The Emerson family is from Durham, in northern England. Roy's grandfather emigrated to Australia in the late 1800s, and Roy himself grew up on his father's 800-acre dairy farm around Black butt, Queensland. Other Australians call Queenslanders "Bananalanders." The farm had one tennis court and 160 cows, which Roy milked almost every day. "I could still do it. That is one touch," he says, baring his teeth, "that you never lose." The family moved to Brisbane in 1951 for no other reason than to promote the tennis ambitions of Roy and his older sisters, Daphne and Hazel.
"It wasn't really sacrifice," Mr. Emerson says. "It was hard leaving the district where I had lived all my life, but there was no work for the girls. We were fairly comfortable financially. We knew that we were not going to be any worse off in Brisbane. Before I made up my mind I went to Norm Brimson, the local coach who had been coaching Roy. I asked him: 'Do you think he can make it?' Norm said, 'Yes,' so we put the farm on half shares and left."
Roy attended prestige private schools in Brisbane, where he fared satisfactorily academically and exceptionally athletically. Before he was 17 his parents had made the decision to let him leave school for tennis. By the time his classmates were graduating the next year, Emerson was a dropout touring the world. He was not exactly cosmopolitan, though. In London he sent out his laundry just before he checked out. When he was told to leave a forwarding address, he got so flustered that he then left his luggage standing in the lobby.
Today this sort of Bananaland is out of the man. He stays in the hotel and reads while Joy goes and gets impressed by the sightseeing. By now the Emersons have friends in virtually every place in the world where tennis is played. And, in a sense, Emerson needs the whole tennis world for support. He naturally commands the highest "expenses" of any amateur, and it was the money more than the advertised reason—to keep in top form against the top players—that caused Emerson and several other Aussie players to buck the weak and unpopular Lawn Tennis Association of Australia this year. The LTAA ruled that no Australian players would be sanctioned to receive expenses outside of Australia until March 31. The intent was to keep the players in Australia, entertaining the natives in the hinterland. The LTAA thought the players owed this to their country. The players thought that playing lonely exhibitions in the bush when they could be in Trinidad or Monte Carlo was silly, to say the least, and expensive, to say something else again. When the players—Emerson and Ken Fletcher first—left early, the LTAA did its worst: it suspended all the happy wanderers from the Davis Cup team.
It was Emerson who eventually initiated the mediation that permitted his reinstatement. He wrote to Norman Strange, the LTAA president, from Wimbledon. He began with his typical frankness: "On behalf of all the rebels," and then he went on to suggest that if the ban were lifted this year he would promise to stay home in 1965 until February 28. The LTAA, which had been cast as villains by the press and the fans, was glad to find an opening and hurried to embrace Emerson's compromise.
For Emerson, the Davis Cup Challenge Round in Cleveland will be his sixth. Only 12 other players have ever played in so many. There is every chance that before he is through Emerson will have played in more Challenge Rounds than any other Australian. ( Norman Brookes, with eight, is his only countryman to appear in more than six.) With his stamina, Emerson has an outside chance to reach Bill Tilden's record of 11 Challenge Rounds. In fact, Emerson is compiling an overall record of wins—Davis Cup and otherwise—that may eventually top that of any player since the war and all but three or four before.
"I don't think about that," he says. "I just want to play as long as I enjoy it. I have to settle down and I like Philip Morris, but I will play as long as I really like it. This is a good life."
This was said at a rooftop restaurant in Mexico City. The No. 1 player looked like the No. 1 should look—immaculately dressed, every hair and tooth in place. Pancho Contreras came over from another table and put his menu down on top of the box of Marlboros and asked if Emerson would recommend something. "The beef strips are very good," Emo said, and looked back casually over the city below and the world his ninth time around.
Roy Emerson has gotten his money's worth out of tennis, but the game has been paid back in kind. Technically he really is something of a tennis bum—27 years old and traveling all over the world with a wife and child and playing a game for "expenses"—but what Roy Emerson truly is is a tennis gentleman.