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When I predicted that the U.S. would beat Australia 5-0 in the Challenge Round, the Australian public and press snickered and thought I couldn't be serious. They felt it was part of the war of nerves, and one newspaper even blasted us as Cockadoodle Yanks.
I was deadly serious. I was not playing a game of psychological warfare. I felt certain we could sweep all five matches, and the fact we finally won 3-2 should take little edge off my prediction. I am convinced that if the final two singles matches were played under the same pressures as existed during the two previous days, my prediction would have been 100% fulfilled. There was a natural letdown after the year-long preparation and four years' famine, but if Tony Trabert or Vic Seixas had needed to win those matches, I know they would have come through with the same flying colors they did two days before.
When the last ball was hit at Kooyong Stadium in Melbourne a year ago, giving Australia a slim 3-2 margin, Tony, Vic, Ham Richardson and I set a course of redemption and vowed among ourselves that we would bring the Cup back to the U.S. in 1954. Our success at White City was the culmination of this vow and of a long period of exacting preparation in which no phase of getting the job done was overlooked.
We knew if we wanted to win the Cup we would have to be at a mental and physical peak. My job was to bring three individuals with varying personalities and temperaments to a razor-sharp edge and keep them there for the vital three-day Challenge Round period. There was the case of Vic Seixas, a moody veteran given to periods of deep depression and flashes of brilliance. A year ago he was a disappointment to everyone, including himself, and at times there were doubts that he would ever play another Davis Cup match. Also he was plagued with a disease called "Rosewallitis." When he was defeated by Ken Rosewall in the Victorian finals at Melbourne, a month preceding the Davis Cup Challenge Round, it marked the sixth straight time he had lost to the little sharp-shooting Australian.
Our job was to find the antidote for this ailment and, to my mind, it was getting Seixas to think in a positive manner and to follow a set formula: getting to the net at every opportunity on Rosewall's shaky forehand. In the past, Vic felt he had to rush Rosewall off the court. He was inclined to make his stroke too quickly and commit too many errors. So we adopted a pattern of having Vic make his shot and then go to his favorite volleying position at the net. Seixas was finally convinced that this was the answer, and he followed it to the letter. In the past Vic had been disturbed by the breaks of the game and disconcerted by questionable calls and foot faults. But this time, in a happy, positive frame of mind, he never faltered from our purpose.
There was one very questionable call at a vital stage in the second set after Vic had dissipated several leads and regained advantage point for a service break. A ball hit by Rosewall was called good when virtually every one of the 25,578 fans thought it was out. It cost Seixas the set. Vic protested openly and was in something of a tizzy when he came to the sidelines in the changeover. But after exchanging a few words, he immediately returned to the task at hand and finally won the match in four sets.
Seixas was fortunate that he was able to take the court with less pressure due to Trabert's four-set opening victory over Lew Hoad, Australia's problem child. Trabert himself was anxious to play first, and by the luck of the draw he was able to get his wish. Tony was keyed up to the point of jumping out of his skin. Playing the first match enabled him, as he wished, to fix his schedule of eating and to make the mental preparations for the 1:15 p.m. post time. We had a preconceived plan to play Hoad too, and it was a plan which we were confident would succeed, even against a Hoad at his best. Actually it was a simple plan aimed at capitalizing on Trabert's controlled big game and making the most of what we believed to be Hoad's main weaknesses. A tricky, gusty wind on center court made it difficult for both players. However, Trabert used the wind to greater advantage by using a three-quarter speed serve which enabled him to put the first ball in play far more often than Lew. He served fewer double faults and played most of the match and certainly most of the big points from the fore court. The plan was to attack Hoad's backhand and forge to the net, not only on service but on return of service wherever possible. In the earlier stages of the match, I noticed Tony was being passed frequently from Hoad's backhand. I noticed too that Hoad had a habit of hitting all high backhands flat straight down the line, while on low shots he would cross court with a topspin. I called this to Tony's attention, and you could count on the fingers of one hand the times he was passed after that.
The really big point of the entire Challenge Round came in the third set of the Trabert-Hoad match. A break for Tony at a crucial stage turned the victory tide in our direction. (For details of this important point see the diagrams on pages 56, 57.) The crowd groaned, then applauded this magnificent point which played a vital part in the final victory. Tony capitalized on his big break to win the set, 12-10. His great play provided momentum for the next two victorious matches.
Even with the first two matches in the bag, we approached the doubles with grim determination as if we were behind. I reminded the boys of a year ago when we went ahead 2-1, only to lose the Cup chance in the final singles. It wasn't really necessary, because Vic and Tony were anxious for a quick clincher. We could go into the doubles with some confidence because Tony and Vic had proven they could beat Hoad and Rosewall in recent matches. Here we put into motion our third pattern: the use of the heralded criss-cross system which we sprang on the Australians as a surprise last year. This time we knew they were expecting it, although the team hadn't used it a great deal since 1953. So we decided to use the maneuver sparingly, picking the most advantageous spots. When Trabert faltered temporarily on his service in the second set—the only American service lost, incidentally—it was decided to bring the criss-cross into play.