FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 1974—HARTFORD
We're playing the World Cup, which is not a world cup at all but a competition between Australian and American professionals—five singles and two doubles matches. It was inaugurated five years ago at a time when the pros were locked out of the Davis Cup.
Tennis is not really a team sport. When it is played as a team sport, it is a forcing of the issue; it is just a number of separate matches totaled up. Still, the Davis Cup has been contested for three-quarters of a century, and in this country college team tennis has a long tradition, so that all of us who play the game have a certain experience with the concept and spirit of playing on a team. The '68 U.S. team I was on that won back the Davis Cup was a unit in the highest athletic sense.
But as an ongoing team, an entity, a tradition, nothing in tennis has ever approached the Aussies. They have an esprit no other country's players have. They are a breed apart.
For one thing, the Australians travel better than the rest of us, which is more important than it sounds. We never see homesick Aussies; if an Australian makes the tour it is understood that he cannot be homesick.
This sets the tone for their whole philosophy, for just as they accept traveling as part of the game, so they accept every other variable. Rarely, if ever, will an Aussie complain about calls. They play the game, not the lines. In private, the Aussies will complain about the money—aside from buying beers, they are a nation of tightwads—but never will they complain about conditions or use them as alibis. If the lights are bad or the crowd is noisy or the surface is slick or whatever, they keep their mouths shut. If you have an injury, you can default; if you play, you don't have an injury. You're playing, aren't you? "You walk on the court, you have no excuses," Roy Emerson told me once, and that is the credo.
The whole world has tried to adopt their training methods, and while they are no secret, they have never worked as well for any other nation. The rigorous exercises have been just right for the Aussies for a couple of reasons. First of all, the Australians are good athletes; they are athletes who happen to be tennis players. They didn't learn in country clubs. Secondly, though probably more important, it is part of their culture to endure. By their own definition, they are a nation of "mutton-punchers" and "sod-busters" and so it was relatively easy for them to accept the Marquis de Sade exercises that, in the main, Harry Hopman devised.
Hop is the father figure of Australian tennis—or the godfather figure. From 1938 on he was captain of the Davis Cup team for most of 30 years, and while he had been a world-class player himself, he made his mark as a team leader. He wasn't just captain, he was everything: coach, administrator, trainer, warden, chaperon. He even wrote his own newspaper scoops. He is the one constant in the Aussie story, and while many of the guys who played for him still hate his bloody guts, they all give him credit. Since I never played for Hopman, he was always very kind to me. It was only his own players he treated like dogs. He was the first person to suggest that I try Butazolidin for my tennis elbow.
Of all Hopman's training devices, the most maniacal is the two-on-one drill: two guys on one side of the net hitting to the target player on the other. It's as simple as it sounds and it's a universal procedure now, but it is absolutely the most grueling exercise. For the Aussies, it is just something to get them past the pain barrier.
Yet probably as important as the training methods that he created was the sense of team, of continuity, that Hopman developed. Among the stars, a tradition of responsibility grew early, and each of the big players passed something on: Sedgman and McGregor to Anderson and Cooper to Rosewall and Hoad to Laver and Emerson to Newcombe and Roche, where the string ran out. The younger Aussies, the ones who never had the benefit of Hopman, are different. They don't have the same spirit and outlook. The money has changed a lot of things. Hopman probably couldn't run things his way anymore. He treated newcomers to the squad with contempt. Here was some hotshot kid, junior champion, the comer, and Hopman made him into an errand boy, an orange squeezer. The reserves on the team didn't hit a ball unless Hopman deigned to let them. On the other hand, if he thought one of his stars needed work, he'd bring out a reserve and use him as a ball machine for as long as it suited his purposes. One time I saw Bill Bowrey serve to Roy Emerson for better than half an hour straight.