In the rotunda of Cleveland's City Hall one day last week the Australian Davis Cup team—John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Mai Anderson and nonplaying Captain Neale Fraser—was an impressive sight. The five men were decked out in yellow sports jackets, each decorated on the breast pocket with their country's coat of arms, which from the back row of the audience seemed to be a kangaroo and an emu rampant on a tennis court. Here they were, in all their splendor, back in the States determined to take possession of what every Aussie from Brisbane to Blackbutt, from the scroungiest outback shack to the Sydney Opera House, considers to be his birthright, the Davis Cup.
The American men had jackets and crests, too, and they were not at all in agreement with the Aussies as to where the cup belonged. This was pretty much the same group, led by Stan Smith, ranked No. 1 in the world, that had withstood the horrors of Bucharest in 1972 and kept Rumania from taking the cup that has been in U.S. clutches since 1968. However, Cleveland was to have horrors of a different sort. As Smith pointed out, "The only condition against us here is pure talent."
On closer inspection the Aussie coat of arms turned out to feature a kangaroo and an emu all right, but they were merely posing against a colorful shield. The rampant-on-a-tennis-court part came later, on Friday and Saturday. Newcombe beat Smith in a marvelous five-setter, Laver beat Tom Gorman in another five sets and the new doubles team of Newcombe-Laver annihilated Smith and Erik van Dillen in three straight sets. Ken Rosewall, at 39 still one of the finest players in the world, had not lifted a racket in anger, yet the Aussies had an unbeatable 3-0 lead and the Davis Cup was as good as locked up tight in the vault of the Bank of New South Wales in Melbourne.
The Aussies celebrated Saturday night with a bathtubful of Foster's Lager sent them by the Australian ambassador. Then on Sunday afternoon Newcombe drubbed Gorman in straight sets 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 and Laver completed the carnage by beating Smith 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Final score: Australia 5, U.S. 0.
The rout was appreciated almost instantly Down Under, too, because it was sent live to more than 50 TV stations there via satellite, in black and white because Australia does not have color yet. When the matches started each day at 2 p.m. Cleveland time, it was 5 a.m. the following day in Australia, summer rather than winter, and it is a safe presumption that thousands and perhaps even hundreds of thousands of sleepy-eyed Aussies were tuned in for the first serve each session.
The results for the U.S. were abysmal, and the attendance was nearly as bad. Cleveland Public Hall seats 5,984 people, but only about 3,000 showed up for the first singles matches Friday afternoon and between 4,000 and 5,000 on Saturday for the doubles. Yet it was in this same metropolis that lawyer Bob Malaga earned his reputation as America's hotshot tennis promoter, the magician who somehow got more than 20,000 people to turn out in three days in 1970 to see the U.S. play a challenge round against West Germany's Wilhelm Bungert and Christian Kuhnke. Or was it Wilhelm Kuhnke and Christian Bungert? Wightman Cup matches ( U.S. women vs. British women) averaged 6,000 a day in Cleveland just two years ago.
The excuses given last week were many and varied. Malaga's last nine productions were held outdoors in Clark Stadium and the fans just did not want to watch tennis indoors. It was the holiday season and Clevelanders do not like to leave their firesides except to go to Browns games or do some Christmas shopping at Higbee's. The matches were held during the day instead of at night ( Malaga said he had wanted them at night but was overruled). Some people on the east side of town were able to get around the local blackout and get the U.S. telecast via cable ( Malaga said he had not wanted TV at all). And, of course, there were other possible excuses: the lack of publicity in Ohio, the fuel shortage and the high price of yak butter in Tibet.
Whatever the reasons, there were too few people in the seats and those who were there must have thought they were at a high tea waiting politely for the scones to be served. This was especially true Saturday, with the U.S. down 2-0 and hanging from the edge of a cliff by its fingernails. Only one team, Australia in 1939 ( Adrian Quist and John Bromwich), had ever been behind 2-0 in a final round and fought back to win—it happened to be against the U.S., led by Bobby Riggs and Frank Parker.
But one fan—a friend of U.S. captain Dennis Ralston—decided to get some enthusiasm going. He organized a group of high school kids and led cheers and chants through the doubles match: "Go U.S., beat the Aussies," or, because Van Dillen and Smith are both out of USC, "Go, Trojans, go." Occasionally a few other customers would join in, but their jaws hung most of the time as Newcombe and Laver left them precious little to cheer about.
There were no real surprises at the draw in City Hall preceding the matches. Ralston picked Gorman over Marty Riessen for the singles because he felt Gorman, although not as steady, could raise the level of his game higher at times of pressure. Fraser announced he was keeping his doubles team a deep secret until the legal deadline, one hour before match time, and he put up Newcombe and Laver in the singles.