For two dismal years David Lester Freed, a Salt Lake City businessman, served as nonplaying captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team. His captaincy marked a new low in U.S. Davis Cup fortunes. Twice in a row his teams failed to reach the challenge round—a "perfect" record of 0 for 2. Yet it is to Freed's great credit that, in spite of considerable-journalistic outcry at this debacle, he made no alibi for a tennis situation that was not of his making.
Freed has now stepped aside as cup captain (in favor of Robert Joseph Kelleher of Beverly Hills, Calif), but as secretary of the United States Lawn Tennis Association he still occupies a position of power and influence in tennis. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is pleased to provide him space in which to say what he thinks is wrong with the game he serves so loyally.
Spectator tennis is dying. The pulse is weak and growing weaker. And as it approaches the last gap some who should be reaching for the resuscitator are more concerned with pinpointing blame than effecting a cure.
Who inflicted the near-mortal wound simply isn't identifiable. More, he—or they—are no longer important. The body is still warm. There's a chance for recovery. For the moment, anyway, let the culprits run free, and let's save the patient. Once spectator tennis is restored to vigorous good health, there will be time enough for recriminations. Right now there isn't.
For tennis the days are desperate; the odds against recovery are long. But there is a chance, and the time has come to take some first steps.
Foremost, all together now: let's pull our heads out of the sand and admit spectator tennis is dying. In 1960 I saw a stand erected at a cost of $30,000 virtually empty for a Davis Cup Challenge Round. And the stand was in Australia, the most rabid nation yet on the subject of tennis. The Challenge Round is the best show amateur tennis can present. Australia is the place to present it—for maximum fervor. When you don't get a full house there, you won't get one anywhere. Let's stop waiting for the miracle—or, more specifically, the miracle man. Even if he comes along he'll turn pro within a year or two.
It wasn't always thus, of course. But the jetliner wasn't always a fact either. Times change, and tennis has to change with them, or perish.
It's comforting to know that sales of tennis rackets and tennis balls increase each year. That means people are interested in tennis and enjoy playing it. They also enjoy having their children play it. It's a great participation sport, and becoming greater.
Why not then, some ask, let it die as a spectator sport?
Why not, indeed!