On a sweltering New Year's Eve, on the chewed-up center court of the Milton Club in subtropical Brisbane, America broke Australia's tennis monopoly and won the Davis Cup for the second time in eight years. The individual hero of this almost unbelievable achievement was a 22-year-old Peruvian named Alex Olmedo. Olmedo upset the world's two best amateur players—Mal Anderson on the first day and Ashley Cooper on the third—and in between joined with Ham Richardson in capturing the vital doubles. Thus he won two of the U.S.'s three points and shared in the third. Barry MacKay of Dayton failed to match his peak performance of last year as he lost to both Cooper and Anderson in the singles.
Last February, when 70-year-old Perry T. Jones was named captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, two individuals figured prominently in his plans for recovery of the international tennis trophy. One was Olmedo. The other was professional Promoter Jack Kramer. This last drew some pointed criticism, but the aging captain merely shrugged his massive shoulders and said: "When I took this job I knew there were some things about it which I could not handle. I am not a tactician. I am an executive and an organizer. So I decided to get the best men possible to help me. Number one on this list was Jack Kramer, who, I think, is the most brilliant man in the sport."
Jones had to battle to get Olmedo on his team. His selection was resisted by American tennis officials on the grounds he is not an American, but Jones's persuasiveness won the young player the unanimous approval of the Davis Cup Selection Committee. There were other difficulties. Kramer was fighting a private war with the Australian amateur tennis officials over venues for his pro matches, while Jones, as a tennis ambassador, was attempting to keep the Australian brass happy. It was an awkward position for both Jones and Kramer, but they never wavered.
Another distraction was the case of Ham Richardson. As the No. 1 player in the U.S., Richardson had been begged to leave his job as an aide to Senator Russell Long of Louisiana in order to make the trip. He expected to play in both the singles and doubles. But Jones and his staff of advisers felt that Richardson's diabetic condition might work to his detriment over a three-day test in intense heat. So they decided to bench him in the singles and play him in the doubles only. This was a sharp blow to Richardson's pride, and, after failing in the final hours before the matches to convince Jones otherwise, he issued a strongly worded statement criticizing Jones. The American captain drew scathing comments from the Australian press for benching Richardson. Even Harry Hopman, the Australian captain, said with a complacent grin: "We are pleasantly surprised that MacKay was named instead of Richardson. We think Richardson is the strongest man on their team."
These barbs were all that Kramer and company, who seldom miss a trick, needed. They spread the clippings around the U.S. dressing room before the first day's matches, then cornered Olmedo at a prematch meal and gave him a fire-eating pep talk.
"Look at what they're doing to the old man," Kramer said. "They're making him look like a bum."
"I'll win for Mr. Jones," said Olmedo grimly. "They can't do this to my good friend."
With this incentive Olmedo took the court in his first match and shook Australian confidence by whipping Anderson 8-6, 2-6, 9-7, 8-6. This was Olmedo's first challenge round—he had never even seen a Davis Cup match until 10 days before in the interzone final at Perth—but he was the picture of relaxation. Loose and perfectly poised, he flitted from one side of the court to the other, pulling off phenomenal shots. He repeatedly made tricky drop shots or stop volleys, and he was never tentative on the volley.
It was a frustrating defeat for the thin, nut-brown Queenslander. Anderson had two set points in the first set when he led 6-5 and 40-15 on Olmedo's service. After winning the second set with the only two service breaks of Olmedo in the match, Anderson had five opportunities to take the third set in the 14th game. He had set point in the 12th game of the fourth set, but Olmedo, as in previous sets, fought his way out of the hole with deep, well-placed first services and pressure volleying.
When Olmedo dropped the second set so easily after taking the first, a cold shiver went through the American camp. Olmedo has always been a player of promise, but his career has been hampered by a failure to bear down when given an advantage; or, expressing it another way, some feared he lacked the "killer instinct." It was a thought that was permanently dispelled before the end of the three days.