Said Dell, "It frustrates me that everything good I've worked for in tennis over the years is being poisoned, defiled, ruined by Riordan. When you're somebody, you don't have to let everybody know about it, but Riordan is a nobody. It's a fluke that anybody even knows his name. I'll tell you one thing—I don't lie awake nights thinking of Bill Riordan. I don't waste my time. I never think about him the way he does about us.
" Connors is always announcing that he wants to settle the lawsuit. He claims it's hurting the game he loves, that he just wants to get on with playing tennis. Is he forgetting that he sued? He's the plaintiff. All he has to do is pick up the phone to get this over with. But, no, we all know who's behind this one: Riordan. This guy is a gutter fighter, and there's no way I am climbing down to his level."
On the wall of Donald Dell's law office at Dell, Craighill, Fentress & Benton, a few blocks from the White House, there is a small painting framed in elegant wood and hung higher than any other picture in the room. Higher than a photograph of Dell's twin 2-year-old daughters. Higher than the lithographs of his schools, Yale and the University of Virginia Law School. Higher, even, than an autographed family picture of his mentor and a former candidate for Vice-President of the United States, Sargent Shriver.
The painting is signed by Carole Osche, a striking blonde Pan American stewardess before she married Dell. It is a painting of the Davis Cup.
For nearly 15 years now there has scarcely been a time when the name of Donald Dell was not associated with the Davis Cup. He was a member of the team in 1961, '62 and '63 during his peak years as a player. In 1968, just after serving as an advance man in Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign, he accepted the position of captain and led a rejuvenated U.S. side to back-to-back victories after a four-year losing streak—a streak that had been lengthening since he left the team.
Dell resigned under fire following the 1969 cup matches. Open tennis was the new wave then. Dell envisioned his bellwethers, Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith, as "the Palmer and Nicklaus of tennis in the '70s" and himself as their business representative. Having taken the Davis Cup team around the country, demanding that the players be paid prize money rather than under-the-table guarantees, Dell knew he was becoming "too commercial" for the USLTA.
Dell always insisted that he desired only to "maximize" himself in the Davis Cup captaincy. To get into it and do the best job he could in turning the team around. To win, and then get out. He never wanted a kingdom, or even a rose garden. And when USLTA President Alastair Martin told Dell he was undergoing terrific pressure to unload him, Dell said that was O.K., too. "I'll resign quietly," he told Martin. "But just remember one thing. I'm going to be in professional tennis a long time after they've forgotten how to spell your first name."
In his New Frontier days Dell had assisted Robert Kennedy in his 1966 campaign for Democratic office seekers in the Midwest, inevitably teaching and competing with the Senator on the tennis court. Of his weekends at Hyannis-port Dell once said, "It was unbelievable. Everyone there was a General Gavin or a William Styron or a Lillian Hell-man. I just sat in corners and sucked my thumb."
But critics have suggested that Dell took more out of Camelot than a merit badge in celebrity gazing; he has been accused of Kennedy-inspired "steamroller tactics," of "ruthlessness" toward those who crossed him or his clients.
Moreover, there are many people in tennis—and not just Bill Riordan and Jimmy Connors—who contend that Dell never left the Davis Cup team. His legacy was his own coach, Dennis Ralston, who became captain and won three more cups on the broad back of Smith before the rules were changed and the International Lawn Tennis Federation let everybody play. "Everybody" turned out to be some Australian chaps named Laver, Rosewall and Newcombe, who beat the U.S. in 1973. Since then, with Connors sitting on his hands and with Ashe not exactly falling over himself to play, the Yankee side has been defeated in successive years by a couple of se�ors, Colombia and Mexico.