The devastating doubles triumph would have capped a 3-0 U.S. victory but for the incredible goings-on of the night before, when the American second singles player, Brian Gottfried, gave away the most commanding of leads and was upset by Mottram. This match was, all things considered—the stage, the plot—surely one of the more bizarre moments in Davis Cup history. It will be remembered like some farfetched desert legend, a tale of a lost gold mine up in the mountains, perhaps, or better yet, the Mad Match of the Half Moon.
Because it lasted only 55 games and a modest 4½ hours, it was not, as we conventionally measure these things, of record length. But in fact, the Mad Match transcended the hours, lasting through whole seasons. It began at 1:30 of a crisp spring afternoon, ran through a brief cloudless summer, and then concluded as autumn temperatures fell to near freezing, while citrus fruits and spectators perished all over the Coachella Valley. Only the moon was constant, beginning as a pale spot against the high blue sky, growing brighter as the play went on, and ending up as a leering golden eye.
Below, for much of the match, a crowd of perhaps 300 watched, huddling as the day went to dusk, the dusk to an amazing blue-velvet twilight, and the twilight to utter black. Presiding upon the court was the suave Mexican referee, Pancho Contreras, wearing a yachtsman's white pants and a midnight-blue blazer, and looking for all the world like some Ingmar Bergman metaphor for God (or for Bowie Kuhn, anyway). The only sounds came from the BBC radio announcer, babbling from on high into the eerie void as if he were personally trying to bounce his voice off the moon back to London. Mottram—trailing 2-0 in sets and 3-2 in the third set—got his first break in the match when Gottfried clearly heard the British radio announcer say, "Maybe he'll serve a double," just as he hit his serve. In fact, Brian got the serve in, but, rattled, he banged the following volley long to lose the game—before, in his understated way, he turned and tossed a beseeching look up at the voice.
A few more of the condominium people left; for goodness' sake, it was cocktail time. This rare international competition, which this year involved 59 nations, and had been fought out in the great arenas and cities of the world, was being reduced to a barren absurdity. To keep warm, the surviving spectators began to stamp their feet and call out personal good wishes to the players. Davis Cup final? It was more like a junior-varsity football game, with only girl friends and parents in attendance. This intimacy seemed to affect Gottfried, because he is a nice self-conscious person who performs most comfortably when surrounded by a crowd of quiet, polite spectators. More and more, Brian would play the early points of a game well, but then, as his coterie of pals called to rouse him in the clutch, he would tighten up, rush his shots, fail to hit through them.
Privately, the British were pleased when Tony Trabert, the U.S. captain, selected Gottfried for the singles assignment instead of either of two lower-ranked players: Arthur Ashe, unpredictable but still given to flights of brilliance, or Harold Solomon, always punishing in his indefatigability.
And now, by contrast with Gottfried, Mottram, who is a mysterious soul, immature at 23 and naturally defensive, seemed to grow under the desert moon. Long, pale, blond, all in white, he came to appear nearly luminous, striding about in his size-14 sneakers. Though he is 6'4" and capable of slamming the ball, and though both his parents were world-class British players—born to the fast grass—Buster plays the cautious, don't-lose style of a small, clay-court Continental.
Perhaps until this very match he was too much under the sway of his father. Tony Mottram. Buster has been given to inner demons, to quitting. Once, in a junior match, up two sets to love to a vastly inferior Spanish opponent, he dropped his serve and came back to announce to the team captain, John Barrett. "I can't hold my serve." Whereupon, despite all Barrett's appeals to logic and emotion, Mottram continued to lose his serve for no good reason—and, at last, the match. "His father wasn't there and he had a death wish," Barrett says.
For the past two years, Mottram wouldn't play for Paul Hutchins, the British Cup captain, and when that row was finally patched up and he joined the team this year, he and the Lloyd brothers were so at odds that he and David once nearly came to blows on the court. In tennis, "Mottram stories"—usually relating to his puerility and tastelessness—abound, on the order of Polish jokes, and he courted more serious opprobrium, even pickets chanting against him at Cup matches, by supporting the National Front, a racist neo-fascist group.
It was all the more impressive, then, that he displayed such calm and courage against Gottfried. Only 10 other men in the finals of the Davis Cup have come back from two sets down to win, and who knows how many of those—one or two, maybe?—also had to endure a match point in the third. Even before that, Mottram almost lost the third set in the shifting shadows of dusk that penalized the player on the east side of the court. Those shadows cost him the break the BBC man had helped him regain, and then Gottfried drew ahead 7-6 on his serve, then to advantage on Mottram's. But Gottfried tried a lob instead of a passing shot when he had Mottram on the ropes, and the Englishman just reached up and put away the overhead. Reprieved, Mottram saved his serve, and went on and took the set 10-8.
As the fourth set began, it was strictly a night match. In the frigid desert air, the court was slower, the balls heavier, and all this worked to Mottram's advantage, for now he could chase Gottfried about with his classic slow-court ground strokes. Staying with his own style, Gottfried continued to rush the net, even after second serves—which was all too often, because he kept missing on first service. His most potent weapon, the volley, betrayed him, and he lost the fourth set with a succession of volley errors. The crucial breaks in the final set followed the same pattern: missed first serves, good Mottram returns off the second, bad volleys. Whenever Brian had a chance to recover, his backhands—now pushed at, rather than swung out—failed him.