The claim that Dell still controls the team is based on the fact that nearly all U.S. Davis Cup personnel are managed by him, including former Captain Ralston. It is hardly Dell's fault that he happens to represent all the best U.S. players with the exception of Connors and Dick Stockton. Still, it is no secret that Connors' refusal to compete in cup play is as much a result of the Riordan-Dell fallout as it is an outgrowth of Connors' much-publicized pique at Ralston.
That messy business began in 1972 in Jamaica during a cup match against the British Caribbean team when Connors was passed over for one of the two starting singles spots in favor of Tom Gorman and Erik van Dillen, a pair of Dell stablehands. Connors had outplayed both men on the indoor circuit, but was experiencing problems in Kingston when Ralston named his team. Insiders admit the existence of a personality clash between Ralston and Connors, and that the captain considered the 19-year-old a "loudmouthed spoiled brat."
After the U.S. had clinched the match 3-0 Connors was scheduled to play singles on the final day, when he suddenly left Jamaica because of the death of his grandmother. He has never returned to the Davis Cup team.
Later that spring the U.S. met Mexico in the next round. Connors had a plane ticket paid for by the USLTA to join the squad in Mexico City, but he never showed, choosing instead to go to England and practice on the grass for Wimbledon. The following year he volunteered his services to the team for the final round, but was turned down by Ralston.
In 1974 tempers simmered. Ralston claims that before cup play that season he tried to phone Connors on three occasions but was not allowed to speak to him. Riordan says J. Harcourt Woods, the chairman of the USLTA Davis Cup committee, contacted him about the possibility of Connors playing. According to Riordan, Woods said the team did not need Connors against Mexico, but could use him in the following round against South Africa.
After Mexico's upset victory in Palm Springs, on the same day Connors was defeating Laver in his first challenge match, Woods called Connors "unpatriotic."
Riordan has made Dell a plotter in all of this. Yet Dell says he never fully agreed with Ralston in his handling of Connors. "When I was captain, I wanted to win above anything," Dell says. "I would make Jimmy Connors' mother my manager if that's what it took to get him to play. In 1973 Laver and Newcombe didn't join the Australian team until the last match, and I'm not sure I wouldn't have brought in Connors if he sincerely wanted to play. But Dennis is a strong-willed individual, and when he makes up his mind, that's it."
Some think the Dell-Riordan quarrel affected the composition of this year's cup team. For example, why wasn't young Vitas Gerulaitis, a Riordan man, chosen for the team after he destroyed the Mexican star, Raul Ramirez, at the Philadelphia Indoors three weeks before Ramirez wiped out the U.S. team?
Ashe, for the defense, says no man should be picked for the squad on the basis of one match. Yet Ralston picked Stockton (also a non-Dell man, remember), and then played him in the key doubles with Bob Lutz on the basis of no matches. Both Lutz and Stockton are backhand side players in doubles and had never competed together. They blew a big lead in losing. So what price Stockton? It is a measure of the deep-seated feelings in both camps that a rumor persists that Stockton was selected only to pacify the anti-Dell faction.
"My feelings must have really been torn," says Dell, who has become cynical rather than angry about the entire affair. " Ramirez, my Mexican guy, against all my U.S. guys. Who do I root for?"