The first week of the Winter Olympic Games has already amply demonstrated the awesome progress made by the Soviet Union in its drive to dominate world sport. And it's a good time to point out that some day the Red flag may fly over Kooyong Stadium in Melbourne in some future Davis Cup Challenge Round—or even over Forest Hills.
For there's scarcely a doubt any longer that the Russians are just as serious about world tennis as they are about the Olympic Games. And if anything was needed to galvanize the Soviet's leaders into speedier action in building up their tennis power, it was supplied by a recent statement made by Dr. Giorgio de Stefani, president of the International Lawn Tennis Federation. Tennis, said De Stefani, may return as an Olympic sport for the 1960 Games in Rome. It hasn't been one since 1924; but De Stefani is a member of the Italian Olympic Committee, he is personally making the recommendation, and he said that "prospects are bright."
Last year J. L. Manning, sports editor of the London Sunday Dispatch, visited Russia and made a thorough survey—as thorough as possible under the conditions, I imagine—of the Soviet's unpublicized tennis program. His findings were most interesting.
He discovered that the 16 big institutes of physical culture in the country, which produce 2,000 professional coaches a year, were turning out a large number of tennis coaches. These men are subjected to a rigid four-year course in which techniques are analyzed and studied. There are about 60,000 classified players in Russia, a small number compared with the tremendous lists of Australia and the U.S., mostly from the western regions and the Ukraine. The tennis players belong to clubs and ultimately wind up on teams of 40 players consisting of youths, juniors and adults, men and women. They are graded on proficiency, the highest athletic rank in Russia, of course, being Master of Sport.
The equipment is Russian-made and follows international specifications. There is a shortage of courts; but these are being built now at the rate of 200 a year. Mr. Manning found out another interesting point. In studying tennis coaching techniques, the Russians' favorite is Harry Hopman of Australia. His stern disciplinarian rules are in line with the Russians' own ideas.
The 1960 Olympic matches may see Russia step out on the tennis stage. After that? The Davis Cup would seem a likely goal; perhaps the U.S. championship as well. In any event, if the Russians step out and play in the best traditions of the international game, the world of tennis will see some bright red fireworks—and may profit from the competitive spurt.
"If you know all the answers, Mr. Red Smith, why don't you try to get on!"