The main reasons for the considerable charm and appeal Davis Cup play holds for people, whether or not they are outright tennis fans, are that the competition is sufficiently old (the first Challenge Round was held in 1902), sufficiently amateur and sufficiently tradition-encrusted to please the establishmentarian instinct. It is also a sporting event with true worldwide participation. This year 49 nations entered teams in one of four zones—two European, one Asian and one American—to determine which will challenge Australia, the present cup holder, in December. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, it provides the closest approximation in sports to the star system. Give a country—no matter how small—one super player, and it is ready to challenge the world.
The United States has become quite aware of this in the past eight years. Since 1959—except for 1963, when we won the ornate sterling cup from the Aussies, and 1964, when we graciously returned it—all sorts of upstart nations have kept the U.S. from the Challenge Round. Italy did it in 1960 and 1961. Then came Mexico in 1962, Spain in 1965, Brazil in 1966 and, last and least, Ecuador in 1967.
But last week, under the new management of Captain Donald Dell (SI, June 10) and in the unlikely surroundings of Roxboro Junior High School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, we took the cup again. Practically speaking, anyway. Going into the weekend, the original list of 49 nations had been narrowed to five—West Germany, India, Japan, Spain and the United States. Coming out, the list was down to four. West Germany has yet to play either India or Japan, but the United States had defeated Spain and earned the right to meet the survivor of the other half of the Interzone draw. Next will come the Challenge Round in Adelaide and, unfortunately for the Aussies, the three players who defended last year—John Newcombe, Roy Emerson and Tony Roche—are now professionals. Unless Captain Harry Hopman manages the most amazing feat of his career with the likes of Ray Ruffles, Bill Bowrey and Barry Phillips-Moore, the cup will come back to the nation which donated it in the first place.
Spain, far superior to West Germany, Japan or India—the reason why last week's tie was so important—showed up in Cleveland with its star, Manuel Santana, who has been playing in cup competition with profound success for 10 years, and Santana's support, Juan Gisbert, who beat Dennis Ralston in four sets in 1965 during the U.S.- Spain match that Spain won and earlier this year was graduated from the University of Barcelona law school. From the time that the draw was made on Thursday afternoon it was obvious that for Spain to win, Santana would have to take his two singles matches and somehow carry Gisbert through to a victory in the doubles match that provides the fifth point in Davis Cup play.
The two singles players Dell nominated were the two who reached the semifinals of the first open Wimbledon earlier in the summer: Clark Graebner, who grew up in Beachwood, Ohio, just around the corner from Cleveland Heights; and Arthur Ashe, the slender ("I've never had an injury in my life; there's not enough muscle on me for anything to go wrong"), phlegmatic Army lieutenant from Richmond. In reserve, Dell had Charlie Pasarell of Puerto Rico, who had beaten Graebner in the finals of the Eastern Grass Court Championships at South Orange, N.J. two weeks earlier and had carried Ken Rosewall, the world's No. 2-ranking player, to five sets at Wimbledon.
Before play began Dell was optimistic but politely cautious. Ralston, who is now a professional and the U.S. coach, said, "This should be easy. Gisbert is no problem. But anything can happen. One guy can raise his game, another can get nervous, or lose concentration—anything." Spanish Captain Jaime Bartroli said simply, "We need points from everybody."
The first match of the tie put Graebner against Santana. The former ball boy from Madrid is now 30—surely not ancient—and still a master on slow surfaces. The courts at the 6,200-seat Harold T. Clark Stadium at Roxboro Junior High are fast—a composition called Tenni-Flex on an asphalt base—but the Spaniard played as if he were back home on the soggy European clay. He served few aces, but gained control of the points by alternately serving wide to Graebner, who does not move well, then handcuffing Graebner with a service right at him. Then he followed with deft, accurate ground strokes and sharply angled volleys.
For his part, Graebner, who had beaten Santana in straight sets at Wimbledon, was nowhere near the peak of his game, and said bluntly after the match, "I played pretty bad, didn't I?" During the first set and until midway into the second he only occasionally bothered to follow his service to the net, mainly because there was nothing to follow. His first service went in only 54% of the time, and Santana was able to return the second with ease. The match ended quickly, and for Graebner disastrously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.
Ashe and Gisbert were next up. Like Santana, Gisbert is at his best on slow clay (the surface, incidentally, on which the U.S. has been defeated in every year beginning with 1961) but, unlike Santana, he cannot adjust away from it. This match ended quickly, too—in Ashe's favor, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2—and the series was tied 1-1.
The doubles on the second day, then, became what everybody figured it would be: the crucial match of the tie. And both captains used their prerogative and did not announce their player selections until one hour before the match was to begin. On the way to the Interzone semifinal, which included Spanish victories over The Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain and Italy, Santana had played twice with Luis Arilla, a 10-year cup veteran, once with Manuel Orantes, just turned 19, and had sat out one match. The logical choice was Santana-Arilla, but during practice earlier in the week Arilla had pulled a leg muscle, forcing Bartroli to choose Gisbert and to keep Orantes, an unknown quantity in major competition, on the sidelines.