SI Vault
Arthur Ashe
March 10, 1975
Emmo, Rocket, Newk, Muscles—after countless rounds of beer and games of tennis, the author toasts a close-knit and jut-jawed crew
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March 10, 1975

A Shout For Those Aussies

Emmo, Rocket, Newk, Muscles—after countless rounds of beer and games of tennis, the author toasts a close-knit and jut-jawed crew

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But nowadays things are different. You take the best young Aussie, Ross (Snake) Case. He's a cute little guy, looks something like a koala bear, but he gets away with murder. The other day, a bunch of Aussies were waiting for a car. It pulls up, the driver opens the trunk, and it's Snake who throws his luggage right in and then takes the best seat up front as if he owned the car. All the other Aussies laughed at his nerve, and they took it. Hopman never would have tolerated that kind of behavior from a kid.

Hopman conditioned his boys to extend themselves, to play when they hurt. I can see any one of them now, say, down 30-40 after losing a hard point. But one deep breath and right back at you—and all the time exuding confidence, sure that they'll win this point, make it deuce, sweep the next two and the game. Hell, ace you the next two. You felt that across the net; still do when you play one of Hop's boys. Tired as an Aussie may be, he will always make it a point to cross over standing straight up, breathing easy. It is a matter of pride never to let you know they can be tired. And with Hopman sitting there watching them during Davis Cup matches, they were like the little Spartan boy with the fox eating his stomach out. They were more afraid of Hopman than anybody on the other side of the net.

He would never get out of his chair. Just sit and watch. But after all the harassment and hectoring in practice, when it was a match he was a model of reassurance. No matter how badly a guy would be playing, he'd say, "Keep going for the lines, hit out, don't ease up and play safe." Fred Stolle told me that in the key '64 Challenge Round match against Ralston, when he, Stolle, crossed over at two sets apiece and a break in the fifth set, Hop just said, "Go for the lines." Stolle broke Ralston's next game with a lob just in. Go for the lines.

Hopman was a long time coming around to playing Stolle. He didn't think Fred had guts enough. One year Stolle made the Wimbledon finals, but Hopman still wouldn't use him. When he finally did select him for an important match, against Mexico in '65, he never gave Fred a clue to his intentions. Stolle didn't know he was playing until his name came out of the bowl at the draw. Fred's case was unusual. Most times, if you got behind Hopman's eight-ball you never got out.

What sets the Aussies farthest apart from the rest of us is that they never stop being a team. They are traveling alone in the world, and so they look out for one another. It does not matter which one of them is playing, at least one other Aussie will be watching. And if he loses, there will also be at least one mate to console him over a few beers.

I first went to Australia in 1965, and I've spent better than a year of my life Down Under—plus no telling how many years made up of days and nights with Aussies all over the world. The Australians are among the nicest people I've met, and if they call us "the bloody Yanks," they have a great affinity for Americans—certainly much more affection than for the British, whom they sneer at as "pommie bostads."

I must say that I have never had any problem whatsoever in Australia with regard to race and, according to Newcombe, the government and the people don't give a hang about blacks like me, one way or the other. The immigration policies, he says, were aimed strictly at keeping the Asian hordes out. Of course, it all amounted to the same thing.

The Aussie players tend to have very little interest in politics. Newcombe, who is among the brightest of them all, is the exception, though Stolle also has some strong political opinions. The players are usually conservative, as nouveau riche tend to be everywhere—the British have an expression for it: "Bang the bell, Jack, I'm on the bus." The rest of us are laughing at the Aussies now because a Labor government was voted in recently for the first time in many years, and it is raising taxes. I mentioned this to Muscles Rosewall in the locker room, and with a perfectly straight face he replied, "It doesn't concern me too much, of course, but they are taking the rich a bit much." As if he were not among the Australian rich.

Muscles still has every dollar he ever made, and he still dresses like a farmer come to town. On those rare occasions when he cracks a joke in the locker room, the whole place falls silent in shock. But he owns the complete respect of the players, as a man and as a competitor. Unlike Laver and Newcombe and Emerson and several of the others who have tennis interests and homes in the U.S., Muscles has few ties to America. He is strictly an old-fashioned family man—and an Australian. He plays much as he lives, never changing his game for anybody.

It is interesting to note, for instance, that while our backhands are our best shots, I have three different backhands, but Muscles has only one. I can hit a flat backhand, on top of the ball or under it. Muscles just hits every backhand the same—perfect. He also never has to hurry a shot. I have no idea how he manages it, but 99% of the time he is in perfect position to hit whatever you send back. This gives him an edge few people are aware of. It gives him the time to disguise his shots; you seldom can tell what is coming. His lob, particularly from the forehand side, is bouncing back by the baseline at approximately the time you figure out that he has lobbed you.

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