This week, when the balls start bouncing off the rackets at Forest Hills, six members of the Australian Davis Cup squad will be entered in what is still the No. 1 tennis tournament in the world: the U.S. National singles.
The Australian contingent, if not quite as strong as it was in Frank Sedgman's heyday, is powerful enough—so much so, in fact, that quite a few tennis experts are conceding our title to the visitors and predicting that the Americans have finally come to the end of a glorious period of Forest Hills domination. Logically, the same skeptics also predict that Australia (which produced in Sedgman the only Down Under star in history to capture our crown) will from this day on rule our courts as well as those on which the Davis Cup Challenge Round is played. I disagree.
Much has been said of Harry Hop-man's well-coached crew of whiz kids. Much was said of them last year, too, but none of last year's six visiting Australians reached the finals of our Nationals. Instead, we saw a "red-hot" Tony Trabert, just a few months out of the Navy, sweep to the title in 18 straight sets, including an unmerciful whipping of Ken Rosewall in the semifinals. He then called on the same relentless power game to trounce Vic Seixas in the finals.
Trabert, if he does the job as I think he will, should win the title again. The play of such Australians as Rosewall and Lew Hoad here this summer follows a pattern almost identical with that which preceded their inglorious exit from our Nationals a year ago. Could it be an omen that for two consecutive summers Hopman's boys have cleaned up at Orange, N.J. and then performed miserably a week later at Newport?
I'm not saying Vic or Tony will have an easy time repeating, but, whiz kids notwithstanding, I think we have nothing to fear if we keep two factors in mind: 1) the Australians are not invincible, and 2) some of the greatest tennis by Americans has traditionally been played when the stakes are highest. For us those stakes are on the table now. Therefore I firmly believe our own tennis skeptics will be in for a surprise—both in the days immediately ahead, and this coming winter when renewed U.S. tennis interest from the youngest teen-agers to the veteran coaches will stimulate our Davis Cup team to a competitive boiling point.
If Trabert comes to Forest Hills in the proper frame of mind, nobody should beat him. Hoad, who edged him in a dramatic five-setter in the decisive Australian 3-2 Challenge Round triumph last December, will be Tony's biggest competitor. Slightly behind both boys I rate Rosewall and Seixas. For those interested in stroke performance, I suggest observation of Hoad's great service and forehand, Trabert's net game and overhead. The backhand belongs to Rosewall; it is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen.
I'm sorry neither Budge Patty nor Dick Savitt has entered this tournament, for both are capable of making the Cup squad this fall. A "hot" Patty can trim anybody. I wish Savitt would attempt a comeback, because all he needs is plenty of practice and some strengthening of confidence in his own natural ability.
Spectators at Forest Hills will have no need to be ashamed of what they may see. I think I know what I'll see: the top American players will rise to the occasion.
DECADE OF CHAMPIONS: 8 U.S. WINNERS TO 2
1953 Tony Trabert, U.S. over Vic Seixas, U.S., in three sets.
1952 Frank Sedgman, Aus. over Gardnar Mulloy, U.S., in three sets.
1951 Frank Sedgman, Aus. over Vic Seixas, U.S., in three sets.
1950 Art Larsen, U.S. over Herb Flam, U.S., in five sets.
1949 Pancho Gonzales, U.S. over Ted Schroeder, U.S., in five sets.
1948 Pancho Gonzales, U.S. over Eric Sturgess, S. Afr., in three sets.
1947 Jack Kramer, U.S. over Frank Parker, U.S., in five sets.
1946 Jack Kramer, U.S. over Tom Brown, U.S., in three sets.
1945 Frank Parker, U.S. over Bill Talbert, U.S., in three sets.
1944 Frank Parker, U.S. over Bill Talbert, U.S., in four sets.
KEN ROSEWALL, 19 (5 ft. 7¾ in., 148 lb.): Slender and dark, looks more like a ball boy than a top internationalist. Has great "little" game, reminiscent of Frankie Parker's. Backhand magnificent, so is footwork and control. His forehand is more than adequate, but he lacks the big service and the volley. Could improve with a more striking offense. Very dangerous when "hot." Beat Tony Trabert at Wimbledon, then lost to Jaroslav Drobny in upset finals.
REX HARTWIG, 24 (5 ft. 9½ in., 168 lb.): Stocky, strong, better at doubles than singles, but at times a brilliant match player despite lack of any major singles title. His shot repertory shows no real weakness, and he moves well. It is difficult to fault this powerful stroker except for his one major deficiency: he never manages to play the important "big" match at the right time. Nonetheless, a possible long shot bet at Forest Hills.
LEW HOAD, 19 (5 ft. 11 in., 170 lb.): The Aussies' best Davis Cup man; has Kramer's "big" game. Service and booming volleys are first class, forehand stronger than backhand, net game good, at times brilliant. Court generalship is improving, competitive spirit excellent. Lacking in experience, he is considered by some better than Kramer at 19, but inconsistent concentration has led to defeats by too many second-stringers.
ROY EMERSON, 17 (6 ft.½ in., 158 lb.): Most highly regarded new whiz kid on Aussie squad, reminds experts of Hoad two years ago. On his first trip to the U.S., he shows great tennis sense and rarely makes a wrong play. Possesses fine shots. Another year under tutelage of Coach Hopman should tell if he'll be great or not. Most notable victory was over Hoad in recent tournament at Newport. Anxious to learn, he can be dangerous.
TONY TRABERT, 24 (6 ft. 1 in., 180 lb.): Defending U.S. titleholder; he has everything a tennis champion needs, every stroke in the book and tremendous power. Handsome Cincinnatian swept this title last year without losing a set. Spotty 1954 record can be blamed only partly on blistered hands, mostly on inability to get into right frame of mind to accomplish the business at hand. Potentially he's best U.S. player since Kramer—and best in the world, too.
HAM RICHARDSON, 21 (6 ft., 158 lb.): U.S. collegiate champion from Tulane; progressing at last, but still hasn't lived up to full greatness predicted for him at 16. Service is excellent, game generally sound but hampered by slow reactions at net. A diabetic who must take insulin, he still lacks pace control during long matches. Campaigned in Australia in 1953 for experience, could be just the man for a Cup singles berth.
VIC SEIXAS, 31 next week (6 ft., 160 lb.): This real veteran can still play brilliantly but seldom has since winning at Wimbledon in 1953. Unorthodox shots are either way off or very much on, his game usually very good or very bad. Serves well at times, generally only adequately. Over-tennised for two years, the Philadelphia ace is now rested and very keen to hold his berth on next Cup squad. This may be his last chance.
BOB PERRY, 21 (6 ft. 2 in., 160 lb.): Like Richardson, he has had great opportunity to develop-but hasn't. Now must prove himself or be left out of U.S. future picture for good. UCLA star, with advantages of California tennis support, his strokes are sound off the ground, service can be very good. Volleying needs improvement. Showed promising potential as national boys' champion in 1947, but seems to have missed the boat since then.