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When Australia held court!
Once upon a time, Australian tennis was served by a host of
talented characters, who ruled the game with a smile for 25 years. Bud Collins remembers.
Where have you gone, Dale Collings? Or Martino Mulligano? Not to mention the Old Hacker, Snake, Tex, Rolling, Candy Man, Sexy Rexy and Old Fruit Bones?
They're around somewhere, I guess. Maybe raising sheep? But instead of counting sheep when I can't go to sleep, I go through the roll of all the Australian tennis players I've known . . . those above, and then there's Rocket, Emmo, Muscles, Nail Bags, Mrs Raz, Frase, Fletch, the Arm, Coop and Sunshine Supergirl.
There were so many of them, you could hardly get into a tournament if you weren't an Aussie. Playing dominant roles for a quarter-century or so from 1950, they were the latter-day Holy Roman Empire in shorts and skirts, overrunning the game like a plague of roos.
A number of them were all-time champions like Rod (Rocket) Laver, Ken (Muscles) Rosewall, Roy (Emmo) Emerson, Neale (Frase) Fraser, Margaret (the Arm) Court. Evonne (Sunshine Supergirl) Goolagong. But all of them could play, and damn well. Known or unknown, they had fun trotting the globe, flying the flag of a country that seemed so distant and mysterious to us. To be an Australian tennis player was a badge of honour.
When Joachim Johansson bashed 51 aces the other day, I wondered what Collings would have done with today's weapons of smash destruction. You never could tell where his serve was going, at supersonic speed - and with a wooden racquet.
Adoringly called the Animal by his many fans when he played for the 1978 Boston Lobsters in World Team Tennis, Dale was burly, untidy, dangerous. At Wimbledon in 1976, one of his steaming, frequently wayward serves almost emasculated French Open champ Adriano Panatta - only a vertical leap by a terrified Panatta kept him eligible for fatherhood.
Bob (Bones) Giltinan was no faint-hearted server, either. One night at Sydney's Hordern Pavilion, he rifled a delivery that toppled the net, snapping the cable. As the net slumped in surrender, and Giltinan preened like Samson, referee Cliff Sproule made frantic phone calls to round up a replacement.
Another refugee from the Boston Lobsters - Mrs Raz - was Kerry Melville, the Australian champ of 1977, an early sharpshooter with the now-popular inside-out forehand, who fell for a fellow Lobster, American Grover (Raz) Reid. They were married on a court before a match.
Laughter and lager went together amiably in those carefree days before prizemoney intervened. Judy Dalton, called Old Fruit because that's what she called everybody else, swore off beer for Wimbledon '68. Her noble sacrifice paid off as she made the final. "But I wouldn't recommend it," she said.
Rochie - that's Tony Roche, who is teaching a Swiss lad named Federer how to play tennis - was noted for his backhand slice. Where did that come from? "My Dad. He was the town butcher in Tarcutta."
The Old Hacker, as Davis Cup stalwart Fred Stolle came to be known, was irate on arriving in New York in 1966 to find himself unseeded - after all, he had just won the German title and was a three-time Wimbledon finalist. In those pre-computer days, the seeding committee usually did their analytic work over a few gin-and-tonics. "They must think I'm just an old hacker," Fred, 27, grumbled. Hacker? I hadn't heard the term. "A player like you," he translated.
But when he beat John Newcombe to win the title, he grinned: "I guess the Old Hacker can play a bit."
Stolle and Emerson originated what they called the Australian Formation while touring the US circuit - unbeaten - in doubles one summer. "If I go to the nightly party, Emmo stays in the hotel and gets a good night's rest," Fred explained their strategy. "The next night, it's vice versa." One time, they forgot to alternate. "What are you doing here?" Emmo asked Fred. Oh well. Arriving for an 11am match shortly after the festivities closed, they dived into the club pool in their tennis gear. To freshen up. "A team effort," said Emmo. They won, of course.
Bill Bowrey, the Australian champ of 1968, was Tex after he fell off a horse. Snake was Ross Case. Some said he was lucky as a snake, but Ross says it was "because I was quick and clever". So was Patti Coleman, who could barely see over the net, but Patti helped Evonne Goolagong win the Federation Cup for Australia in 1973.
Almost as tiny, Rosie Casals, beaten in the US final of 1970 as Margaret Court completed her grand slam, called Margaret "the Arm". Her arms seemed to stretch the width of the court.
Arm trouble bothered Bob Howe on the US tour in 1958, forcing him to serve underhand, but he got away with it because he was such a good volleyer. Alongside Mal (Country) Anderson, Bob reached the semis of the US championships.
I was saddened to learn of his death, and that of Bob (Nail Bags) Carmichael, a carpenter who was once the 60-pound boxing champ of Upper Ferntree Gully. A rugged yet warm character, good enough to be a Wimbledon quarter-finalist, he could shake a stadium with his bass voice. Nails limited his displeasure to thundering one word - diabolical - and stretching it as long as a freight train: D - u - BBBollll - iii - ku !!
Farm boy Rex Hartwig, winner of US and Wimbledon doubles titles, was Sexy Rexy, grinning, "You can ask the girls why." Naturally, Allan Stone, a 1968 Aussie doubles victor, was Rolling, and doubles expert Don Candy, holder of a French title, was the Candy Man.
So rich was Australia in Davis Cup talent that excellent players had to relocate to other countries to get a game.
Bob Hewitt, after partnering Stolle to two Wimbledon prizes, moved to South Africa. Fletch (Ken Fletcher), the ladies' man who won a mixed grand slam with Margaret Court in 1963, connected with Hong Kong. Then there was Marty Mulligan, the only guy to hold a match point that could have spoiled one of Rod Laver's grand slams - at the French in 1962. Discovering that he may have had an Italian grandmother, the Italian Federation hired him, and he was dubbed Martino Mulligano.
One of the better athletic contests I've covered took place in a Boston apartment in 1957 during the US doubles championships. The beer was cheap but abundant, and by 4am, somebody decided to stage the World Standing Broadjump Championship. An international entry included five future Wimbledon champs - Laver, Fraser, Emerson, Ashley (Coop) Cooper and Alex Olmedo.
Their daring leaps across the living room ended with resounding crashes as the floorboards shook. Eventually, Coop won, and everyone departed. Later that morning, an elderly lady in the apartment below awoke to find framed photos and paintings scattered on the floor, fallen from tables and walls. Somewhat hard of hearing, she asked her neighbour who had hosted the party. "Did we have a hurricane last night? Anything fall down in your place?"
"Only a few Aussies," he replied