Davis Cup Captain Tony Trabert was cautious and just a bit apprehensive last week in the beautiful, mountain-ringed city of Caracas as his U.S. team practiced for its matches with Venezuela, the first step in what is hoped will be a march to the final round late next year.
This was Trabert talking at courtside or in his hotel room: "We're not taking anyone lightly." and, "We're taking this thing seriously." and. "We have planned and prepared, we're not just flying by the seat of our pants." On the surface the U.S. had little cause to worry about Venezuela in tennis. The latest chatter from the official computer ranks Venezuela's best players, Jorge Andrew and Humphrey Hose, No. 139 and No. 282 respectively in the world. But Trabert knew that Latins had upset U.S. Davis Cup teams six times in the last 10 years, starting with the underdog Spaniards in 1965, and followed by Brazil in 1966, Ecuador in 1967, Colombia in 1974 and Mexico twice, in 1975 and 1976.
This time Trabert promised that if the U.S. did not win he would dive into the Caribbean and swim home, after first slathering himself with shark bait. He was saved from an untimely end when the U.S. defeated Venezuela 4-1.
Trabert assembled a powerful squad from three continents for the Caracas matches: singles players Dick Stockton and Vitas Gerulaitis, both in the world's top 20, and the doubles team of Freddy McNair and Sherwood Stewart, rated one of the three best pairs on earth. Gerulaitis flew down from the U.S., Stockton came all the way from Tokyo and McNair-Stewart arrived from Cologne.
In addition, this U.S. squad had some advantages over the one that was upset 4-1 in Bogot� by a Colombian team that didn't rank much higher on the computer's hit parade than the Venezuelans. The elevation in Caracas—3,418 feet above sea level—takes getting used to but it is 5,000 feet lower than Bogot�, and whereas the Bogot� matches were played on clay, the courts at Caracas' pretty Altamira Tennis Club are covered with Porosol, a concrete-hard, extremely fast surface suited to most Yankees.
As if anything else were needed, Trabert brought with him from Los Angeles Dr. Omar Fareed, an expert on tropical diseases and the answer to two trivia questions. Who was the blocking back for the very first Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago? Why, Omar Fareed, of course. And who is the father-in-law of tennis player Charlie Pasarell? You guessed it. Trabert also invited new pro Bill Scan-Ion along. He is the baby-faced NCAA champion from Trinity University who already has moved up to No. 51 in the computer's rankings. A Davis Cup squad is limited to four men, so Scanlon was along strictly for seasoning and an exhibition match on Saturday.
"Scanlon's had an awfully good year," said Trabert. "Everyone I've talked to is extremely impressed with his potential. He looks to me like the next great American player. It's good to have him sort of get the feel of Davis Cup play."
By Friday, when the first two singles matches were played, each U.S. team member had had at least four days to acclimatize himself to the altitude and the time zone. They were all confident, although Gerulaitis, McNair and Stewart had never played Davis Cup before.
A drizzle momentarily held up the first match but it got started just after 5 p.m. in the gathering dusk. To help increase attendance, Trabert had agreed to the late-afternoon start, but he had hoped Gerulaitis would play first for the U.S. Instead, Stockton's name had come up in the draw. This is the 25-year-old Stockton's third straight year playing Davis Cup, but he had been complaining about the lights in late-afternoon practices, and Trabert thought he might get psyched out in the twilight.
A Davis Cup captain needs things to fret over, such as making ice cubes out of bottled water to guard his team from turista, but he need not have fretted about Stockton. He broke Jorge Andrew in the third game and rolled on to a straight-set victory, 6-2, 6-4, 9-7. Andrew, who was reared in Caracas and grew up playing at Altamira, led 5-4 and 6-5 in the third and had two set points, but Stockton followed Trabert's advice, quit being too careful returning serve and started "driving through the ball" and pulled the set out.