An observer tells what he thinks our young players lack
R. L. CONDYAugust151927
Why Cannot Canada Win the Davis Cup?
R. L. CONDY
An observer tells what he thinks our young players lack
WHY is it that Canada has no outstanding lawn tennis players? How is it that the Dominion can produce young men of international championship calibre in the realms of swimming, sculling, shooting, running, golf, hockey and other sports, and yet lag behind other nations in international tennis?
What was it enabled Slim Lindbergh to fly across the Atlanti c Ocean?
At first sight there may
seem to be no possible connection between the two questions. As a matter of fact. they are closely
When Lindbergh visited Ottawa to participate in our Diamond Jubilee celebrations, he was taken out to the ,’ourts of the Rideau Tennis Club whereon the Ontario Provincial Tournament was being played.
"What on earth has Lindbergh to do with lawn tennis?" I asked myself. Nor was the question answered until a few weeks ago, at a dinner given by the Toronto Davis Cup Committee to the Cuban team who were in the Dominion to contest with Canada the first round in the great international lawn tennis event. An utterance made by the Cuban Consul, Señor Barranco, shed a light on the question.
"One of the four corner stones on which the foundation of our island republic was formed,” he said, “is sports. We count no sport more important to us as a nation than lawn tennis. And no incident nor series of incidents have in my memory done more towards strengthening our ties with other countries than the four Davis Cap competitions in which our men have taken place.
Samuel Hardy, once captain of the United States Davis Cup team, at the same function, referred to members of the teams of the twenty-six participating nations as ambassadors of sportsmanship and goodwill—as effective in smoothing away the edges of discord as any diplomatic corps.
Lindbergh was continually referred to, during those hectic days following his epic flight, as the unofficial ambassador to France from his country.
Now there is no calling that demands more sacrifices, more complete self-effacement, more sustained effort, more real hard work, than the diplomatic service. In Great Britain, which excels all others in diplomatic achievements, men are dedicated to the service almost a: birth. It is in many cases a glorious heritage. Studies at school and college are carefully arranged to best qualify the budding diplomat for his profession.
Through all the many and eloquent tributes paid to the life and character of Slim Lindbergh, and in his own modest description of his early days, his boyhood ambitions, his choice of career, ran one thread that ultimately patterned itself into his glorious achievement. And that was that from early days he devoted himself entirely to one hobby, which he glorified into an all consuming passion. His hobby was gasoline engines.
At first it took the form of a decrepit old motor bicycle, discarded as unserviceable by its previous owner. He did not rest until he had made it run perfectly. When aeroplanes appeared, a more romantic field opened for the pursuit of his hobby. He could not afford a new machine. He took again a discarded hulk and performed wonders in a patched-up bus that most airmen would have regarded as unsafe. And so on, until the race developed between nations for the honor of conquering the mighty airspace, fraught with unknown and incalculable dangers.
He determined his country should win that race.
With the same indomitable resolution and courage that had marked his early efforts, once again he succeeded.
The Davis Cup teams are, as it were, ex officio members of the diplomatic corps of the various nations they represent. To qualify fully for this most important and honorable post, to be able to give the quality of service that love of country should demand, there is necessary a complete devotion to the game, a whole hearted concentration on the attainment of complete mastery of eye, muscle and brain.
Just as in the higher realm of diplomatic service, so in this matter of representing one’s country in international sports contests, sacrifice of personal considerations is constantly demanded in fullest measure.
In an article which appeared recently in an English magazine, Mrs. L. A. Godfree, formerly Miss Kathleen McKane, extolled the custom of playing lawn tennis in foreign climates because it improved the game on account of ‘its tonic effect of having repeatedly to cope with new conditions of play and in greater accuracy and control of the ball through meeting fresh players with different strokes, different styles, different tactics.’ But to my mind she hits the real nail on the head when she says: ‘There is, moreover, the knowledge that in coping with these difficulties you are upholding the name of England abroad.’
Therein lies, I feel confident, the main reason for our dearth of Davis Cup players. Not sufficie n t of our young fellows have the national vision.
If they realize d that Canada is bein g 1 e t
down in the field of internationa tennis, then it is certain that the youth of the Dominion would immediately buckle to and show just as much public spirit and devotion to country that enabled Lindbergh to win for the United States that magnificent battle with nature.
Crocker and Wright
IN saying that Canada has no outstanding Lawn Tennis players I have no intention of belittling the ability of this year’s Canadian Davis Cup team, Willard Crocker, of Montreal, and Jack Wright of McGill University.
They are doing magnificently.
They have beaten the Cubans, and as this issue of MacLean's goes to press they will probably be playing the winner of the Japan-Mexico tie. It may be foolish to predict the result of such an uncertain thing as a
tennis match; but I have sufficient confidence in the two Canadians to venture the prophecy that they will score another victory and so qualify as winners of the American zone to meet the European champions,, which assuredly will be France.
Never since 1913 has the Canadian Davis Cup team looked so good to me. I have read some effusions that have described Crocker as the finest tennis player the Dominion has ever produced. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to subscribe to that statement were it true. But it is not true, and I am sure that Willard would be the last to wish it made. The ons sufficient reason for my not agreeing with it is that it obviously fails to remember the prowess of the heroic “Bobby” Powell, who did so much to lead Canada to victory right up to the final round in 1913.
Crocker and Wright have given much time to fit themselves to represent Canada, and they have some quite good wins to their credit. But it is a patent fact that, if they ran up against France—when they run up against France, I prefer to say—by no possible chance can they win.
There does not seem a sufficient reason for such a situation. The Dominion Davis Cup representatives should have as good a chance of annexing the emblem as any. Or at least they should have a sporting chance. It is very true that in France, or in parts of France, it is possible to play lawn tennis all the year round. Hence the Frenchmen might be expected to be more efficient players than the Canadians. But this is only an excuse and not a reason.
There are tournaments :n the United States that Canadian players could take part in practically all the year round. I do not mean to say that all young people
who show proficiency in lawn tennis should go over to the States and play in lots of tennis tournaments. That would be impracticable, of course. But I maintain that a certain small number of the outstanding players of the year could be careful y taken care of, given special coaching and be financed for a period of years so that they would be able to afford to give the necessary time to the game.
This need not mean that their career be ruined, nor even impaired. Many of the foremost players in the world are living proofs of that fact. The playing of tennis, even intensively need not affect study and the foundations of a career can be laid during the time that the players are giving their ability and energy to v their coun-
try. Their fame as representatives of their country will more than make amends for any business
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or money they may lose by giving up a few years of their life to international sport.
But, in order to make this possible, tiie men themselves must be imbued with the keenness to see their country in the forefront. Like Lindbergh, they must be determined that their country shall win.
Sacrifices have been made by men of other countries. Bill Tilden turned down quite a large sum of money in order that his services should not be lost to his country’s Davis Cup team; so have others. Betty Nuthall, although only sixteen years of age, given her choice of accepting or refusing a sum of money that would turn many older heads, chose instead to stay amateur in order that she might be able to play on the English team that hopes to win back t he Wightman Cup from the United States; and so that she might try again in future years to win the allEngland tourney at Wimbledon, which hasforseveral seasons gone to a foreigner.
Rene Lacoste forms another striking example. Against his father’s wishes he gave up everything for a few years to devote himself to lawn tennis. His father finally agreed, providing he won the championship of the world. He promised to do so, and did so. Now he announces his intention of going back to business, where a very lucrative position awaits him. But he has added a proviso.
“If France wins the 1927 Davis Cup contest,” he says.
There seems every possibility that France will make a very close bid for the trophy. If France wins it, then Lacoste will go back to his business. But until his country has gained that honor, his services are still available. That is the spirit that won for him the championship of the World. And the same spirit will one day, perhaps before very long, enable a young Canadian to pit himself with some chance of success against the champion lawn tennis player of the world.
Plenty of Opportunity
TF THE young players will dotheirpart,
there will be no difficulty in the matter of opportunity. For several years the authorities in charge of lawn tennis in Canada, headed by the veteran president of the C.L.T.A., Garnet H. Meidrum, have given encouragement to young fellows whose games appeared promising. They have been sent, at the association’s expense, to provincial and Dominion championships, and in some cases have been entered in important tournaments in the States. Every opportunity has been given them to improve their game.
In the East, the work of the C.L.T.A. is nobly seconded by the Ontario Provincial Association, under President Philip D. Lyons, and by the Quebec Association, under President John M. Miller. Whenever they have seen boys showing any promise they have immediately been gathered into the fold. The first step is to make them members of a club which has a good professional. If they cannot afford the fees, that little matter does not stand in the way. They thus are enabled to play under the very best circumstances and to get the best tuition possible.
This plan has proved very successful in turning out a number of boys who, at fifteen and sixteen years of age bid fair to become young Dohertys. But at
seventeen and eighteen years of age, these young chaps are very little better than they were at fifteen; and they are certainly not in line for Davis Cup competition. I have watched this happen for ten years, and have tried to understand it. I have come to the conclusion that the real reason is the one I have already given.
Many of the boys I have seen have shown that they had the necessary ability. They have not had the inclination to develop it. They do not see the patriotic side of the question; probably because it has not been pointed out to them. The old view of sports—that many of us were brought up to accept —was that they are for the general good of the health of the player. At school you played games because it did you good. Of course, afterwards you played because you liked it; but even the little rats who did not like it had to play it. The minute you began to show any signs of being adept at the game, then things took on a different turn. The school was interested in you then. It needed that ability to lick other schools. From the minute you made the team you had to train strictly to keep in the very best condition. Other boys might slack around and have a good time, gorge candies and pastry in between meals to their heart’s content. But if you were on the team you owed it to your school not to do those things. And so it went on all the way up the ladder. You played for your town, your county, and ultimately for your country, in international contests. All the way along sacrifices were necessary without which you could not give your country the best that was in you.
This sounds like a sermon, but it seems to me to embrace the truth. There is a healthy sign, beginning to be more noticeable every year, I think, that the boys of the Canadian Schools are developing that esprit de corps which is essential if the country is to shine in international contests. Many of the schools, of course, have had it for years; but many have not.
And so, when the editor of Maclean's asked me why Canada did not shine in International Lawn Tennis, I told him I thought I knew why and he asked me to tell his readers.
I asked President Meidrum what he thought was the reason.
“There is far too little time spent at the practice-board,” said the public spirited veteran who has given so many valuable years of his life to the furtherance of the game in Canada.
“The young fellows are too keen to beat each other,” he added. “They go out to win games and not to improve their game.”
During the recent Davis Cup matches between Canada and Cuba I asked Sam Hardy, the genial referee. If there’s anything about tennis that Sam doesn't know it isn’t true
“The thing’s obvious,” he said. “They don’t play enough tournaments. Send them down to us for a few years and Canada will soon be on the map.”
Of course both these eminent authorities are right.
But I maintain again that until the young players are imbued with the spirit that actuated Rene Lacoste to say, “If France wins . . . ,” there will be no world beater in the ranks of the Canadian tennis. Until that time there is not the faintest possible hope that Canada will ever win the Davis Cup.
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