Indian tennis player Vijay Armitraj

From Tennis strangest matches by Peter Seddon:

When the Australians were drawn to play India away in the Davis Cup Eastern Zone final of 1973, none of them expected an easy ride.
Skulduggerous practice as par for the course everywhere in that competition and India, moreover was always regarded as a bit risky, even by Aussies with larger-hardened stomachs and an in-built confidence to ply their trade anytime, anywhere and against anyone. But what they actually got exceeded their worst nightmares.

They didn’t really expect beautifully manicured grass and, even though the Indians were quite capable of delivering it, the hosts didn’t like to disappoint their guests. Lawn tennis, after all, had long since been played on many different surfaces – clay, sand, gravel, concrete, shale, ash, tarmac, rubber, wood, tiles, carpet, parquet blocks – it was just a case of what ingredients they’d opt for.
Their recipe was imaginative enough. Starting with a foundation of sand and brick, then overlaying fine gavel, they topped it off with a layer of surface clay appetizingly mixed with liberal helpings of ripe cow dung, all left to bake hard under the fierce midday sun.
At least they had no trouble finding the courts: “Just follow yer nose mate” was the Aussie cry.

Equally keen to live up to their reputation in the matter of stadium design, the Indians had lost no time in commissioning the construction of a state-of-the-art arena at the Madras Gymkhana Club – unfortunately, the state-of-the-art 1973 style was distinctly Primitive School. The whole 15,000-capacity stadium was built in just ten days; timber poles and planks were lashed together, using the odd nail here and thee where real strength was needed and the whole thing was topped off with a roof of dried palm fronds. Health and safety inspectors and fire officers were not part of the package.
Yet, strange as this venue was for what was, after all, the twentieth and not the nineteenth century, that wasn’t the worst of it for the gallant Australians.

As the veteran squad (they called them Dad’s Army) – of Newcombe, Anderson, Masters, Giltinan and Cooper – arrived in Madras, they were not so much given a warm welcome as a pretty darn hot one. The Pakistani terrorist group Black December had issued death threats against them as part of an effort to get the Indian government to release 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war. By way of a warm up they’d blown up an airline office a few days before.

If ever the resolve of a tennis team had been tested this was surely it, but the Australians agreed to stay after a personal guarantee of safety was offered by the assistant commissioner of police. Meals were checked for poison, police with machine guns guarded the visitors day and night and all letters and packages were intercepted. Always at the players’ side was the best sharp-shooter the Madras police could muster – dressed in casual civvies, his ever-present sun hat certainly looked the part but actually concealed his revolver.

It is to the eternal credit of the Australians that they overcame what must surely rank as the worst conditions ever to prevail at a Davis Cup match to win the tie without losing a rubber. They went on to win the trophy that year, taking the Indian experience in their side like true pros.

The story that John Newcombe, asked to sum up the trip in a few words, simply replied that “The courts were crap”, is almost certainly apocryphal.

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?

South Africa win the 1974 Davis Cup

By Dave Seminara, New York Times, November 2009

Four men who dreamed of sipping Champagne from the Davis Cup finally had their hands on it, but there would be no celebration.

“We were told to put our tennis clothes on and come down to accept our trophies,” recalled Raymond Moore, a member of the only South African team to win the Davis Cup.

Bob Hewitt, who played singles and doubles for that South African team and was later inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, remembered,

“We were proud to see our names on the Davis Cup, but the way we got it left a sour taste in our mouths.”

In 1974, South Africa and India advanced to the final of the Davis Cup, which had been won by either the United States or Australia every year since 1936. But the Indian government boycotted the final in protest of South Africa’s system of apartheid.

The players who would have contested the final have had decades to debate the merits of the decision, but there still is no consensus.

The South African players opposed apartheid but took different approaches to representing what had become a pariah state.
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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.