1973 Australian Davis Cup team

From Rod Laver‘s autobiography The education of a tennis player:

“The ITF, in a rare burst of sense and forgiveness, announced in 1973 that all pros were now eligible for Davis Cup. She’ll be apples! That’s an old Aussie expression for good days ahead.

And I got the Davis Cup itch again after years of feeling it was no longer for me. Why not? But, realistically, I was 35, not at my very best, and for a very long time hadn’t been involved in the most stifling of tennis pressure, Davis Cup – yes, greater than a Wimbledon final. Especially in Australia where so much success had raised expectations to the clouds. I hadn’t been on the team for 11 years, a lark, overrunning Mexico in 1962. But I was getting itchy to prove myself since the 1960-61 Cups were also romps, over Italy. The lone tough encounter of my four winning teams was the U.S. in 1959, and I lost both singles, to Barry Mac-Kay and Alex Olmedo. Only the presence of Neale Fraser, winning both singles plus the doubles with Emmo, saved us.

Now I had to talk to Fraser, the successor as captain to Hopman. A good friend, but very practical. Was I up to it? And how would the other guys feel about a newcomer at this stage? They had won two series to lift the team to the semis. Happily, I was accepted by my mates: Newcombe, Rosewall, Geoff Masters, Ross Case, Mal Anderson. They just wanted to win for Australia. If I could help, fine.
But could I? Fraser wasn’t at all sure. The acid test prior to the semifinal against Czechoslovakia was the Australian Indoor Championships in Sydney. Captain Fraser made it clear that I’d have to do well to have any chance to play against the Czechs.
I worked my bum off to get fitter than I’d been in almost a year. The lineup of would-be Laver-flatteners was daunting. In the quarters, it was Raul Ramirez, the quick, sharp-volleying Mexican, and I got him, 6-3 6-4. Next, world No. 6 Rosewall. Where did they find him? I barely escaped, 6-4 3-6 8-6. Finally, it was No. 2 Newcombe, in a roaring five sets, 3-6 7-5 6-3 3-6 6-4.
Captain Fraser shook my hand with, “Rocket, welcome to the team.”

It couldn’t have been a nicer setting after gloomy, rickety Hordern Pavilion, site of the Indoor. We were in Melbourne for the semi, plenty of November sunshine heralding the onset of summer on the famed grass courts of Kooyong. The Czechs would have preferred clay, but Jan Kodes, a future Hall of Famer, could handle the lawn. He’d won Wimbledon and was finalist to Newcombe at Forest Hills only months before.
For the last time, my parents saw me play, and fortunately I didn’t let them down. Or Fraser and the country. It was extremely difficult, though. After I stopped Kodes, 6-3 7-5 7-5, Jiri Hrebec, wildly erratic, put it all together to stun the crowd as well as Newcombe – on grass! – 6-4 8-10 6-4 7-5. Now Rosewall and I were on the same side for a change, and we needed each other in a long, demanding go-ahead doubles over Vladimir Zednik and Kodes, 6-4 14-12 7-9 8-6. That left it up to me to tame Hrebec (seldom heard from again) 5-7 6-3 6-4 4-6 6-4 settling it.

We were on our way to Cleveland, a quartet called, by my co-author, “Captain Fraser’s Antique Show”Rosewall, 39; Laver, 35; Mal Anderson, 38; Newcombe, 29. Rosewall had been away from Cupping for 17 years, Anderson for 15, Laver, as I said, for 11, Newcombe for six, Fraser for 10. Never been anything like it.

We were old enough to go out alone, but nobody wanted to in the December chill of downtown Cleveland. What a place for a Cup final. Old, vast, drafty Public Hall, attracted few people to see us do our stuff: a 5-0 triumph that ended the U.S. streak of five years and a record 15 encounters. A terrible promotion. Some writers were calling us the greatest of all Davis Cup teams, yet nobody wanted to see us (maybe 7,000 for three days) or the home heroes.
It didn’t matter to us. We wanted Yank heads to show that the, shall we say mature, Aussies were still breathing. And we got them on an overly drawn out Friday night and a brief Saturday afternoon. Newcombe led off with a mixture of uncharacteristic spins, soft stuff, plus his usual muscle to overcome Stan Smith in five 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. Then Tom Gorman and I went at it furiously, charging the net, serving and-volleying for five more sets. A bit of revenge for Wimbledon ’71 was mine, 8-10 8-6 6-8 6-3 6-1.

Fraser decided he wanted two forehands down the middle plus troublesome serving in picking me and Newc to conclude the assignment. We fast-finished the Yanks, Erik van Dillen and Smith, 6-1 6-2 6-4. How pleasant to have the company of our old friend, the Cup, again, and swill victory grog from it. Long time no guzzle for all of us. My Davis Cup itch had been unexpectedly scratched.”

Watch out Australia’s winning team of 1973 reflect on their famous 5-0 victory over the United States in Cleveland.

From Rod Laver‘s book The education of a tennis player:

It didn’t seem to matter whether I knew much of the Centre Court or not when I played Premjit Lall in the second round. We were out on Court 4, which was right across from Centre Court. No grandstand. Spectators stood in the aisles between the courts. The stuffed aisles alongside Court 4 looked like a run on a shaky bank. People were jammed against the fence six or seven deep, and the ones in the last row, pinned against the fences of adjoining courts had no chance of seeing anything. But they could hear the umpire calling the score. Once in a while they could see a racket above the mob if Prem or I went up for an overhead smash.

Laver’s getting beat by an Indian

was the word that ran round the grounds.

Well, there I was, with my racket feeling like an old frying pan in my hand. Premjit Lall and I go back a long way together. He is a nice-looking, tall fellow, soft-spoken, a university man from Calcutta where he sometimes works as a cement salesman.

I had never lost to him, but he was clearly outplaying me as he won the first two sets. Prem was the kind of player who always made a good showing but hardly ever could sustain good play long enough to swing a really big win or take a tournament. I kept waiting for somthing to go wrong with his game, and when it didn’t, I began to worry.

Prem didn’t seem to be feeling any pressure though. We went to 2-2 in the third. He held for 3-2 and I won my serve for 3-3. It was right here that I restated a very important truth about tennis to myself: You can only lose a tennis match. That’s all.
That’s the worst that can happen to you out there, and it’s happened to everybody… Tilden, Budge, Laver, everybody. They ate as well the next day; the sun came up; they laughed again. It’s good to remind yourself of this every once in awhile. I don’t think anybody who played a game ever wanted to win more than I do, but losing isn’t the end of the world. They don’t hang you by you thumbs from the backstop or revoke your passport. They don’t even deny you your daily grog.

If I was going to lose to Premjit Lall, I was going to go out with eveything blazing. Up to that moment, I had been gripped by a certain fear of losing, but after I’d gotten myself straight on that, the fear disappeared. I began hitting the ball better and stayed close to Prem in that game, 30-30. I felt I’d get him there for the break, but he hit a good forehand down the line that sent me into the corner on the enclosure and I had to lob. I’d been lobbing short all through the match, and I didn’t alter my pattern here. He had an easyball at the net, but the cement settled in his elbow. He knocked the ball past me and beyond the baseline. I had the ad, then the game with a good backhand, and I never stopped. That service break began a run of 15 games, as I won 3-6 4-6 6-3 6-0 6-0.

Since I was hitting again, and not pressing, I think I would have got him anyway. But one shot can change it all. Had he made good on that smash and held his serve, I’d still have been in a shaky position serving at 3-4 and two sets down.

From Rod Laver‘s book The education of a tennis player:

“No matter how many times I played the French Open, it was still startling to come into Stade Roland Garros. You walked down through a tunnel. It was so dark that you were practically feeling your way, and then suddenly you were in the arena with 12000 people surrounding you, responding excitedly to your appearance. Maybe it’s like being the girl who pops out of a cake at a stag party.

From the minute we began, I couldn’t miss. Usually I was the one on the string as Kenny played me like a yo-yo. Not this time. I had perfect control, and everything I hit was going so deep that Kenny didn’t have much chanceto do anything but chase and scramble. I could get to the net all the time, and i was moving quickly either way to cut off his passing shots. I don’t know of any match I ever enjoyed more because I just kept getting better, and the points rolled in.

I never took Rosewall for granted. He never got his due. I thought about it before the match. He’d won this title in 1953, at the time I was deciding tennis would be my career. I was fifteen. Fifteen years later, he won it again. In 1971, he won the Australian title that he first won eighteen years earlier. In 1974, at the age of 39, he reached the final of both Wimbledon and the US Open, losing both to Jimmy Connors. He even won a pro title at age 43 in 1977. There are no comparable feats in tennis history.
I wondered if, having won the French for the first time in 1962, I’d even be playing it in 1977. How many times would Kenny have won it if he hadn’t turned pro, or if open tennis had come sooner?

Kenny and I have brought the very best out of each other, but the day of the 1969 French Open final was not one for sentimentality. 12000 people wanted to see us do it again. After leading 3-1 in the first, I fell behind 3-4 as he won three games in a brisk streak. I held for 4-4 and broke him to take the first consequential step;

The first set was mine at 6-4 and my confidence was soaring. If I couldn’t keep my shots near his baseline, I was in trouble with Kenny because he took anything short with his backhand, ramed it into a corner while he dashed to the net. He may not have been a heavy hitter, but when he got position at the net his volleys were crisp and well angled.

But my groundstrokes were working so well and landing so deeply that he was having trouble getting to the position he liked. He couldn’t swoop in on the short balls simply because I wasn’t offering him that many. I kept him pinned behind the baseline and you can’t hit an approach from back there. Sometimes he tried, but he had too far to go to reach the net, and I was passing him.

My volleys were charmed, and I spent most of the points finishing off points with them. My deep groundstrokes kept me at the net, and Kenny away.
Straight sets in a French final? I couldn’t quite believe it when I completed the 6-4 6-3 6-4 victory. Monetarily it meant $7000.

From Rod Laver’s book The education of a tennis player

Three of the Grand Slam tournaments are held in English-speaking countries, and an Australian gets along all right. The fourth is on alien ground – Parisian clay. The first time I saw Paris, in 1956, I had a few phrases ready in my atrocious French, so that I could eat and get to my hotel room. Bob Mark, who was my doubles partner, and I got taken for a few elaborate rides by the cab drivers, and we had trouble with the money, our pockets stuffed with francs that didn’t mean much. This was when the exchange rate was 350 to the dollar. The French seem less sympathetic to foreigners than other people, and the masterpieces of French cooking don’t do much for me, since I’m a typical Aussie, a steak-and-eggs man. You don’t need Maxim’s to fix that for you.

So Paris, as such, isn’t one of my favorite places, but I look forward to it because the French Championships is the tournament I enjoy the most from the standpoint of emotional involvement. I love to watch matches in Paris, grim struggles on that slow clay, beauties for the spectators.

When an Australian is playing, the rest of the Aussies show up for moral support because you know, if the opponent is European, and especially if he’s French, the gallery will be very anti-Australian.
That’s Europe. The crowds make more noise, they take it to heart, they cheer and boo. My introduction to Roland Garros, the tennis complex in the Bois de Boulogne, was a shaky experience in 1956. Bob Mark and I were playing a Davis Cup style junior match against a French team of Christian Viron and Mustapha Belkodja.
In the doubles, the crowd went all out for their countrymen, hissing us and even throwing some stones. They weren’t angry at us, but they didn’t leave any doubt about their sentiments. They really psyched us out, but you get used to that in Paris and Rome and Barcelona and Mexico City where the national pride seems to ride with every shot. When you realize this, the French tournament becomes great fun.