Spectators at Kooyong edged forward in their seats. It was match point in the first singles rubber of the 1957 Davis Cup challenge round.
After two and a half hours of titanic tennis, Mal Anderson of Australia had moved ahead 5-3 in the fifth set by breaking Barry MacKay's service, and now he led 40-30, needing only one more point for the match. MacKay had fought off two match points in the fourth set to win the set, and knot the match. The crowd became tense and quiet.
At this point MacKay ambled over to my captain's chair and in a calm, unflustered voice said: "Cap, I would like a new wrist band. This one is a bit loose."
MacKay adjusted the new band—a sweat-absorbing cloth band worn on the racket hand—and strode back to the base line to receive. Anderson cracked across another service. MacKay returned. Anderson volleyed to MacKay's backhand. MacKay returned it too high and Anderson sent a sharply-angled cross-court placement. Set, match and first rubber to Australia.
Fans rose to their feet and gave the players a deafening ovation. It was obvious the applause was as much for the gallantly beaten MacKay as for the victorious Anderson. As MacKay lumbered to the sidelines with that stiff-legged walk of his, head down and shoulders sagging, I saw large tears well up in his eyes. To save him possible embarrassment I threw a towel over his head. And I must confess, somebody should have thrown a towel over my head, too, as we both walked damp-eyed the full 50 yards to the dressing room.
MacKay was beaten. Later that afternoon, reliable old Vic Seixas also went down in five hard sets to Australian Champion Ashley Cooper, who at 21 is 13 years his junior. The next day, our scratch doubles team—formed at the last minute on a desperate gamble—bowed to Anderson and Mervyn Rose in straight sets, and Australia again had clinched the Davis Cup.
But the campaign was far from a failure. On the final day Seixas, playing what he said would be his last Davis Cup match, won a battle over suffocating heat, aging legs and Mal Anderson in five sets. The young MacKay, already an idol to tennis-loving Australia, took the court to cut down Cooper, the Wimbledon and Forest Hills runner-up, also in five sets.
The dramatic climax—making it the first time in Davis Cup history the four singles matches had gone five sets—emphasized the extreme closeness of the tie. With one break—one tiny break in either of the two opening-day matches—today we might be hauling back the cup instead of talking and thinking about it.
But the 1957 Davis Cup challenge round will not be remembered for this trivial statistic. It will live—for Australians and Americans alike—in the stirring picture of Barry MacKay, the big, good-natured boy from Ohio, and the miracle fight he made against unbelievable odds.
CALM AND CONFIDENCE