one. Now it was 5-5. Here Ralston might well have folded, but he held his serve and brought the next game to deuce. Newcome double-faulted. Match point again. Newcombe served, and Ralston whistled a backhand down the line for a winner. It was a shaky victory for the U.S., but a victory nonetheless.
A few hours later Australia had tied the score 1-1. Roy Emerson, playing very well, beat McKinley in four sets. This was the first competitive singles McKinley had played in more than a month, because of his back injury, and he looked rusty. Yet Emerson was so good, he might have won anyway. McKinley had one chance. With sets tied at one apiece, McKinley took a 5-3 lead in the third. But Emerson rallied and was in control thereafter.
The next day the temperature soared to the 90s as McKinley and Ralston took the court against Emerson and the reactivated Fraser. It was apparent almost from the start that Fraser's timing was off, and the Americans attacked him relentlessly. Only Emerson's brilliant play kept the Australians in the match. McKinley and Ralston won in four sets to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead. "I think I might have been asking too much from Neale," said a disappointed Hopman. "He was not ready." And then: "Obviously my 4-1 prediction is out, but I still think we'll retain the cup." Answered Bob Kelleher: "I agree with Hoppie's 4-1 prediction, but I can't recall which side he said would win."
On the final day Emerson completed a marvelous Challenge Round by dusting off Ralston in four sets. That evened the score at 2-2 and put the pressure on the McKinley-Newcombe match.
Three days before, when the draw was made, Captain Kelleher said that if the score were tied after four matches he liked the idea of having McKinley play young Newcombe in the decisive final match. Now as he watched from his chair a few feet behind the umpire's stand, Kelleher was not so sure. Newcombe won a long first set 12-10, lost the second but took a 4-2 lead in the third. Serving, he won the first two points and seemed in command.
But that was as close as Australia came to keeping the Davis Cup. In a sudden reversal of form, Newcombe lost four straight points, double-faulting on the final point to give McKinley the game. McKinley won the set and ran out the match easily.
It was not the most decisive of Davis Cup victories, but no one was complaining. Within hours of the final match the cup itself was on a plane for San Francisco, and along with it came Captain Bob Kelleher and most of his boys. In just eight months the U.S. would have to defend the cup, presumably against Australia, and it was not too soon to start getting ready. It looked as if the Kelleher law practice would be gathering more dust.