Davis Cup protests, 1977

From Tennis strangest matches by Peter Seddon:

Newport Beach, California, just south of Los Angeles, is a long way from the english lawns upon which tennis was first played. Perhaps that’s appropriate, as if ever there was an occasion when the vicarage garden party image of the game was irrevocably laid to rest it was at this West Coast resort on Sunday 17 April 1977.

This is the tale of the minister of the Church, the oil slick, the racket attack and the mass demonstration. it doesn’t sound like an everyday story of ordinary tennis folk but then it’s not everyday that the United States plays South Africa in the Davis Cup at the height of the apartheid debate.the tension had been mounting for over a decade.

The serious side to this strange affair had been a major problem for years. Official United Nations policy was to strongly discourage all sporting contact with ‘racist South African sports bodies’, but many nations purpotedly ‘put sport above politics’ and played on. Anti-apartheid activists said that such blind-eye attitudes simply condoned racism and there had been trouble almost everywhere South African representatives played, not simply directed against them but their hosts as well.

In 1968 the Sweden vs Rhodesia tie in Bastad had to be moved to Bandol in the South of France as a 1,500-strong rioting mob, some armed with iron bars, lumps of concrete and bottles, made play impossible.

A year later, but rather gentler, it was Great Britain‘s turn as bags of flour hurtled over the stands to bomb the court at the Redlands Club in Bristol. other nations, meanwhile, did refuse to play, none more nobly than India who passed up the chance of glory by declining to face South Africa in the 1974 final.
‘Dwight Davis must have turned in his grave,’ said Lawn Tennis magazine of the man who founded the competition back in 1900 in the spirit of friendly national rivalry. Hence the enhanced significance when South Africa travelled to ‘white supremacist’ United States in 1977.

Trouble they expected and trouble they got. Seven hundred demonstrators constantly chanted ‘South Africa go home’ outside the court arena but both sides refused to be deterred from simply playing tennis. Police ejected early court invaders and amongst the real fans a spirit of ‘the match must go on’ began to build.

It was after America had built a 2 rubbers to 0 lead that a church minister decided on more direct action. Home pairing Stan Smith and Bob Lutz were already 2 sets to 0 ahead against Frew McMillan and Byron Bertram when 29-year-old black activist Reverend Roland Dortsch rushed wildly on to the United States end of the court and emptied a plastic bottle of motor oil over the green surface. His colleague Deacon Alexander had his on bottle snatched before he could add to the spreading slick.

But as the American party saw red, the Reverend got more than he bargained for. Team captain Tony Trabert, heroic veteran of many Davis Cup matches during the much calmer 1950s, flailed at him with a racket backed by the cheering 6,000 crowd.
It took 41 minutes to clean the court and just a little longer for America to clinch the tie with a 7-5 6-1 3-6 6-3 victory. ‘UNITED STATES CLEAN UP’, said the Times.

Scenes very foreign to the game of lawn tennis they certainly were but Trabert was unrepentant:

“I brought a good old graphite racket along as a weapon and just hit them a couple of times,” he explained later.

The South African captain backed him all the way:

“I was very happy with the genuine crowd and the police have been wonderful,” he told reporters. “What Trabert did to the court invaders really makes you feel good.”

Strange demonstrations, strange retaliations and strange reactions. Who could blame Dwight Davis if he’s still turning today?

Tim Henman's retirement, 2007

From Andy Murray: tennis ace, by John Murray

All Davis Cup ties are important, but this one particularly so. It would be Henman‘s final match before he retired. Andy was determined to see him off in style.

“I want to play my best. I’m going to fight until the last point,” he said. “I’m not going to want to let the team down or let Tim down. I’d feel terrible if I was the one that was responsible for losing Tim’s last tie.”

He didn’t have anything to worry about giving his boyhood hero a fitting farewell. In fact, at times, it looked like a pumped-up Henman could beat Croatia single-handed.

On the first day, at the grounds where he had given British fans so many happy memories over the years, the veteran cruised to a straight sets win over Roko Karanusic, while Andy proved his fitness with a five-set triumph against Marin Cilic. Then Henman and Jamie Murray completed the job in the doubles on the second day, to the delight of the Wimbledon faithful. The brothers had played a perfect support act as Henman took centre stage one last time.

Amidst all the applause and emotion as the Englishman waved goodbye, it was easy to forget what the result actually meant: GB had qualified for the World Group!
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Andy Murray Davis Cup debut in 2005

From Andy Murray: tennis ace, by John Murray

There was a huge prize at stake for Britain in their Euro/Africa Zone One round two tie against Israel. The winner would have the chance to get into the World Group – the place where everyone wanted to be. With British No. 1 Tim Henman not available, Team GB faced a tough task, especially as the tie was being held not on home shores, but in Tel Aviv.

On day one Greg Rusedski got them off to the best possible start with a three-set win over Harel Levy, but Noam Okun leveled it with victory against Alex Bogdanovic. Those results meant the doubles match would be even more important, with the winner likely to take out the tie – as if there wasn’t enough pressure on Andy already in his Davis Cup debut!

The Scot’s doubles partner David Sherwood was also making his first appearance. Their opponents, on the other hand, had experience by the bagful. Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram had won doubles titles all over the globe and, in 2008, would go on to be Australian Open champions.

Even so, British captain Jeremy Bates had faith that the two youngsters could do the job and, from his very first shot – a winning return – Andy showed he wasn’t going to be fazed by the occasion. They won the first set 6-4 and then the second as well in a tie-break. Israel hit back in the third set, but another tie-break success was enough for GB to claim a memorable victory.

Andy may have been Britain’s youngest ever Davis Cup player, but he had competed like a veteran.

That result did indeed prove crucial as Rusedski finished the job off against Okun the next day. Sherwood was then drafted in for the final singles match, losing to Levy, but the outcome didn’t matter. Britain were heading back to the World Group playoffs and, in Andy, they had a player who had the potential to take them all the way to the top.

1985 Davis Cup final

From Pete Sampras’ autobiography, A champion’s mind:

After the [semifinals] tie, the US team room was awash with the usual assortment of friends, family, USTA types, ITF types, and garden-variety hangers-on. At one point, I glanced across the room and made contact with Tim [Gullikson]. His face by that time was starting to hollow out and his eyes – an intense blue to begin with – were practically burning. For a second, we looked at each other, and each of us knew what the other was thinking: this should be our moment. All these other people are extraneous. This is about the two of us, and nothing can take away what we’ve accomplished, or the trust we have. I’ve never forgotten that moment or that look. It’s with me to this day as my enduring memory of Tim.

So it was on to Moscow for the November final, and I knew how much Tim wanted to see me lead the squad to a triumph. It was a tough ask, because the Russians, predictably, held the tie on very slow red clay, indoors. For them, it was th right move, even though Jim Courier and Andre Agassi could be as tough on clay as anyone. There was only one hitch – Andre was still nursing his chest injury. We hoped until the eleventh hour that Andre would be good to go, meaning that my job would be a manageable one: making sure we won the doubles, while Andre and Jim could do the heavy lifting in singles. I had confidence that we would win the doubles – I liked playing Davis Cup doubles with Todd Martin and, as ambivalent as I was about clay, I played doubles on it happily, with confidence.

We arrived in Moscow on a Saturday, six days before the Friday start. Andre had sent word that even though he couldn’t play, he would attend the tie as a show of team spirit and solidarity. That sealed the deal. Tom declared that I was going to play singles unless, of course, I felt like I was the wrong man for the job, and made enough of a fuss about the decision. How’s that for an awkard spot? What was I going to do, say, “Nah, Tom I’m not up for it. Let Todd or Richey go out there?” I could see all the makings of Lyon revisited – a full-on disaster.
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1990 US Open: pete Sampras and Andre Agassi

From Pete Sampras autobiography, A champion’s mind

The guy on the other side of the net the late afternoon of September 9, 1990, was Andre Agassi – a kid, just like me. And he was easy to find over there in his wild, fluorescent, lime green outfit, and big hair.

I couldn’t know it at the time, but Andre and I would have a historic rivalry and both wind up in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In fact, up to that point in ou young lives, Andre an I had met on a court just four previous times. We were unfamiliar with each other’s games because Andre had played most of his tennis in Florida while I was a California guy.

The first time we played was on a hard court in a twelve-and-under junior tournament in Northridge, California. Neither of us can remember who won that match, but I still have a strong visual memory of Andre. He rolled up with his dad, Mike, in a huge green Cadillac worthy of a mobster. It was fitting, because the Agassis lived in Las Vegas and Mike worked as a pit boss in Caesar’s Palace. Way back then, Andre already had this junior rock star thing going. He was skinny as a rail, but so was I. He already had this junior rock star thing going. He was skinny as a rail, but so was I. He already had that big forehand and those quick, happy feet.

Andre and I were supposed to meet at another junior event. In juniors, you often have to play two matches on the same day, and both of us had won our morning match. But for some reason, Andre and Mike disappeared – just up and left the site, enabling me to advance by default. In our first meeting as pros, on the red clay of Rome in 1989, Andre had waxed me, losing just three games. But I had played him even-up in that Philadelphia match I mentioned earlier.
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