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Frank Deford
October 05, 1964
The U.S. had a plan for defending the Davis Cup: give Roy Emerson his two singles matches and win the rest. But Australia's Fred Stolle beat Dennis Ralston and started the cup on its return trip down under
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October 05, 1964

Failure Of A Winning Formula

The U.S. had a plan for defending the Davis Cup: give Roy Emerson his two singles matches and win the rest. But Australia's Fred Stolle beat Dennis Ralston and started the cup on its return trip down under

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When Chuck McKinley and Dennis Ralston won the Davis Cup in Australia last December they used a simple formula for victory: grant Roy Emerson his two singles matches and win the other three. Last weekend in Cleveland, McKinley and Ralston hoped to employ that same formula to defend the cup. Once again Emerson was conceded his two singles victories, a classic case of starting with two strikes against you. But this time something went wrong, and that something was Fred Stolle, Emerson's tall, blond teammate. After looking ragged in his opening singles match against McKinley and even worse in the doubles, Stolle rallied to beat Ralston in a hair-raising five-set match that won the Davis Cup for Australia.

Technically, it was Emerson who provided his country with the deciding point, breaking the 2-2 deadlock by beating McKinley in the final match. McKinley gave it a good try—it is hard to beat Emerson, but not illegal—helped to some degree by the composition court, slower than grass, which enabled him to scamper about in his usual all-or-nothing style and retrieve shots that would have been lost on a faster surface. But Emerson was simply too strong, winning 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 and proving once again that on grass, composition or Jell-O, he is the best—the giant of amateur tennis.

Although Emerson was his usual deadly self, it was Stolle who spiked the U.S. dream of keeping the cup. Leading 2-1, the U.S. had only to win one more point to be successful. That point had to come from a Ralston victory over Stolle and, indeed, it seemed likely that Ralston could do it. Stolle had beaten Ralston in five sets at Forest Hills two weeks before, but it was a match either man could have won. Nor was Stolle playing as well as he had been earlier. Bothered by the high winds that whipped Cleveland all weekend, Stolle had not been tossing his ball high enough on service and this had led to frequent double faults. As his serve collapsed, so had his overhead. "When one part of Fred's game goes," Coach Harry Hopman had said, "everything goes."

But against Ralston everything turned right again. The match was played on a cold, wet Sunday and was delayed so long before starting that the Emerson-McKinley match was postponed until Monday. Stolle began well, just as he had done at Forest Hills, winning the first two sets. Then Ralston rallied, taking the third set. He broke through Stolle's serve at the start of the fourth set, but Stolle broke back to even the score. The two players traded games, five all, six all, seven all, each time Ralston needing to hold his serve to pull even. Twice he was two points from defeat, but both times he pulled the game out. Finally Ralston took Stolle's service again, held his own and won the fourth set. When he promptly broke Stolle's serve to lead 2-1 in the final set, he had only to hold his own serve to win the match and the Davis Cup.

But bent though he was, Stolle did not crack. He promptly took Ralston's serve to even the set and then, at 5-4, took it again to win the match. His last shot was a pretty cross-court placement. "Well," he said later, pulling on his shirt—he leaves his shirts buttoned and pulls them on over his head—"I think I can have a couple of grogs now."

Both Stolle and Emerson are relaxed, mature athletes, and as the Challenge Round approached they seemed as calm and confident as Crosby and Como. Emerson belted out old Buddy Holly love ballads in the shower and he and Coach Hopman kidded around and mimicked extreme Australian accents. All the Australians bantered carelessly with the Americans about them. "I don't know if this is the most relaxed team I've ever had," Hopman said, "but it's the rudest." Stolle went with the rest of the Australian team to a Yankees-Indians doubleheader and amused himself and annoyed everybody in the seats around him by rooting for Pedro Ramos—a former Indian—when he came in to pitch for the Yankees.

In comparison, the Americans were cold, serious—even Captain Vic Seixas, who felt it perhaps the most important part of his job to buoy the boys' spirit and morale. McKinley and Ralston killed time playing bridge and backgammon and trying to keep rested. Sometimes it was not easy. Whereas the Australians hid themselves in a hotel outside the spotlight, the Americans stayed where the press and most out-of-town fans were also staying. On the night before one match McKinley had to come out of his room shortly after midnight to request that some of the well-wishers quiet their partying so that maybe he could get some sleep.

The opening singles matches were held on a cold, patchy day that had spectators hot when the sun was out and numb when it disappeared. A crowd of 7,000—capacity—turned out, for the Cleveland promoters had done an energetic job of spreading the word that the Davis Cup was in town. This was the first time that a Challenge Round in the U.S. had ever been held away from the Eastern Seaboard, and judging by the size and enthusiasm of the crowds, it was a long overdue move.

In the first match McKinley put the U.S. a head 1-0 by lacing Stolle with unexpected ease, 6-1, 9-7, 4-6, 6-2. The court was slippery, so both players rarely followed their serves to net. McKinley, the more agile of the two, made fewer errors and was never in danger of losing.

Emerson had Australia even in a jiffy. Ralston played well, as he admitted later, in the first game. He made four brilliant returns of Emerson's service, winning two of the points. But Emerson held the game anyway and 63 minutes later he had reduced Ralston to self-torment, winning 6-3, 6-1, 6-2, the worst Challenge Round beating since 1950.

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