- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In Sweden last week, the Prime Minister quit and the government collapsed. But on Friday night, in gray old G�teborg's Scandinavium, the largest indoor arena in the Nordic countries, 10,200 Swedes forgot politics for the moment and bayed instead for the blood of Vitas Gerulaitis.
He had begun to irritate them early in the match, from the fourth game of the first set when he had successfully appealed a line call. And he had irritated them still further with a deep, courtly and insulting bow to his opponent, Kjell Johansson, when the Swede patted an inept lob away over the baseline. All this might be reasonably regarded as part of the give-and-take of top-level tennis. And, as a rule, Swedish sports crowds are notably good-natured.
But the scoreboard did not read "Johansson" and "Gerulaitis." Instead, it was "Sverige" and " USA." No man-to-man tournament this but the second singles match of a semifinal of the 1978 Davis Cup. And however diminished in prestige that trophy might have become since the glorious days of the '50s—when they had to put extra seating in the stands at Sydney, when 25,000 Aussies a day came to watch—few tennis events have the power to turn politely clapping spectators into raucous, chauvinistic fans. Or, come to that, to inspire a Studio 54-haunting young cosmopolite like Gerulaitis to confess to national pride as he did, however obliquely. "I'm not playing for Lithuania, man," he said. "There are a lot of people in the United States."
After the heat of Friday died down, nostalgic Swedes were recalling that Bjorn Borg was not even born the last time the two countries met in the Davis Cup. That was in 1954 when the U.S., represented by Vic Seixas, Ham Richardson and Tony Trabert, breezed home 5-0. And now, almost a quarter of a century later, Trabert was back in Sweden as non-playing captain, a stocky man in whose features one could still see the crew-cut boy who won at Paris, Wimbledon and Forest Hills in 1955.
Before the five-match encounter in G�teborg, his analysis was frank. "If we beat Borg that will just be icing on the cake," he said. "Anybody we have is automatically the underdog against him. Our obvious task is to beat Johansson twice and win the doubles."
That 3-2 projection left little margin for error. Conceding the two singles matches Borg would play meant that both Arthur Ashe and Gerulaitis would have to beat Johansson, who had overcome the Hungarian, Balazs Taroczy, and the Spaniard, Jos� Higueras, to help put Sweden in the Cup semis. " Borg did not beat Hungary and Spain all by himself," Trabert pointed out.
But at least for the doubles match, Trabert was not the worried man he had been the previous Sunday evening in his room at G�teborg's Park Avenue Hotel. His original choice for the doubles had been Stan Smith and Bob Lutz, in his opinion the best qualified, most experienced team in the U.S. These days, though, our players do not clamber over each other to represent their country in the Davis Cup, as witness Jimmy Connors. Smith was willing, Lutz was not.
"We worked hard to get him to play," said Trabert, "but he, or his agent, was adamant that he would not." So Dick Stockton was recruited in his place. Then on Sunday evening, five days before the matches, Stockton, as Trabert delicately put it, "was nice enough to call." Stockton, who was in San Francisco, said his back was bothering him. That was at 8 p.m., Swedish time. Davis Cup rules state that while a substitution is allowed, it must be made at least five days before a match. So the deadline was midnight on Sunday. Otherwise the U.S. would have to go with a three-man team.
As a forlorn hope, Trabert asked Stockton to scout around in San Francisco, where the Transamerica tournament was going on, to try to find somebody within the next four hours. At 11:45 p.m., resigned to events, Trabert was reading in bed. Then the phone rang. It was Lutz from San Francisco. "Looks like I'm needed," he said, and he was told that he surely was.
It wasn't that easy. Formal notification had to be made to the Davis Cup Committee. It was, in fact, 11:57 p.m. when a telegram, duly notarized with the time on it, was dispatched, after no local official could be raised in G�teborg. That wire was enough, though. Last Wednesday, Smith and Lutz arrived in Sweden. They were jet-lagged but at least they would not have to play until Saturday. However, 24 hours before the doubles the first of the singles matches was scheduled—Ashe against Borg. Ashe's tactics were easy to forecast. There could be no question of a baseline slug-out. "Knowing Arthur," Trabert said, "he'll try to hit some underspin forehands where normally he would hit over the ball. He'll attack some, throw in some floaters, sneak in behind a few, hit some balls short and low, make Borg come in."