Let us face it, tennis fans and vessel lovers. Compared to the Davis Cup, America's Cup, Rose Bowl, Wightman Cup or Old Oaken Bucket—and even your old fraternity beer mug—the Aetna World Cup does not stack up in the hoary-tradition department. It has never been bent out of shape in some undergraduate tug-of-war. It has not sat rusting in some spotlighted trophy case since the administration of Franklin Pierce. In fact, despite its grandiose name, the world took little note last week when a group of superior athletes met in Trinity College's small gymnasium in Hartford, Conn. to battle a fourth time for the cup's possession.
The idea of the World Cup is to pit the best players from the U.S. and Australia against each other for seven matches, five singles and two doubles, with $20,000 going to the winners, $10,000 to the losers and any residue of goodwill to the sponsoring insurance company, which foots the bills and gives ticket and program proceeds to charity. If you think this sounds a little like the Davis Cup, you're right. Except, of course, that a few dozen tennis-playing countries and several vast continents are eliminated right off the bat—er, racket—without any of their players getting a chance to lace up a shoe. Perhaps it is all a capitalistic plot by Aetna to avoid associating its name with Rumania's Ilie Nastase.
Anyway, it was just Aussies vs. Yanks in Trinity College's gym, fighting it out the way they so often have in Davis Cup finals. The deciding match came on Sunday in a confrontation between America's tall Stan Smith, voted the best player on earth in 1972, and stubby Ken Rosewall, at 38 an ancient of the sport who last represented his country in international play 17 years ago. That was in the 1956 Davis Cup and since then Rosewall has helped to bring professional tennis from the dim courts and paltry—sometimes nonexistent—paychecks to the point where he earned $100,000 for winning the last two pro championships.
Even though Rocket Rod Laver was kept out of play by an aching back, Australia led 3-2 going into the Smith-Rose-wall match, so Smith had to win or the remaining doubles match between Marty Riessen and Arthur Ashe of the U.S. and Aussies Roy Emerson and John Newcombe would be meaningless. In the first set Smith broke Rosewall to take a 6-5 lead and had only to hold service to win it, but Rosewall broke back to force a 12-point tie breaker. Stan took that tie breaker, but from then on he hardly seemed to be in the match. Rosewall won the next two sets, 6-0, 6-4, and took the World Cup for Australia for the third time in four years. The meaningless doubles match was also won by Australia, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3.
It was time for the Aussies to give out with their victory chant, which ends, "Moll moll honolu, Tiparoo tiparoo. We are the boys of kangaroo. Who are we? We are they, we are the boys of kangaroo, ya ya ya." We presume that it is only chanted late at night after many celebration beers.
The World Cup started in 1970, the result of much hard work and patient haggling by Jim Smith, a persistent seeker of decent tennis facilities for Boston's inner city, and Bud Collins, columnist for The Boston Globe and a man of many distinctions, one of which is that he once was Abbie Hoffman's tennis coach at Brandeis University. "A real character builder," he describes himself. Smith had the idea, Collins had the contacts and with much help from former Davis Cup captain Donald Dell and Arthur Ashe, they plowed through 10 miles of red tape and got it going. For a bit of instant tradition, they ordered their trophy—on credit—from the same Boston jewelry store, Shreve, Crump & Low, that for $750 had crafted the Davis Cup back in 1900. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, its publisher's arm being gently twisted by Collins, paid part of the tab.
The first year two Aussies, Newcombe and Fred Stolle, stood off four Yanks, Ashe, Smith, Clark Graebner and Cliff Richey, to win $11,000 (the losers split $9,000). There was some money left over to buy and refurbish some tennis courts at Jim Smith's Sportsmen's Club, where the surfaces had been unfavorably compared with a cobblestone street. In 1971 the prize money went up to $30,000 and Dennis Ralston was the hero in a U.S. victory, even though the Aussies took unfair advantage by showing up with four men. But the event was now getting too big for Smith and Collins.
Enter Aetna, which figured it might as well join Commercial Union, Virginia Slims, Miller High Life, Michelob and all the other American companies riding the tennis wave. Aetna moved the show to its sports-starved hometown, Hartford, and agreed to help the Sportsmen's Club each year in addition to kicking in to some Hartford charity. A dingy armory was rejected as the site and Trinity College was picked until a 10,000-seat civic arena could be completed. Last year the Aussies took a 2-1 lead in the series and did it convincingly, whomping the Yanks 6-1. Charlie Pasarell was the lone American winner.
The squads this year were Smith, Riessen, Ashe and Bob Lutz for the U.S., with Ralston the captain, and Rosewall, Newcombe, Emerson and John Alexander for Australia, the team captained by Stolle, that master of Down Under psychology.
"Hold this serve," he would say to Emerson during the rest periods, "there's a nice cold beer waiting for you."