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The U.S. prize-fight menu on television last week offered for public consumption one very good fight, one mediocre fight and one horrible fight. In the very good one, 22-year-old Lightweight Rookie Frankie Ryff fought ten blazing fast rounds with a Cuban veteran named Orlando Zulueta, won decisively despite cuts over both eyes, and left Madison Square Garden echoing with heartfelt applause?a sound which has all but vanished from U.S. fight arenas.
In the mediocre fight, Heavyweight Charlie Norkus spent ten rounds chasing Reluctant Roland La Starza around the ring at the Cleveland Arena and flailing the air with a wonderfully ponderous overhand right. The fans dutifully sang fistiana's latest song hit, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." In the horrible fight, Welterweight Champion Johnny Saxton, the Klutching Kutie of the IBC, strained and wrestled through ten slow rounds at Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium with Ramon Fuentes, a local boy who is almost as adept at grabbing as he. The fighters clinched 138 times by actual count. The fans not only sang "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," but stamped, booed and threw showers of paper cups from the sixth round on. When the contest was over, one gallery seat holder rose, flung a penny down into the ring and spat in dramatic disgust.
Mutiny in Kooyong
Every follower of American tennis has long been aware?and possibly sometimes envious?of the Hop-man System (SI, Aug. 30). It is in effect, a sort of continuous boot-training period during which Harry Hopman, nonplaying captain of the Australian Davis Cup team, marches a squad of able youngsters around the world from tournament to tournament, capturing all the available cups and trophies. The success formula has been a relatively simple one: live only for tennis.
In Melbourne last week, despite what Captain Hopman says of the fine state of health enjoyed by Australian tennis (see page 30), the inevitable revolt came at last. At first it was a one-man mutiny touched off by Lew Hoad, 20, powerhouse hero of last year's Davis Cup Challenge Round. Playing in the Victorian championships, Hoad seemed a pale, ineffectual shadow of his old self. He was carried to five sets before disposing of England's Roger Becker in an early round. Next time out he had to come from behind to eliminate Sven Davidson of Sweden in another five-setter. During this lackluster match, the blond powerhouse heard a strange noise echoing around Kooyong Stadium: the sound of Australian voices jeering him for one of the worst showings of his career.
Off the court Hoad told newsmen with a frankness they could hardly believe: "I was just fed up. I did not care whether I won or not. I'm just tired of tennis and I get so I do not give a hang." In his semifinal match against the American champion, Vic Seixas, Hoad lost in three straight sets. Some observers thought they detected angry tears in Lew's eyes.
The revolt against the Hopman System spread rapidly. Hoad's mother, Mrs. Bonnie Hoad, told the newspapers: "Lew has not had a chance to relax since the Davis Cup last Christmas. He was under discipline during the Davis Cup and soon afterward went into the army for national service training. When he came out he went on an overseas tennis tour?still under discipline." The Melbourne paper Truth printed an open letter to Hopman beginning: "WAKE UP TO YOURSELF. It's because of you, Harry; because you won't let him off your apron strings; because you treat him like a child; because you make him eat, think, drink, and live for nothing else but tennis."
Hopman took up the challenge like the experienced warrior that he is. "There's no reason for Hoad to play below his top," he replied. "But his lapse is mental and unfortunately it is difficult to overcome in championship play." Replied Truth hotly: "Come off it, Harry. That's a lot of hooey. He was driven into mental lapses before he went onto the court. Give the boy a break...let him go out at night occasionally. Let him blow his stack to the press if he wants to, instead of bottling up his story for your exclusives in the Flinders Street Flash [a competitive reference, the Melbourne Herald, for which Hopman reports tennis]."
At week's end the tennis world had lots to contemplate. And so had Hopman. Although Mrs. Hoad had acknowledged that she didn't really think Hopman "browbeat the boys," he was still faced with the task of getting his four-man squad in shape for the Challenge Round. He sounded confident: "It will not be so difficult in Davis Cup play, when he [Hoad] has the team captain [name: Harry Hopman] at courtside to arrest any tendency to lose concentration or interest."
Morituri te salutamus