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WHAT PRICE INDEPENDENCE?
William F. Talbert
May 04, 1959
What does a tennis player do when the big time loses its glamour? Why does a Davis Cup captain get fired? Here, in the last of three parts, are Billy Talbert's answers
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May 04, 1959

What Price Independence?

What does a tennis player do when the big time loses its glamour? Why does a Davis Cup captain get fired? Here, in the last of three parts, are Billy Talbert's answers

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A pair of matching silver-plated cups were on display at the Longwood Cricket Club in August 1946, just as they had been for most of the last 27 years. Typically ungainly pieces of sporting silverware, too deep to make decent punch bowls, too roomy to fill with flowers, they bore the following inscription:

UNITED STATES NATIONAL
LAWN TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP
CHALLENGE TROPHY
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
DOUBLES

They were among the most attractive prizes in the entire showcase of tennis awards—and with a very particular attraction for me.

The war was over, the world was back in joint again, and tennis seemed to be on the threshold of another golden age. All the established stars were back, and there was a healthy reserve of fine newcomers crowding to the fore. And if I had ever had any doubts as to where I belonged in this happy, hungry crew, they were dispelled for good.

I had not been entirely happy during the war. It's no fun being a medical misfit, even for the best of reasons, when all your friends are off somewhere on the fighting line. I had tried war work for a while, then a job in an electronics plant, but neither seemed to suit me. An unhappy marriage did nothing to improve my state of mind, and I had finally given in and gone back to tennis again. Pancho Segura and I had played numberless exhibition games in Army and Navy posts all up and down the land. And tennis had been really good to me in the form of a job offered by William du Pont Jr.—a job which consisted mainly of helping him to manage his many sporting interests but still left me free to play about as much tennis as I liked.

In the absence of so many stars I had no difficulty in holding my top ranking in the war-curtailed tournament circuit. But when the boys came marching home, I was ready for them. I climbed up to the No. 3 position in the national listings and came within a hair of winning my great ambition, the national singles at Forest Hills. Frank Parker beat me out after I pulled a tendon in my left leg in a match that, injury or no injury, was as hard-fought as any I had ever been in. Now I was in Boston with my old partner, Gardnar Mulloy, for the national doubles again.

The irresistible glamour of the doubles trophy lay in the list of winners that followed the inscription. Starting with "1919—Norman E. Brookes and Gerald L. Patterson," that list added up to a tennis Hall of Fame, ranging over the whole history of the game since the golden age after World War I. And it was with no small feeling of pride that I could read two of the most recent entries:

1942 GARDNAR MULLOY AND WILLIAM TALBERT
1945 LT. GARDNAR MULLOY AND WILLIAM F. TALBERT

A third time would mean that the trophies were ours for keeps. Other doubles teams in the past had had the same chance to take permanent possession of the cups, but no one had ever done it. That was part of their legend and part of their special allure.

Ever since that near miss against Allison and Van Ryn during my first tour of the eastern circuit, I had been carving out an increasingly comfortable niche for myself as a doubles player. I felt at home on a singles court; the last few years' rankings showed that. But doubles was really my game, and in Gardnar Mulloy, as a long string of victories proved, I had the perfect partner. I had learned my tactics early, and I had the control to carry them out. Mulloy had the power it takes to make good tactics pay off, and we had worked well from the beginning. We had those two legs on the trophy to prove it—but this third time turned out to be a battle all the way.

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