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SECOND BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH
Frank Deford
September 29, 1969
Defending the Davis Cup, the U.S. schneidered the Rumanians, but the triumph probably rates an asterisk, since the best team in the world—the Australian pros—was ineligible under capricious rules
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September 29, 1969

Second Best Is Good Enough

Defending the Davis Cup, the U.S. schneidered the Rumanians, but the triumph probably rates an asterisk, since the best team in the world—the Australian pros—was ineligible under capricious rules

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On the other side of Roxboro Junior High, in the Rumanian locker room, Tiriac was fuming. An utterly charming man away from the court, he is singularly perverse on it, complaining, glowering, stalking and weaving like a bull at bay.

Now he was unhappy because he could not get any hot water for a shower. Ashe, better versed in the intricacies of American plumbing, had found an obscure valve so that he and his teammates had plenty of water. Tiriac had to go back out cold on a raw, windy day, and he promptly lost serve at 15 in the first game. Warmed up, neither he nor Smith could break the other thereafter, and the set went to the American 6-4 to tie the match at two sets apiece.

Despite their good size, both Tiriac and Nastase have more guile than power. Indeed, their simple inability to put away easy volleys was a significant element in their defeat. But they were tireless dandies, and Tiriac had gone ahead of Smith with a series of beautiful flip-wrist backhands down the line.

Now, as the last set proceeded with close games, Smith began to pass Tiriac with his own (but harder) backhands down the line. At 4-4, with Tiriac serving under a threatening dusk, Smith's backhands got him to love-40. Tiriac came back with four straight points, and he would have held serve with the next point, but he hit a typically soft smash, Smith was able to retrieve it and passed him with another backhand in the next exchange. At last, after four deuces, Smith broke serve with his fifth winning backhand of the key game of the whole match. He held serve at love to put the U.S. up 2-0 and effectively conclude matters.

Smith and Lutz ended things for real the next day 8-6, 6-1, 11-9. That they played well together again and, more important, that Smith showed he could come from behind against a wise and trying opponent under pressure, establishes the Americans as more formidable than ever. It is especially unfortunate, then, that all that can be said with assurance is that they are champions of the Davis Cup and the second-best national tennis team in the world.

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