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As a lad, just good enough at the game to know what it was about and how strokes ought to be played, I first saw Norman Brookes, Rod Heath and A. W. Dunlop; some years later there was my friend Gerald Patterson. Let me assume them to be examples of what I call the "old" amateurism.
Each was a distinct individual, with unforgettable characteristics of style and play. Heath had beautifully controlled ground strokes. Dunlop was a born doubles player, with a fine sense of position. Gerald Patterson had a villainous backhand drive, but could rely on the most violent service I have ever seen. Nowadays, when so many first-rate players seem cast in the same mold, when intense coaching has created so much standardization, I frequently find it difficult to remember other than facial differences between the playing characteristics of half a dozen of the greatest players.
Put this down to my ignorance or lack of perception if you like. But is it mere perversity on my part to say that Brookes lives in my mind's eye because of his nonconformity? He was one of the first to adopt and modify the then new "American" service. In his use of it speed was secondary; placement was of the essence. It was as deep as the service line would allow. Its direction was such that the receiver always had to move quite a lot, to forehand or backhand, to play it. As soon as he served, Brookes moved in. Such was his control of service direction and length that he limited the scope of the return, and even appeared by some magic to control its actual direction. In spite of this, powerful opponents would seek to check him by driving to his feet as he advanced to the normally fatal midcourt half-volleying position. They soon discovered that to Brookes the half-volley was a weapon of attack, not of defense. Time after time I have seen him sweeping half-volleys first to one deep corner, then to the other, with his opponent sweating up and down in vain.
A DIGNIFIED DEMON
What a player! His long trousers perfectly pressed, on his head a peaked tweed or cloth cap, on his face the inscrutable expression of a pale-faced Red Indian, no sign of sweat or bother, no temperamental outbursts, no word to say except an occasional "well played." A slim and not very robust man, he combined an almost diabolical skill with a personal reserve, a dignity (yes, dignity) and a calm maturity of mind and judgment. I have sometimes suspected that a modern coach, given control, would have hammered out of him all the astonishing elements that made him in his day (and his day lasted for many years) the greatest player in the world.
Brookes was an "old" amateur. He had means adequate to enable him to indulge his hobby. He was not overplayed. There were few Davis Cup contests. Each match could be approached with a fresh mind and spirit.
But time has moved on. Big tennis has, as I have said, become big business. The cost of putting on good matches, with special stands and expensive organization and vast crowds of spectators have all involved today's player in almost continuous play, in tournament or exhibition games. Under the modern circumstances of high taxation, few people can afford such "leisure." The "old" amateur has, in Australia at any rate, practically disappeared from the top ranks. And so we have entered a period when some promising boy of 14 or 15, his education hardly begun, is picked out for coaching and development and joins the staff of some sporting-goods firm. Brookes played his first Davis Cup in 1905, at the age of 28; his last in 1920, at the age of 43 when, in the Challenge Round, he took both W. T. Tilden and W. M. Johnston to four sets; one of the most remarkable feats in lawn tennis history. Today a player is described as a "veteran" by his middle 20s.
There are those who will tell you that the "old" amateurs played when the game was "slower," and "softer," and that they could never have lived with the modern champions, with their "big" services and "fierce" overheads and "devastating" ground strokes. (You notice that I am a student of sporting journalese.) I do not decry the modern players, whose skill I admire, and who have given hundreds of thousands of us pleasure, when I say that both Tilden and Johnston, at their peak, could have beaten any 1955 amateur at his peak: and they were at their peak when Brookes played them.
But the "new" amateurism—the semiprofessionalism of the great sporting-goods firms (which, we must concede, have done much to develop the game) is here to stay, unless, indeed, it is replaced by complete professionalism or (as I think not improbably) international tennis becomes "open" to both amateur and professional, like golf or cricket. The alternative may well be that the professional promoters will come to regard the Davis Cup as a training ground for quite young amateur champions, to be recruited to the professional ranks later.
Whether we like it or not, the cost of maintaining modern international sporting teams and providing facilities for large armies of spectators to see them play inevitably tends to create a "business" atmosphere. There is another aspect of the matter. The modern proliferation of sporting journals and the expansion of the sporting pages of ordinary newspapers have led the talented, but young and mentally and emotionally immature champions into the glaring light of publicity—extravagant praise and biting criticism being more common than expert and moderate judgment. Too many are coming to regard the player as the bondslave of the public; we say that he has "obligations." If his form leaves him he is rejected and forgotten. If, at the height of his form, he abandons competitive sport in favor of a business or private career in some profession, he is not infrequently accused of "letting the public down." There are many youngish men living in some unskilled occupation today who are simply the victims of these processes. It is not to be wondered at that talented young amateurs increasingly gaze at the professional recruiter with an expectant eye.