There is a World Cup in golf (Arnie and Jack have busted par for it in exotic places). There is a World Cup in soccer (the most coveted team-sport trophy of all). There is a World Cup in rugby (the University of California plays the University of British Columbia for it). There are World Cups for every way man can think of skiing down a snowy slope. So why in the world shouldn't there be a World Cup in tennis?
Rest easy, friends. Hartford, Conn., that insurance mecca where even infants know how to spell beneficiary, and kindergartners can lucidly explain the difference between term and straight life, staged the fifth annual World Cup tennis tournament last week at Trinity College. Aetna Life & Casualty was the sponsor. A team of Australians was the life and the U.S. squad was the casualty.
By the luck of the draw the deciding match for the cup was on national television—the third-straight Sunday that NBC has run the Stan and John Show: Stan Smith and John Newcombe bashing and dashing for the money. Smith had won two weeks before at Nassau, N.Y., Newcombe the week before in La Costa, Calif. This time there was a bit more than dollars, points and pride at stake. The U.S. was knocked out of the 1974 Davis Cup by Colombia in a stunning upset in January while Smith was taking a well-deserved rest, so the World Cup was America's one chance to take a little pizzazz out of what is apparently going to be an up year Down Under.
But it was a chance hardly worth noting, mainly because Newcombe is probably playing the best tennis on earth right now. He was serving so powerfully and accurately (he got in 48 of 61 first serves, leaving mini-craters on Smith's side of the floor) that Smith could not break him. Newcombe won 6-3, 6-4, his third win of the matches and Smith's third loss. Laver and Ken Rosewall beat Dennis Ralston and Marty Riessen in the doubles 6-2, 1-6, 6-2, making the final score Australia 5, U.S. 2.
March 17, 1974
At least one thing good for America did come out of the competition. That is, something good for a particular American named Arthur Ashe. For the first time in 15 years and 16 matches, Ashe managed to defeat Rod Laver. Ashe was just a scared kid when he first met the Rocket at Forest Hills in 1959. So scared that before the match he threw up at courtside. Ever since, though Ashe has had some brilliant moments and even brilliant sets, Laver has pounded him like a nail, the most recent debacle occurring last January in Philadelphia, where Arthur incorrectly totaled his losing streak at 18.
But on Saturday in Hartford, helped by the master's serving problems, Ashe beat Laver 6-3, 6-3 and kept the U.S. in the thick of the fight. After he put away match point with an accurate overhead smash, Ashe mentally pinched himself as he walked slowly to the net. "Yeah," he thought, "I really won!" and raised both arms in triumph, or relief, or both.
It should be interjected here that World Cup is a misnomer. Only about 15% of the global land mass has anything to do with it. It is strictly Australia and the U.S. battling each other Davis Cup style, except that there are seven matches instead of five, two doubles instead of one and no need to go through the sometimes embarrassing preliminaries against the Ruritanias of the sport. The two strongest tennis nations gather their big guns in Connecticut about this time each year and fire point blank at each other just as they have in 14 of the last 23 Davis Cup finals. When the smoke clears there is some nice prize money for the players and a good chunk left over for charities in Hartford and Boston. The event has packed Trinity's little 2,200-seat gym for three straight years and in 1975 will move to the larger Hartford Civic Center Coliseum now being built.
Apart from being an entertaining sporting event, the World Cup tournament is a pleasant respite from the World Championship Tennis tour, which this year has been divided into three parts, Red, Blue and Green, and scheduled for such local subway stops as Tokyo, Barcelona, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo and Monte Carlo. World Cup week is the perfect time for Reds, Blues and Greens to exchange morsels of gossip—like Bob Hewitt breaking his own world record in the racket throw or Harald Elschenbroich winning an exhibition sprint around a dog track in Florida.
Or the time the Greens, as a publicity gimmick, challenged the London public to a mile-and-a-quarter run in Kensington Gardens one morning, which was a foolish thing to do because it is easier to get Ralph Nader behind the wheel of a Corvair than it is to get a tennis player out of bed before 11 a.m. Only Laver and four other pros showed up to race 80 citizens. The best WCT finisher was Japan's Jun Kamiwazumi, No. 16.
The Reds, known as the screwball squad, have found a man to steal the top banana's job from Ilie Nastase. He is a Frenchman, Jean Baptiste Chanfreau, who specializes, whatever the consequences, in imitating the style of some all time tennis great, perhaps Ken Rosewall in one match, Pancho Gonzales in another. Playing the role of the famed touch artist, Manuel Santana, he hit more than 40 drop shots in one match while losing to Elschenbroich.
World Cup week is also a time for a bit of needling and gamesmanship. It started the first year, when Fred Stolle and Newcombe played against four Americans. "Oh, well," said Stolle, "that makes it about even—two Aussies against four Yanks." Australia won 5-2 and has won two out of three since. This year Stolle, as captain and alternate player, said, "We're planning a party Saturday night because it will be over by then."
Ralston, the U.S. captain, got under Stolle's skin by objecting to the Aussies' yellow shirts, which he said would be a "tough background when you're using yellow balls."
"People have been using white balls and white shirts for a hundred years," scoffed Stolle, "and nobody ever complained."
"Yes," countered Ralston, "but everyone wore white. Let us wear yellow, too, instead of blue. It could only mean a point a match, but that's enough. I know I wear yellow every chance I get." (Smith backed up his captain, claiming that he had lost sight of the ball against Newcombe's shirt during several volley exchanges.)
Stolle was also the object of some good-natured kidding because he has signed to play World Team Tennis for the Philadelphia Freedoms, coached by the feisty Billie Jean King. Yes, one of the chief instigators of the notorious masculine, beer-drinking camaraderie of Australian tennis players is going to be taking orders from a woman. The sports-writers in attendance at Hartford prepared an awards ceremony for Stolle, calling him potentially "the world's first henpecked pro athlete" and presented him with Ms. King's book, Tennis to Win, with orders to study it carefully.
Before the first ball was served, Ralston was forced to explain once again that the country's co-No. 1 player, Jimmy Connors, had turned down an invitation to play on the team, just as he had repeatedly spurned Davis Cup invitations.
"O.K., look at Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe and Tom Gorman," Ralston told the press. "Look what they've done on the WCT circuit this year and whom they've played against. Now look at Connors and do the same thing. If he makes No. 3 among that group, it has to be questionable. I hate to keep harping on Connors, but you people keep bringing him up. His attitude stinks. His manners are awful. I can't say many good things about him."
The draw determined that the opening singles match was Laver against Smith, which was considered a good break for the U.S., and not just because of the eight-year difference in their ages. Smith had been playing well for the Blue group, ranking second to Newcombe, while Laver was only sixth in the Green and had lost badly in the second round in Barcelona the week before.
Nevertheless, Laver won in straight sets 7-5, 6-3, preying on Smith's second serve, forcing Stan to be so conscious of making that delivery good that he double-faulted four times. When Ashe started off Friday's program by losing a tough match to Newcombe 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, it looked as if the U.S. was going to suffer another rout, one it could not blame on high altitude or absent stars.
Gorman, playing with the usual shamrock stenciled on his racket face and the usual leprechaun twinkle in his eyes, saved the day—and NBC's Sunday telecast—by beating Ken Rosewall 6-4, 6-4. Rosewall, 39, had not played in any tournaments since a Davis Cup round in Melbourne in November and obviously was not sharp. Gorman was hyped up, giving a primordial yelp as he pounced on an easy volley to win the match. Then came Ashe's upset of Laver on Saturday to tie the series, and the U.S. might even have gone into Sunday leading 3-2 if Smith and Ashe had not pulled an el foldo in the doubles against Newcombe and Tony Roche.
They took the first set, lost the second, were leading 3-0 in the third and ahead 30-0 on Ashe's serve, when, said Arthur, "we slowly fell apart." Actually they fell apart quickly, before you could say Kamiwazumi. Newcombe and Roche broke twice, won five straight games and took the match 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. So it was the Aussies who had the 3-2 series lead.
And the next day Australia had the World Cup (tennis version) to put on the shelf alongside the Davis Cup for another year, not to mention the first prize of $25,000. That's enough to keep them all in beer for maybe two whole weeks.
"We'll be only too happy to come back next year and win the cup again," said Newcombe, with a grin under his wicked mustache.
"I ran into two good players," said a frustrated Smith of Laver and Newk. "Maybe it's a compliment to me that they played so well, but it's not much fun to be out there against guys hitting bullets."
But it was a frustrating week for the Aussies, too. Their victory celebration had to be postponed 24 hours.