When the president of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association received word of his team's demise in Ecuador he was himself playing tennis at Longwood Cricket Club in suburban Boston. To Bob Kelleher's credit he did not curse, throw his racket or even double fault.
"Unbelievable," Kelleher muttered, and went on playing. There was no reason to rant or sob, really, because the U.S.'s 3-2 Davis Cup defeat at Guayaquil was so absurd and incomprehensible that even people connected with the game had to laugh at the biggest prank in the 68-year history of the cup competition. An official at Longwood remarked, "He ought to send our captain, George MacCall, to Cairo—he and Nasser would have a wonderful time comparing notes."
The Ecuadorian heroes—21-year-old Francisco (Pancho) Guzman (left) and 27-year-old Miguel Olvera—seemed more dazed than the losers by the result. They were the outest of out bets, and they had no idea of winning before the series began. "We would have been thrilled to get one point," said Olvera, who dropped out of tennis with tuberculosis a few years ago. While the U.S. team is highly organized and subsidized, the operation in Ecuador is haphazard and irregular. Ecuador had fielded a team only twice before in the last 20 years and had won only one match. By succeeding, Olvera and Guzman gave their own association a headache almost as large as they bestowed on the USLTA: since the victory was so completely unanticipated, there were no funds to transport them to the next Davis Cup match in Europe against either Spain or Russia. A collection is being taken.
In recent years U.S. Davis Cuppers have made a lot of tennis nobodies briefly famous: Gardini of Italy, Gisbert of Spain, Mandarino of Brazil. Now it is Olvera and Guzman, both of whom cut down the leading American, Arthur Ashe. Until the U.S. match, few people had even heard of Olvera and Guzman, including some tournament players.
"In fairness," says Chuck McKinley, America's only reliable Davis Cupper of the last decade, "Olvera isn't a bad player. He might rank around 20th in the U.S., and he beat Butch Buchholz once [1960 in the national clay court tournament]." But as for Guzman, McKinley was as perplexed as other knowledgeable tennis people. "I can't really place him, or recall what he looks like."
So how can one explain his beating Ashe, even if Ashe, in the Army now, was rusty? Especially when Ashe was able to win both the first and fourth sets 6-0. Or how could Clark Graebner and Marty Riessen lose after leading in the critical doubles match 6-0, 5-2?
"No comment," replied MacCall when he returned to this country. He refuses to talk when he can't say anything nice, and so his observations were confined to 20-year-old Cliff Richey, who won both his singles. "Cliff has arrived as a pressure player. He's someone for the next captain to build on. He refused to be beaten."
MacCall, a 49-year-old Los Angeles insurance man, has worked hard, but he sees "no future for myself as captain. I'd be a liability to Kelleher." MacCall will be remembered as the only captain to lose three straight years in the prelims. Could another captain have won the cup, which has rested in a Melbourne bank vault since 1964? Doubtful.
Bill Talbert, whom the players wanted and whom they respect for his expertise, might have gotten them past Ecuador. But the tennis world has grown considerably more hostile since those days—1938 to 1959—when a U.S.-Australian cup final was automatic and preliminary-round opponents were few and feckless. When the U.S. began losing to Italy, Mexico, Spain and Brazil en route to Australia, the sports-page-reading public was shocked, but tennis insiders realized that somebody else besides Aussies and Americans was learning the game and that excellent players were being produced everywhere.
Olvera and Guzman, in upsetting the U.S., merely dramatized a fact of today: the U.S., which used to have lots of good athletes playing tennis, has run out of them. Today's young athlete is looking for a sport with a professional future. He sees Jack Nicklaus sink a putt and win $30,000, and he wants to do the same. On Sundays he watches Bart Starr. He can tell you about Wilt Chamberlain or Al Kaline. These men and their teammates are well-known. They can be seen on television regularly. Tennis, except on rare occasions, is not seen on television. How many kids can tell you who Graebner, Riessen, Ashe and Richey are?