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On the U.S. side the scene was calmer, more intense. Because of the U.S. Davis Cup team upset by Mexico, there seemed a good chance that Ralston, respected by almost all of America's top players except Connors, would lose his job as Davis Cup captain.
"For us, this is the Davis Cup," said Stockton.
Stockton played a gutty first set, breaking Laver when he had to and tying the score 5-5, then breaking a second straight time to win. He fell behind again in the second set and could not fight back. Laver was smashing his usual screamers down the line and cross-court, and serving well when he needed to. The whole opening match thus went down to a third-set 13-point tie breaker—first man to get seven points wins.
Stockton seemed to have it in the bag when he fought to a 6-5 lead and had two serves coming. Win either one of them and the U.S. would be off to a fine start and he would have his first win ever over the fabled Rocket.
A Laver ground stroke, blazing as usual, forced Stockton to volley into the net. It was 6-6 and people in the crowd with sweaty palms were wondering how the players could hold on to their rackets. On the next point Laver hit a lob deep to Stockton's backhand corner and Stockton raced back to return it nicely, but he was hopelessly out of position. Laver had five acres of open court and chose to nudge the ball back over the net. Stockton left the court in tears.
In Friday night's first singles, America once again started well by taking the first set and once again faltered, John Newcombe beating Ashe 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 and keeping the Aussies in a lighthearted mood. Captain Fred Stolle was not exempted from the needling, even though he had the key to the beer locker.
"When Arthur was ahead 4-3 in the second set," said Newcombe, "Fred said, 'You better break him.' I said, 'You're right, Fred. I am running out of time, aren't I?' Fred says important things like that."
If Rosewall had won Friday's second singles, the U.S. would have been behind 3-0 and in the near-hopeless position of having to win four straight matches to regain the cup, "a long road back," as Ralston said. But Stan Smith, in the unaccustomed role of playing third singles for his country, got off to a fast start, held on and beat Rosewall 6-2, 7-6. Up to then, Smith, many times a Davis Cup hero, had a 1-8 record in World Cup.
On Saturday afternoon Stockton had another difficult task: playing Newcombe, the man with the best forehand in tennis and perhaps the best all-round game. "Dickie," as the oldtimers in tennis call Stockton, had not slept well since his loss to Laver. He started in the sport so young that he is the only player in history to suffer from tennis elbow and diaper rash at the same time. He won 20 national junior titles, reached the semis at Wimbledon last year and was a teammate of Newcombe's in team tennis, so it was unlikely that he would be in awe of his opponent. Yet during the first set he couldn't get his first serve in and lost 6-4.
In the second set he came to life. Ralston told him to quit sagging visibly after missing a shot because Newcombe was getting a mental lift from it. Stockton kept the ball to Newk's backhand on the big points, got his serve under control and beat his elder for the first time ever, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.