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Newport nyet, tennis da
Donald Dell
April 17, 1961
Early last month in the midst of a snowstorm the first American men ever to take part in an official Russian tennis tournament arrived in Moscow. Listed No. 9 and No. 14 in the amateur U.S. rankings, Donald Dell and Mike Franks reached the semifinal and the quarter-final round respectively in the men's singles at Moscow; then they teamed up in the men's doubles to beat not only their Russian hosts but everyone else. This is their story
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April 17, 1961

Newport Nyet, Tennis Da

Early last month in the midst of a snowstorm the first American men ever to take part in an official Russian tennis tournament arrived in Moscow. Listed No. 9 and No. 14 in the amateur U.S. rankings, Donald Dell and Mike Franks reached the semifinal and the quarter-final round respectively in the men's singles at Moscow; then they teamed up in the men's doubles to beat not only their Russian hosts but everyone else. This is their story

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Competing in this third annual Moscow international tournament were players from Italy, France, East Germany, Great Britain, America and Russia.

The tournament was held indoors at the Dynamo Stadium. For the first few days the matches were played on two well-lighted, reddish-brown clay-composition courts. Seats were provided for about 1,000 spectators. When the tournament reached the quarter-finals all matches were played on the one center court, and stands for another 1,000 people were erected. Every seat in the stadium was filled every day, and several hundred people milled outside trying in vain to buy tickets.

The general playing conditions were excellent. Umpires, ball boys and scorers were capable and fair. We were immediately impressed by the extremely efficient organization of the tournament. From the littlest ball boy dressed in his smart, blue uniform to the chief referee with his imposing red arm band every person seemed to fit nicely into place. Cars to take you to the courts were always outside the hotel, interpreters met you in the locker room to attend to your every need, fresh towels, salt pills and water were always at the courtside, linesmen made their calls loudly and decisively and all matches began exactly on time. It was rather surprising to us that the Russians, who have been taking tennis seriously for only five years or so, could run a tournament so expertly. It reminded the visiting players of the Wimbledon championships—always the model of well-run tournaments.

So much for the stage setting. The matches themselves provided us with a totally different, always exciting, and sometimes annoying, experience. As you enter the center court you hear, amid the noisy crowd, hushed cries of "Amerikantsi, Amerikantsi." The people all stare long and wonderingly at you, but it is a friendly stare of curiosity, not dislike, for seeing an American athlete is quite a rarity for a Russian. If you smile at people in the crowd, they will always smile back warmly.

Once the match actually begins, however, the attitude of the crowd changes noticeably. These people are highly nationalistic and have not been educated in Newport tennis etiquette. They cheer wildly and loudly every time their player wins a point. Often they scream shouts of approval right in the middle of a long rally, which is somewhat distracting to a foreigner.

And there are other psychological handicaps to the outsider. All around is a sea of strange, foreign faces. The umpire calls out the score in loud Russian tones; the ball boys and linesmen blink at you puzzlingly. Should you forget the score or not understand a linesman's close decision, you must stop the match and ask your interpreter what's happening. You feel alone, all alone in a crowded arena. You are nervous and tense, and your hands and arms perspire freely. Every shot you miss is met with shouts or looks of approval. If you are winning decisively, many Russian spectators simply walk out. You feel this is no longer a tennis match but now a personal struggle, almost a battle, between you and your Russian opponent, who is backed by some 2,000 enthusiastic supporters.

In the midst of all these whirling thoughts and emotions you try to concentrate on just playing your best tennis, forgetting as much as possible about the crowd and the surroundings. As you towel off in between games, you nod to the friendly Italian, French and British players, who smile back in encouragement. Then you glance up at the ceiling of the stadium, where all the nations' flags are hanging, and your eyes rest on the familiar Stars and Stripes. Suddenly you feel proud to be an American, and you hitch up your pants and struggle on.

The final results of the tournament show that the Russians have developed some very fine players, including Toomas Lejus, an 18-year-old blond Estonian with a fast and strategic passing game who beat one of us Americans (Franks) 6-3, 6-4, 8-6 in a speedy quarter-final and went on to win the men's singles over Britain's Alan Mills.

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