Among other things, that '73 triumph produced a $100,000 payday for the Australian Association—and it desperately needed money. The ineptitude of amateur sports officials is not confined to the U.S.; amateur artlessness is no respecter of race, color, creed or nationality. In 1969, when the capable Wayne Reid took over the LTAA, after the Aussies had reigned for a generation, the association was broke. The ruling clique ruled absurdly. Small-town LTAA functionaries would be brought into the cities to enjoy championships on expense accounts, but players were so taken for granted that once, in 1965, at the height of his powers, Emerson, undisputed No. 1 in the world, was refused expenses of �6 a day to play in the Victorian championships.
Given the quality of leadership, the Aussies were not prepared when open tennis came. As recently as 1972, the Australian Open, first leg of the Grand Slam, offered a pot of $13,500. With no annual Challenge Round to attract stars and world interest, spectators Down Under disappeared overnight. Even now, Hopman says that so much energy must be devoted merely to romancing players to journey to Australian tournaments that there is not enough money or effort left to lavish on producing prospects. There is likewise a failure of identity, for among those world-class players least interested in playing in Australia are many Australians. Like Hopman, most of the big stars now reside in the States. Moreover, because college tennis is only an intramural activity in Australia, there is a drain at the other end, too: 200 or more of the best young Aussie kids are on tennis scholarships at U.S. colleges (and likely to stay here as teaching pros when they graduate).
But the important thing, the sad, selfish thing, is not that Australia has suffered a loss, but that tennis has. In a very real sense, the Aussies set the tone of the game. If America is the bankroll, Britain the mother, Australia is the conscience of tennis. The words Allison Danzig wrote many years ago still ring true: "I was impressed, too, by the dignity and unfailing composure with which the Australians carried themselves on the court—the carriage of thoroughbreds." The greatest tribute to the Aussies in Hartford is that everyone connected with the World Cup seems more interested in keeping the Aussies than in selling out the Civic Center. The charming Captain Stolle has so endeared himself to the Insurance City that he is held in the esteem usually reserved only for paid-up octogenarian policyholders.
This time in defeat, as always in victory, the Aussies played hard and fair, with never an alibi. "It sounds old fuddy-duddy," says Newcombe, who didn't play on account of a broken ankle, "but it happens to be true: we have no fear of losing. That's why we've always been such good match players. We were brought up to play the game, just to go out there and play our best." All players of all nations felt an unconscious pressure to live up to that graceful standard. It is impossible to conceive that the tasteless hijinks of a Nastase would be tolerated today were the Australians still in the saddle.
Tennis has never been more international. By almost unanimous accord, the top seven players of '76 came from seven different countries on three continents. Yet this spectacular diffusion of talent comes at a high price. There are no nationalities left in tennis, just freebooters roaming the tournament seas. Connors, Borg and Nastase could not be bothered to play for the world championship in the Grand Prix finals at Houston in December. None of these three glamour players (or Adriano Panatta, the handsome Italian star) played more than 15 tournaments last year. Because none of the rich young heroes appear to have any interest in the game much beyond where their booking agents direct them, Newcombe, who is all but retired as a serious competitor, felt obliged to take over the presidency of the players' union, the Association of Tennis Professionals.
So, at least in this one symbolic way, the Aussies still lead—even if that scepter must be passed on soon enough, too. And some other team will play in the World Cup. There are always hot box-office opponents to be found. Hartford will not miss the Australians for being worthy rivals nearly so much as the game will struggle without those thoroughbreds to support its burdens.