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Original Issue


Last August, in the thin, mile-high atmosphere of Mexico City, the Mexican Davis Cup team of Rafael Osuna and Antonio Palafox beat the Americans three matches to two—an appalling upset. The key match was the doubles, with the Mexicans winning over Chuck McKinley and Dennis Ralston in five nerve-racking sets. Presumably neither McKinley nor Ralston took the defeat easily, for in last Saturday's reprise against the Mexicans at the Los Angeles Tennis Club both played inspired, aggressive, canny tennis and blasted the perplexed Osuna and Palafox off the court, 6-1, 6-3, 8-6, taking a total of 76 minutes for the job.

The win gave the Americans a 2-1 lead in matches and pointed them toward an almost certain victory. The day before, Osuna, light-footed and intent, had surprised McKinley, the Wimbledon champion, by winning an in-and-out match that went to five sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. Rusty after a 19-day layoff from tournament competition, McKinley failed to get his first service in more than 25% of the time—a dangerous lapse against as quick and shrewd a player as Osuna. While McKinley banged away for winners and inevitable errors, Osuna never overplayed the ball, maintained pressure throughout and repeatedly trapped McKinley with well-disguised lobs. Still, the bouncy American, wearing a floppity hat to shade both his eyes and the back of his neck from a sun that fired the temperature up to 114°, might have salvaged the match had he been able to hold service in the sixth game of the final set. Three times he was within a point of winning. Then Osuna crashed through with two defiant service returns and an irretrievable volley. After that, the starch went out of McKinley.

Tense before a crowd he considers his home folks, Ralston then stepped out on the court and proceeded to take apart an erratic Palafox in four sets, 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. In fairness, it should be pointed out that there was an excuse for the lackluster play of the Mexican: a few weeks ago, when the Mexicans were getting primed for the match, Palafox's father died. The break in training and the emotional shock obviously affected his play.

The Mexicans—victors in the doubles at Wimbledon in July and winners of the U.S. championship last year—were highly favored to win the doubles on Saturday. But the Americans took the initiative immediately and never relaxed their grip. Without losing a service in the entire match, they took advantage of the true bounce on the cement court and consistently hit the ball on the rise, enabling them to storm the net and control the play. McKinley was the quarterback and chief basher; Ralston, playing the right-hand court, kept the ball in play, hitting low, forcing the high return that McKinley could powder for the point. The Mexicans ignored a basic rule of winning doubles: get the first service in. Missing on more than half their initial deliveries, their three-quarter-speed, spinning second services bounced short in the service box, allowing the fired-up Americans to slam the ball down their throats. Palafox was the Americans' target and, as he erred on point after point, Osuna was forced to go after the big shot—the winner—in an attempt to end rallies quickly. As a consequence he was forced into many errors himself.

Pancho Gonzalez, who coached the American team, was instrumental in the American victory. He encouraged McKinley, playing the left-hand court, to run around his backhand at every opportunity and direct hard, low, top-spin forehands at the incoming server, who found them extremely difficult to volley. Gonzalez improved Ralston's service by changing the position of the toss and shortening the swing to lessen the area for error. He also worked on Ralston's ground strokes, emphasizing the value of controlled speed as opposed to the all-or-nothing passing shot many young doubles players are tempted to hit. "I never learned so much so quickly before," Ralston said graciously of Pancho's teaching.

On Sunday, in the decisive match, Ralston faced Osuna and, with little strain or fuss, defeated him in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3, 7-5, for an American victory over Mexico. Ralston hit crisply and aggressively and an astounding variety of shots came off his racket. Repeatedly he confused Osuna by refusing to commit himself before Osuna's shot and then moving beautifully into position to fire it back to the point where it would be the most difficult to retrieve. Scramble as he would, Osuna could not keep pace with an extremely poised, very confident Ralston. McKinley's victory over Palafox, 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, closed out the round, giving America a 4-1 triumph. The Americans had squared themselves.