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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 8 (November 1, 1934)

The Battlefields of Sport — The Capture of the Davis Cup

page 21

The Battlefields of Sport
The Capture of the Davis Cup.

A Chilled and motionless gallery, silent under the hot Philadelphia sun, watched Rene Lacoste, the twenty-two-year-old champion of France. The dark, wellknit, impassive Frenchman moved from side to side of the court with the easy grace of the perfect athlete. From his racket the shots came back in a perfect flow. He was not trying to win points so much as make the opportunity for his adversary to lose them. And his tactics were paying, that last netted drive had meant the seventh successive point that the umpire had marked down against Tilden, so long the champion of the world, but now slowing down, twelve years older than his powerful young opponent and feeling enormously the physical effects of the brilliant sunshine.

This was not a mere matter of a championship battle to be recorded and half-forgotten in a season or so. This match meant the fate of the Davis Cup, the great silver bowl which winked in the sunshine before the official stand and for which France had struggled so long. Heavily repulsed the previous year she had taken revenge in the American singles where a stunned American crowd had seen two Frenchmen fight out the final for the first time in history. And in this newer season the youthful Lacoste, working away at his game to the exclusion of all outside interests, practising day after day to perfect that fluid swing and sharpen that keen eye, had left little doubt of what would happen. He had beaten Tilden the year before in the fifth match of the Davis Cup series, aided by the fact that the great player had injured his knee. But he had beaten Tilden again in the French championship this year, wresting the match away from him at 11-9 in the fifth set when the tall American's second service just missed the line. And now, on this final day's play everything depended. If the United States was to hold the Cup for seven years, Tilden must win. The first two days' play had left America with a 2-1 lead, but Cochet was yet to meet Johnson, and Lacoste had swept Johnson aside with ease two days ago, while Cochet had pushed Tilden hard.

Against form such as Cochet's, Johnson could have little hope. Everything depended on this Tilden-Lacoste match. If the United States was to win it must be here and now.

It was the fourth set now and Lacoste led by two sets to one, his implacable returns finding the weakness in Tilden's game. The big American, remembering those three strenuous meetings which he had had with Lacoste before, only one of which had not favoured France, was determined to force the pace. It was an orgy of what in a lesser player would have been called slogging. Giving himself no chance to find his shots, Tilden was belting the ball every time it came to him. He had frittered away winning leads by errors on shots which he should have brought off successfully, he had paid the enormous price of six errors for every point earned in the opening set. Five times in six points, after being 30-0, Tilden had slammed the ball into the net to throw away a vital game. He had persevered in these tactics in spite of disaster and had carried them to the point where his physique was revealed to be far short of the old days when five-set matches were
Dunedin Railway Cricket Team. Winners of the Baker Cup Competition, 1933–34. Standing: J. L. Henderson, W. Smith, C. Loeffler, W. Howarth (junr.), W. Howarth (senr.), V. Trochon. Sitting: J. A. Stewart (Sec.), A. N. Duffy, J. Haffenden, S. G. Howie (Capt.), P. H. Morey (Pres.), B. Felton, G. Felton (Scorer).

Dunedin Railway Cricket Team. Winners of the Baker Cup Competition, 1933–34.
Standing: J. L. Henderson, W. Smith, C. Loeffler, W. Howarth (junr.), W. Howarth (senr.), V. Trochon. Sitting: J. A. Stewart (Sec.), A. N. Duffy, J. Haffenden, S. G. Howie (Capt.), P. H. Morey (Pres.), B. Felton, G. Felton (Scorer).

his pride and habit. Worst of all, that famous cannon-ball service had faded with the strain and now he seemed unable to get his first ball into court, a thing which gave Lacoste a feast of hitting off the second delivery. And the gallery, which had seen Tilden spent and gasping, which had sat mournful and glum, and watched the Frenchman win seven out of eight points in two games by completely beating his rival, knew that the end had come. Tilden's glory was going into eclipse and with it the Davis Cup was going on a long journey.

The dark Frenchman moved rapidly across court and back again. There was the sharp ping of rackets as the two exchanged rapid blows, each seeking to weave a trap for the other. Lacoste was 3-1 now and if he could win this service off Tilden the match looked merely a matter of time. Tilden was done. He had taken the third game on two magnificent volleys in the despairing effort to reduce the leeway, but that effort had cost him the fourth game and Lacoste, rolling up seven points in succession, now threatened to add another to his long list. It was easy to read Tilden's thoughts. This Frenchman was a wall. No matter how hard, how soft, what angle the shot carried, the ball came sailing back. He had perfected the finest defence in the history of the game, the recoveries he made were unbelievable, and Tilden was tired of the effort to beat him. The ground-strokes of the champion had failed, his raids at the net had jaded him and that shallow silver bowl, flashing page 22 page 23 in the sun, was scarcely worth the effort. More, the spell was broken; Lacoste had broken it when last year he took a Davis Cup single from the greatest player that America had ever possessed. No longer was there the unbeaten record in Davis Cup matches to spur the tired Tilden to great activity. The American had been a champion almost before this boy had reached his teens, this game, with its long grind and its terrific drain on physical reserves was the game of youth, and here, in Lacoste, was youth, confident, dominant and implacable.

It ended at last. Lacoste moved across rapidly and sent a backhand shot zipping across court at a wide angle. As Tilden moved over to the shot the Frenchman closed in and the straight backhand pass which Tilden designed came sharply back off his opponent's racket into the open court. There was no hope of reaching it, and the voice of the umpire cut the air. France, two sets to one, led in the final set by four games to one.

A slow murmur from the crowd. Hope had not yet fled, there was the faint glimmer of a chance that Tilden would find his form. He had been playing the game to beat Lacoste, but he had marred his strategy by defective racket-work. The Frenchman, with that unflagging defence which was proving the best weapon of attack, goading his adversary into efforts at impossibly fine shots, did not change a muscle of his face as he walked round the net, paused at the centre stool for a moment and then moved away to face Tilden's service once more. Lacoste was playing with the precision of some machine. He had made only four errors in five games and when watching the unhurried stride with which he went into action, his close concentration on that shooting backhand of Tilden, his quick and deadly forehand drive, there seemed no reason why he should ever make another mistake. Tilden, on the other hand, was moving about uncomfortably. The racket spun in his hand as he waited for a moment, his face was drawn with the effort which he had made already and his old stamina seemed to have been pitted against a man who exceeded it. Though this was still veiled, he was not to win a big national singles championship again for over two years.

The Frenchman was playing now with the assurance of the man who knows that nothing but a miracle can save his foe. In the high stand the keen faces of Borotra and Brugnon. losers in the doubles to the dominant play of this same Tilden watched Lacoste return shot for shot with the accuracy and impassivity of a wall. Cochet, alert and confident, had seen the end approaching and had gone to the dressing room to prepare for his final game, the conquest of the midget Johnson. And on the brittle court Tilden, labouring and baffled, moved about with belief in his own ability oozing from him. That great service gone, there was nothing behind it; nothing but the wild slamming of a youth who has met a champion for the first time in his life, and is trying so hard to win that he forgets everything but speed. It is clear now, even to the American crowd, that their hero has finally found a master.

Not the Lacoste of to-day, but the man who has driven Tilden to five terrific sets at St. Cloud and then took victory from him, who mastered the American giant at Philadelphia; this is the player that Tilden sees opposing him. He knows that this youngster's remorseless strength is something new in tennis experience and tries for pace and yet more pace. It has but one ending, the fast-clipped drives and volleys sag regularly into the net. And the Frenchman, seeing victory thrust at him, takes it all in his calm way. Again he begins to pile up a winning lead. Point after point goes to him in a steady stream. At the end of the set there is a momentary rally as Tilden wins a game, but it is the last effort of a titan, the end is at hand. Lacoste has made up his mind to end this meaningless tussle, and he smashes his way through Tilden's service to match point. The gallery sees the end at last. Tilden serves and his opponent whips the ball away deep to his backhand. There is a momentary sparring, then the Frenchman opens a great hole in his adversary's court with a perfectly timed forehand drive. Tilden reaches it, but the ball goes unerringly back into the vacant space. It carries speed as well and though Lacoste comes tentatively to the net he does not need to volley. Even Tilden's pace and reach cannot make that shot playable, the ball comes weakly off his racket and the Davis Cup is lost to American eyes for a decade to come.

The chap reading the morning paper aboard the Thames express paused to observe his neighbour, who was deftly rolling a cigarette. “Wonder you bother to do that,” he remarked lazily, “why not ready-mades?” The other man smiled. “No thanks',” he said, “the packet-cigarette is not manufactured that can compare with those I make myself. Ready-mades soon stale and lose flavour, even the choicest, and the longer they're kept (some are in stock for years), the more they deteriorate. Mine are always fresh and moist because they are smoked as soon as made. Lot cheaper, too. Tobacco? I always use toasted New Zealand. Can't get anything better. That's why. Four different brands, so you can suit yourself. Once you start rolling ‘em you've no use for packet goods.” Thousands of cigarette smokers are finding that out! The brands referred to are Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Riverhead Gold, Cavendish, and Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead). For quality flavour and aroma they challenge the world! Quite harmless, too, because, being toasted, there's next to no nicotine in them.*