When U.S. Davis Cup Captain George MacCall landed in New York last week he phoned his 8-year-old daughter Polly in Los Angeles. "Daddy," said the little girl. "Come home quick. The roof is leaking."
"I told her that was nothing," said MacCall, with a wry grin. And, compared to what had happened earlier in the week, it was indeed nothing. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, MacCall had had a whole roof collapse on him. For the second straight year his Davis Cup team was beaten short of Australia and the Challenge Round. As he awaited a plane to take him to California and his leaky roof, MacCall discussed the one that had collapsed.
For instance, why for the second straight year had he failed to use Arthur Ashe in singles?
"O.K. Fair question. The matches were played on a slow surface, slower than our clay courts, even slower than the courts in Barcelona, where we lost to Spain last year. Furthermore, we were playing with a heavier ball—a low-pressure ball—than we use in the States. It takes a good deal of experience to get used to it. Denny Ralston has that experience. Cliff Richey has some. Ashe has practically none at championship level. Arthur's game is better on a fast surface—grass, cement—which helps a big serve and volley. But on clay—well, Cliff Richey is our clay-court champion. The week before the match with Brazil he won a big tournament in Buenos Aires. I chose Richey over Ashe because I thought he was the better player under the conditions I just described."
November 21, 1966
Why were the matches held in Brazil in the first place, rather than, say, Los Angeles with its cement courts.
"Well, quite frankly, we were out-hustled. Brazil elected not to play in the American Zone this year—which is its right—choosing instead the European A Zone. In doing so, however, it gave up all its rights as to what ball should be used, what surface, what location. But when Brazil won the European A Zone, the International Lawn Tennis Association suddenly decided that Brazil could have the choice of location, ball and court. I fought bitterly against the ruling, as did our own tennis association. But the ILTA voted us down. It was like playing in a poker game and getting only three cards while the other guy has five. Do you know who the president of the ILTA is? He is Paulo da Silva Costa, captain of the Brazilian Davis Cup team."
Do you have any solution to the slow-surface problem? How can our players get experience on it?
"Several reasons make it difficult. Many of our leading players are in school. Charley Pasarell, for instance. We also have the military service problem. Arthur Ashe goes into the Army in February. But probably the biggest problem is that after Wimbledon all our players are required—and justifiably so, I think—to return to the States and play on the grass-court circuit while foreign players remain in Europe, gaining experience on slow surfaces. Since a majority of Davis Cup matches are played on slow surfaces—this year all but two of 47 matches were on slow surfaces—they get experience, we don't."
Let's go back to the matches in Brazil. So you went with Cliff Richey, and he lost two singles matches. He was doing reasonably well in his first match against Edison Mandarino until he got leg cramps. Richey has a history of leg cramps. Did this worry you?
"Yes, but I didn't think he'd get them this time. He performed very well in some grueling matches the week before with no sign of cramps. He has been under the care of our team physician, Dr. Norman Rudy, who checked him for possible deficiencies. There were none. We even had him on a special diet."
Is it possible that the tension of the matches, in contrast with the relaxed atmosphere of the week before, could have brought the cramps on?
"Perhaps. I don't know."
What about Dennis Ralston, who lost the deciding match to Mandarino? There are many people who feel that Ralston is incapable of winning a really important match—as perhaps indicated by his loss to Stolle in the 1964 Davis Cup, to Gisbert last year and to Santana in the finals at Wimbledon this year. In short, they think he is a loser. How do you feel about that?
"I don't think I could ever disagree with any statement more violently than that, one. Dennis, I feel, played the Davis Cup match of his life against Mandarino. He played a must match every day in Brazil. After Richey lost the opener, Dennis had to beat Thomaz Koch. He did, easily. We had to win the doubles the next day, and Dennis was the outstanding player on the court. I feel Mandarino beat Dennis in the fourth and fifth sets. Ralston didn't lose it. I can't pay enough tribute to Dennis Ralston for the way he played against Brazil.
"While I'm on the subject, someone should mention that Mandarino played superb tennis for three days, and in the fourth and fifth sets he lifted himself even higher. I wish the American press would give this guy more credit. He is a great clay-court player. He has beaten Santana and Pietrangeli, two of the best clay-court players in the world. He also won the fifth and deciding point when Brazil upset Spain. His match against Gisbert went five sets, and the end of the fifth set had to be played the next day because of darkness. This is in Barcelona, too. Mandarino is tough. Incidentally, if Spain had beaten Brazil, we would have played Spain in Los Angeles on cement and you know we would have to win."
Over the years U.S. players have been frequently criticized for their deportment. One report from Brazil said that Ralston was visibly irked by the crowd. What about it?
"If Ralston was visibly irked by the crowd during the fifth set, he was justified. The deportment of this team in Brazil was excellent."
What happens to the team now?
"We start getting ready for our first match in 1967—about May, I imagine."
Do you hope to be captain then?
"Well, that is a question the incoming president of the USLTA—Bob Kelleher—must decide. Certainly, as captain, I bear the responsibility for Barcelona and Porto Alegre. Anytime a team loses I think it is fair to ask whether or not the captain is qualified. It has been said that to have been a Davis Cup player is a necessity to being the captain. I disagree. I am not a coach but am fortunate to have one of the finest in the world, Pancho Gonzales, working with us. Otherwise, I feel that the duties of a captain are to understand his players, make arrangements for proper training, find out as soon as possible where you are going to play and make preparations accordingly. I have tried to do this and hope to be able to do it again."