Something new was added to indoor tennis at Madison Square Garden last week, and if it endures, as seems most likely, a bit of subtlety will have been restored to a game that has been criticized by Tilden era oldsters as too dependent on the pure violence of the big serve and big volley. The long rallies of other years, with their geometric precision of attack and defense, the tactical placing of the opponent to set him up for sudden death, the effective use of spin—these came back to the sport at what was billed as the 1st Annual Madison Square Garden Invitation Tennis Tournament, a professional affair promoted by Jack Kramer and the Garden jointly and a true four-day tournament, not just an exhibition featuring a few touring stars.
What was new, relatively, was the court itself, made of a rubber composition developed by the UniRoyal-U.S. Rubber Co. and already tried out in Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit. It had its first thoroughgoing test under the feet of a representative array of topflight players at the Garden. To judge by the quality of the play and the enthusiasm of the crowds (35,981 in four days), it was a grand success.
It seemed also to play a significant part in the outcome. Kenneth Rosewall, who at 5 feet 7 never has been an exponent of the big game, won the singles prize of $5,000—the most generous purse since the professional game began—by knocking off Pancho Gonzalez in a wildly exciting semifinal and going on to take his Australian compatriot, the top-seeded Rod Laver, in the finals on Saturday night.
Up to that point, Laver had been the only player to achieve consistent success by following his hard service instantly with a charge to the net. His serve-and-volley attack defeated the Welshman Mike Davies in the opening round and then crushed Earl (Butch) Buchholz Jr. in the quarter-finals and Andres Gimeno of Barcelona in the semifinals, as he lost only two games in the latter two matches. Finally, Laver encountered Rosewall, who had been seeded second to him.
A red-headed left-hander whose wrist, like that of Lew Hoad, is noted for the deception it puts into shots, Laver holds the distinction of being the second man ( Don Budge was the first) ever to win tennis' amateur grand-slam. He is also one of the most imperturbable players the sport has seen since poker-faced Helen Wills, his demeanor remaining throughout a match as unruffled as his neatly parted hair. Although he is only an inch taller than Rosewall, Laver's service combines force with accuracy, and his volley is not only powerful but scientifically angled (that wrist again) to put the ball where no man can retrieve it.
Rosewall, on the other hand, is almost Laver's opposite in style. He does all things well but is spectacular chiefly at the net, placing himself in precisely the right spot after each shot and, with his extraordinary reflexes, presenting the illusion of a wall beyond which nothing can pass, not even lobs. There is beauty in every one of his moves. With this style he had defeated a violently determined Gonzalez the night before, and now he faced a coolly determined Laver.
Rosewall handled the big Laver serve with no substantial difficulty, though he had had some trouble with the Gonzalez delivery. The rubber surface slowed the ball just enough so that he was able to come in on it. Once the ball was in play after the serve had been returned, he was more than Laver's equal. He proved this in the seventh game of the first set by breaking his fellow Aussie's service on a smashing overhead volley and a backhand passing shot that set the gallery screaming. He went on to win the next two games too, for four in a row, taking the set 6-3.
Outwardly, Laver appeared undisturbed at this point, but inwardly there must have been some stirring of the pulse, for his game seemed to take on new life as the second set began. He broke Rosewall's service in the first game, then held his own service in the second. Just like that, there was Rosewall, at 0-2, with his task clearly defined. Rosewall then called into play his ground strokes, which may be the best in the game. He loosed one of his backhand passing shots to even the set at 3-3. Laver turned his head so as not to suffer the pain of looking at it. Rosewall made the seventh game a love job. Next he broke Laver's service, and possibly his heart, with a hair-raising ball that teetered atop the net, then dribbled over onto Laver's side.
Now Rosewall was in command once more, and he proved it. He topped off the match by winning his service in the ninth game and that made it 6-3, 6-3. The soft-spoken Laver made a gentlemanly speech to the effect that he would try for revenge next year.
The financial effect was to give Rosewall $5,000 for winning the singles, $750 for coming in second in the doubles to Laver and Buchholz, and $100 for being a first-round winner. Total: $5,850.