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Trabert's appearance with the Davis Cup team was a true homecoming. With Vic Seixas, he had been the mainstay of the U.S. in the early '50s. In a five-year period Trabert compiled an undefeated record in zone play, though he was on only one team that won the cup. He was a logical choice for captain when the USTA was throwing out the names of every Connors-approved human they could think of from Riordan to Pancho Segura.
In Tucson, Trabert was fortified by the presence of two of his camp counselors, a business partner, his sister-in-law, his mother, his wife Emeryl and their dog Little Stuff. There was no denying the emotion of the occasion. Walking from his casita to the courts for the first match on Friday, Trabert told his family he was dedicating the team's 1976 effort to the memory of his brother, who died in a plane crash last year. Tears streamed down Trabert's face. "I'm not ashamed," he said. "This is one of my proudest moments, like making the Hall of Fame."
Later Trabert laughed off any nervousness, but Connors said, "Don't let him kid you. Coach was really twitchin'."
Rumors of discord between Trabert and Connors were easily put to rest by the obviously easy camaraderie between the two. During practice Trabert would make suggestions on shot strategy and Connors would acquiesce. The captain even had the temerity to confront Connors about his famous language and curious finger motions on the court. "I did it quietly," Trabert joked. But Connors was the model of decorum against Venezuela.
"If I mess around when it's just me and lose, then it's just me who lost," Connors said. "But here it's not just me. I'm not going to take any chances of letting down Roscoe and the rest. One person can't win the Davis Cup."
After all his inflammatory lawsuits and reputation as a loner, Connors' legitimate concern was how his teammates would react to him. Room assignments—a key in this regard—were taken care of by the marital makeup of the team. Roscoe Tanner and the doubles pair of Erik van Dillen and Dick Stockton were with their wives. That left Connors to share a casita with Vitas Gerulaitis and Billy Martin, and Trabert to watch closely how everyone got along.
"I hoped team spirit would build a close personal relationship," said Trabert. "I think it has."
The 24-year-old van Dillen has been playing Davis Cup since he was in swaddling clothes, and he was a rival of Connors when both were juniors and van Dillen was beating everybody on the way to the major championships Connors wound up winning. The two also have been separated over the years by the bitter machinations of their respective managers, Riordan and Donald Dell. But van Dillen was loudest of all in praise of his new teammate.
"Whatever you write about Jimmy here, write something good," he said. "He's really made an effort and worked his tail off. I think he has learned, just as in business when you can't work a guy over then expect him to have lunch with you, a tennis player can't be an ass on court and a pal off.
"Segura once told me Jimmy hated me," van Dillen went on, "but I didn't really know the kid. I'd see him at tournaments and say, 'Hi, good win' or something. Now I won't hesitate to ask him to lunch or to go out on the town at night. That's what Davis Cup competition does to us guys."