TENNIS

The Last Amateur Davis Cup And Arthur Ashe’s Sportsmanship

In 1968, the United States Davis Cup team, captained by Donald Dell and with Arthur Ashe as its top singles player, won the last-ever “amateur” Davis Cup. With its final-round win over Australia in Adelaide, the USA won the Cup for the first time since 1963 and began a five-year run for the U.S. as Cup champions.

The following is the report filed by Jack Parsons for World Tennis Magazine from the 1968 final, which also discusses the amazing sportsmanship of Ashe.

The annual Christmas pageant known as the Davis Cup Challenge Round was held in Australia for the 22nd time. In the past it has received rave reviews, but this year the critics had mixed feelings. Everyone acclaimed the overwhelmingly powerful American cast who had been training for their roles for eight months. They were nervously eager about their performance and at the conclusion they were so emotionally spent that several of them wept openly. The Australian actors did not have the same international reputation and their director actually used a 17-year-old novice who had no previous experience. They had not rehearsed as long and as hard as the Americans and although they, too, were keen at curtain time, they were tired at the end of the first act and a substitute was picked for Act II to replace the leading Australian star. The blasé Australian  public knew the denouément months in advance. As a result, the usual rush at the box office for advance tickets was slow and the house was not up to expectations. The critics complained that some of the amateur actors should have been replaced by professionals.

 The Americans gave a marvelous performance. Clark Graebner, who had been dropped from one of the two singles roles because of his poor record in Australia (he lost to Italian Junior Piero Toci), showed remarkable courage in fighting his way out of a slump and back onto the team. Although he had played in every smaller tie, he had been dropped for the Challenge Round in favor of Charlie Pasarell. He asked for a chance to get back into the act and he was given the opportunity in a series of four matches against Charlito. He won three of them and was reinstated by Dell. The wisdom of this choice was proved in the Challenge Round: Clark was down in both his matches and he won them both in five sets. Captain Donald Dell later said: “Clark grew in stature not by winning but by how he won.” Arthur Ashe never played his best (he had a bad arm and was not able to serve all-out) but he showed the real stuff by coming back from 6-8, 0-2 down, with Ruffels serving with new balls. His ability to relax often fools the gallery into thinking his play is loose; it is an illusion. He always seems to lift his game in the crisis. Lutz and Smith, the best amateur doubles team in the world, won comfortably. Young John Alexander was very nervous; he and Ruffels teamed badly. They had only played once before and it was an unlucky gamble. In the third and final act, Bill Bowrey saved Australian honor by beating Arthur Ashe in four sets. It was his finest performance.

Opening day was windy and cold. The conditions were such that neither player could show his best, but Graebner was serving extremely well and returning serve consistently. Bowrey often had to struggle to hold his own but he had his chances, Clark won the toss, elected to receive and was soon down 0-2, Bowrey also dropped his serve but took the set 10-8, Bill was down 4-5 in the second but had 15-40 on Clark’s serve to break back.

He lost that chance and the set, but had a 2-0 break in the third. Again at the start of the fifth set Bill had Graebner 15-40 on his opening serve. He was never in the match again Fatigue or poor conditions caused him to err on volley and play his overhead too safely. Graebner frequently called on his big delivery to pull him out of a hole, and he played his service returns carefully, going for the passing shot or the lob generally on his second shot.

Ruffels started out strongly against Ashe. He had 8-6, 2-0, new balls, then lost his serve for the first time. Arthur broke again for 4-2 but Ruffels evened up for 4-all. That was the last time that Arthur dropped service. He won that set 7-5 and the next two sets 6-3, 6-3. At 3-0 in the fourth, many of the shivering spectators accepted the inevitable and left the arena. Ashe was seldom able to serve the big one but he soon caught on to Ray’s left-handed spin delivery and his backhand passing shots off Ray’s serve were electrifying.

Aussie Captain Harry Hopman picked John Alexander to pair with Ruffels in the doubles because he wanted to save a tiring Bowrey for the third day. It was a questionable choice since Australia had to win the doubles to stay in the tie, and Ruffels-Alexander were not a team. John lost his big serve once in the first set and once in the second while Ray was broken twice in the third. Only once were the Americans ever down game point on serve! In 14 service games, they only lost 13 points. In the third and last set, Alexander won his serve twice at love but the Aussies only took five other points that set. Lutz was the best man on the court, hitting backhand returns of serve with sliced angle and powdering his volleys. While Smith and Lutz made 27 winners, Ruffels and Alexander only managed five each. Adrian Quist later suggested that the Aussies should have changed a losing game, even if it meant staying back and lobbing.

The two matches on the last day were only exhibitions since Australia had already lost the Cup, but there was still some tension present. The U.S. were after a 5-0 sweep and Australia wanted to salvage whatever she could. Ruffels led Graebner two sets to one. Ray started out powerfully, serving five aces in the first set. The American came close to dropping the second set when he was down 15-40 at 6-all, but his big delivery won him four straight points. Ray took the third set 6-2, yet after the intermission he was never in contention. Clark came back with more confidence in service returns, and this was the difference. In the last set, Graebner even took liberties with Ray’s serve, several times stepping around it and knocking off forehand winners.

The last match was the most exciting from our point of view. Bill Bowrey beat Arthur Ashe in four sets by playing superb returns off both sides. Arthur won the toss and elected to receive, probably to warm up his ailing arm before testing it. He won the first set with two breaks in quick time then he played a very loose game in the second at 3-4 and lost the set 6-3. The long third went to Bowrey 11-9 although he earlier had two set points at 6-5. At 10-9, Bill served an ace that was called a fault. Arthur, who thought it was good, sportingly hit the next serve into the net — a gesture that put him down two sets to one. It looked as though Ashe would even the score when he led 3-0 in the fourth, but it was only one service break. Bowrey evened at 4-all, served for the match at 5-4 and again served for the match at 7-6. Ashe netted a forehand return of serve and the tie was over.

The successful American troupe could scarcely hid their emotions, Ashe cried in the locker room, Captain Dell openly wept at the presentation ceremonies. Charlie Pasarell threw his arms around the captain and kissed him, and USLTA president Bob Kelleher blinked hard to keep back the tears, For four arid years the U.S. team had not even made it to the Challenge Round. From 1960 on, they had only made the final round twice, and they had learned the bitterness of defeat against second-class or one-man teams from Mexico, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Ecuador. From bums they had become heroes; the world now acknowledges them as the finest amateurs in the game.



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