In the approximately ten weeks left of 1954, news from the gridiron and, later, the basketball courts will crowd the sport pages from Maine to California. Almost unnoticed will be the token recognition of another sport, opening 4,000 miles away. In Australia, it's tennis time and this biggest of all crowd-pleasers Down Under is starting its new season.
It is difficult for Americans to realize how big a sport tennis is to the Australians. Last week the announcement of the U.S. Davis Cup team, consisting of Vic Seixas, our champion, Tony Trabert, Ham Richardson and myself was covered here by the wire services in a few small paragraphs. But what was brief sports page news in the U.S. was on Page One and filled the sports and editorial columns in the land of 9 million people below the equator. The tempo will reach fantastic proportions from Dec. 27 to 29, when the Challenge Round matches are played at White City Stadium in Sydney. In Australia, these matches are like the World Series, the Kentucky Derby and the Army-Navy football game all rolled into one. Everybody will be on the Davis Cup bandwagon.
For the last three years we have reached the Challenge Round only to go down before the Aussies on the turf at Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. This year, before crossing this final bridge, we must defeat the strong European zone winner, Sweden, led by Sven Davidson and Lennart Bergelin. On individual performances over the years, we should handle this without too much trouble, but strange things can happen. As captain, I'm preparing myself for many uneasy moments at the Milton courts in Brisbane.
Speaking of uneasy moments, we had plenty of them in Mexico City a fortnight ago before we finally beat the Mexican team 4-1 in the last round of the North American zone. At seven thousand feet altitude in the El Centro Deportivo Chapultepec Stadium these unsung Latins are tough tennis players. Gustavo Palafox, with brilliant touch, defeated Seixas 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in the opening encounter. In the second match, Trabert defeated a fiery, fighting Mario Llamas in three close sets. We squeaked through the doubles in four sets on the second day, and Seixas decided the tie by winning the fourth points against Llamas 6-4, 2-6, 6-3,6-2.
WHISTLES AND CUSHIONS
With the U.S. leading 3-1, I decided to play Ed Moylan, who was on a Davis Cup team for the first time, in the final match against 17-year-old Esteban Reyes, who was substituting for Palafox. But the Mexicans didn't like this. When the announcement was made, they let loose with boos, whistles and the throwing of cushions onto the court. It subsided only when both captains agreed to go back to the original schedule: Palafox vs. Trabert. Trabert was in full command after the first set and won 14-12, 6-1, 6-2.
We depart from the U.S. for Australia as a team in early November. We'll be lonelier than last year; there will be no wives accompanying us, but in my opinion the USLTA was wise in this decision. Certainly, last year wives created no problems, but if the going gets rough for the team they won't serve as additional fodder for the ever-hungry press.
THE BIG "IF"
The Davis Cup quest goes almost unnoticed in the U.S. until it reaches the stretch. That's where we are now, and I know that Seixas, Trabert and Richardson are primed for the run. I feel Richardson is the most improved younger player in the country and this year he'll be available from the beginning. In 1953 he arrived three weeks late and the handicap was too much. Seixas, with an in-and-out season, has assured me that this is his year in the Davis Cup. He has been on three losing teams and he is determined to come back a winner this time. In the vital doubles with its one point, Trabert and Seixas have the best record of the year in international play. They are a well-coordinated, able team. The big "if" of the U.S. chances is Tony Trabert. A confident, happy Trabert is the best player in the world and capable of contributing two big singles points.
Two younger players will be sent along with the team to compete in Australian tournaments to gain experience. The choice has fallen on 17-year-old Mike Green of Miami Beach and Gerald Moss, our 18-year-old National Junior Champion from Modesto Junior College, Calif. Mike came out the winner in the gigantic Junior Chamber of Commerce tournament, and both are from Jack Kramer's group (SI, Aug. 23).
Whatever the outcome, it will be an exciting trip for everybody. Last year, in the interzone final, we played the Belgians in Brisbane before 6,000 people. This year we will play Sweden—in a stadium now seating 12,000. In the Challenge Round there will be some 26,000 spectators crowding the biggest tennis stadium in the world at Sydney—nearly twice as many as can get into Forest Hills. Those Aussies really love the game.