Penny pinching, politics and puritanism are killing Canada’s Davis Cup chances says former singles champion Rainville
WE COULD WIN IF...
Penny pinching, politics and puritanism are killing Canada’s Davis Cup chances says former singles champion Rainville
THIS YEAR Canada is competing again in the Davis Cup series, from which will emerge the world’s champion amateur tennis team. Canada won’t win. We probably won’t get by the first round—may be knocked out before this is printed.
Defeatism? No. These statements are obvious, but I make them as a onetime series player who believes Canada can eventually win the Davis Cup —providing we are adult enough to face the facts. We’ll never win the trophy as long as the Canadian Lawn Tennis Association remains hidebound by conventions other nations discarded years ago-— if, indeed, they ever observed them.
We’ve all heard the stock arguments as to why Canada has only once gone as far as the finals, has never won the Davis Cup—and probably never will. It’s said we haven’t a large enough population to turn out top-notch tennis players, that our climate cuts playing time too short to develop champions, that the Canadian public just isn’t tennis-minded. Nonsense.
Tn reality the troubles are financial and political. Thanks to the simon-pure amateurism of the Canadian Lawn Tennis Association, our players can’t get funds for the all-out training they need to achieve Davis Cup standards.
And thanks to politics within the association, which through the provincial associations links all the better clubs in Canada, the best players don’t
always get the chance to make Canada’s Davis Cup Teams—which are selected arbitrarily on one of two systems. Sometimes (this year, for instance) a CLTA selection committee does the picking; other times a captain is appointed by the CLTA, and in turn the captain appoints the team. Usually this is done after “trials,” where individual performances may influence, but not dictate, the arbitrary choices.
Canada’s team this year is Laird Watt, captain, Bren Macken and Henri Rochon—all of Montreal —and Don McDiarmid, Ottawa.
Theoretically, our entry should have an excellent opportunity, because players of all countries are starting from scratch to regain war-dulled prowess. Theory is one thing, however, and reality another: Canada’s representatives had little if any real tournament play at home prior to the Davis Cup trials, and no play at all with international stars. Our team went in almost cold, had almost no chance from the beginning—mainly because we didn’t spend the money to get them the competitive training they needed.
The size of our nation is not a factor. Australia, with a smaller population than we have, has held the Davis Cup since the series was last played, just before the war—and won twice before. It has a good
chance to win again, as it has the rest of this year to prepare to defend the title while a challenger is being determined—and the current American team is weak.
The finalists—perhaps even the winner—of the American zone will already have been decided by the time this is published, the U. S. having been paired with the Philippines while Canada and Mexico meet in Montreal. The best of the four will meet New Zealand sometime this summer. The American-Pacific champs will take on the winner of the European zone to decide the challenger to meet Australia at the end of this year or early in 1947.
Only one thing is certain about how the elimination will go—and that is that Canada won’t go far.
Yet in men like our current Davis Cup players, and other white hopes glimmering across the courts of the Dominion, Canada does have the material to build winning teams for the future— but only if these resources are properly developed and our players given a chance to sharpen their games in lots of tournament play.
Even climate, though a factor, isn’t the handicap pessimists suggest. Tennis isn’t played the year round in Britain, the New England States, New York or Pennsylvania, Continued on page 41
Continued from page 20
yet all these regions have turned out good players. Remember Britain’s Fred Perry, Bunny Austin and Pat Hughes? And Pennsylvania’s Big Bill Tilden was quite a lad with a racket in his day.
The truth is, top-ranking tennis stars are the product of travel, of constant tournament play against a changing roster of big-name players. They have never been developed in regional play alone, a fact that every contending Davis Cup nation but Canada seems to have realized. But it costs money to travel—and that—to our tennis bosses —has always been the real rub.
We Must Pay to Win
Competing nations, other than Canada, have always found a way to finance their international tennis players—and if we ever expect our entries to get anywhere in Davis Cup play, we must do the same. It takes time, a great deal of year-round, top-flight tournament play, for a tennist to attain that razor-honed edge essential to successful Davis Cup play. The average tennis player, no matter how promising, can’t afford it. So he must be helped—unless we are reconciled to limiting our Davis Cup prospects to the dilettanti of tennis, who have the wealth and leisure to do it on their own. If we do, we can bid good-by to our chances of ever winning the cup.
Amateurism is something of a fetish with our Canadian tennis associations —they are vastly more puritanical on the subject than Britain, France or the U. S. As long as we go on closing our eyes to what is happening elsewhere in the tennis world, our players, with little more than club tournament experience behind them, will go on being matched year after year against the stall-fed athletes of other nations. Our stars have done remarkably well under the circumstances, but it is high time they were given a new deal.
Even at the beginning of the century tennis players in England were known as “pothunters”—they were looking for prizes, and their clubs helped them go hunting. By the time Fred Perry came to be England’s star Davis Cup player, he could travel the world the year round, accepting liberal expenses from the various countries, associations and clubs where he played. And at the same time he was a director of Slazengers, sporting goods manufactprers, at a $5,000 annual salary, plus an expense account.
But Perry’s take was very little compared with the $18,000 a year Bill Tilden collected from the Philadelphia Ledger for syndicated articles, plus the royal expenses he received for tournament appearances. The International Lawn Tennis Association didn’t even blink when the Government of France voted 100,000 francs to Suzanne Lenglen, greatest woman star of them all, for the glory she had brought her country. It’s not logical to believe that Canadians can pay their own ways
against players who have no financial worries.
A few years ago, along with some other players, I became involved in a ridiculous situation which bears on the financial question. Our Canadian Davis Cup trials had taken place in Toronto. A friend, an executive with a shirt company, asked some of the competitors if they would mind the present of a half dozen shirts each. We saw no objection to this.
The next morning he met us at the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, gave us the shirts and asked casually if we would mind having a picture of the team taken. We agreed, and, thinking no more of the incident, went on to Philadelphia for a Cup match.
A few days later we received a lengthy questionnaire from the Canadian Lawn Tennis Association, asking if we had authorized a certain firm to use our names and pictures in connection with the sale of shirts. We had to sign declarations to the effect that we had done nothing against the rules and swear the whole thing had been a misunderstanding.
We were playing against some of the most expensive amateurs in the world, and our amateur standing had been endangered by a few free shirts!
Not long after, I received an offer from a cigarette manufacturer, promising to supply me and my family with smokes for the rest of our lives if I would endorse their brand in an advertisement. I declined. The watchdogs of the Association would never forgive such a sin.
I’ve often wondered if any of our officials have ever stopped to figure out just how much it does cost an international player to equip himself.
Here’s a conservative list of what he needs for a start:
Six pairs of flannels, six pairs of shoes, at least six rackets, a large press for rackets, at least three sweaters, a dozen flannel shirts, 12 pairs of socks, a half dozen shorts, a tennis bag, dinner jacket, suit of tails and accessories. Add to this club fees, repairs to rackets, lessons, laundry, dry cleaning, etc. It’s astronomical.
To Play for Canada—$25,000
Once you’re reached the top a lot of this is taken care of, but personal expenses still come high—if you’re playing for Canada. I estimate that it cost me $25,000 to make the Canadian Davis Cup team, not to mention what it cost to stay on it.
A campaign to put tennis in the sports-spectacle class, staging exhibition tournaments between top foreign and Canadian stars in some of the big arenas, could provide the funds to develop our less experienced players.
Through such means, plus private donations, it should be easy to raise money to send promising young players to American tournaments. Five thousand dollars should be plenty to start with, as the U. S. clubs are notably hospitable to visiting players. The result would be to weed out weaker players, develop the best new talent—and build reputations which
would in turn draw crowds to Canadian tennis shows, thus repaying the funds invested to give them a start.
While monetary matters lie at the heart of Canada’s tennis problem, favoritism and clique politics in the tennis associations have done their part to hold back development of promising players and influence unfairly the choice of Davis Cup teams and of players for other special tournaments. Here’s an example:
In 1934 Dr. Jack Wright, then living in Vancouver, wanted to go to Toronto for the Davis Cup tryouts. The previous year he had carried Ellsworth Vines to five sets when Canada met the United States. Yet the CLTA selection committee said it couldn’t afford to bring him East. Wright even offered to pay his own expenses if he failed to qualify for the Cup team. The officials said no. Wright never figured again in international tennis play.
During this controversy some $6,000 or $7,000 was lying dormant in the bank account of the Canadian Lawn Tennis Association. And the following winter $500 was spent to send two other players to South America.
For a week of play in Ottawa during that 1934 season I was permitted the schoolboy allowance of $20. I won the Ontario tournament in Toronto, supposedly managing on $20 for a twoweek period.
That same year I made the Davis Cup team only through outside pressure from the press. I was then 31, too old, according to the selection officials, to qualify for singles. I also was not one of their favorites. But they changed their minds after some public prodding, and I made the team easily.
The following year, when Canada was invited to enter a team in a special tournament in Britain, although I was Canadian champion, I was again declared ineligible on account of being “too old.” This turndown brought such strong public dissent that supporters of the game in Montreal and elsewhere raised $1,800 so that two extra players —neither of us acceptable to the Association—might be sent overseas.
Commenting on politics in Canadian tournament tennis, former Davis Cupper Ross Wilson said recently: “I have always felt that if Canada is going to encourage tennis players who have shown promise or have some record of tournament wins, they should have an opportunity of competing in trials and meeting all pretenders.
“I have always been unhappy about the arbitrary way the Davis Cup team was selected, even the year I played on the squad. It seems to me that it was too cut and dried, that it left too much room for plain politics.”
For the most part our officials have been less than aggressive in looking after the interests of Canadian players in international play. They carry “sportsmanship”to ridiculous extremes.
English officials, for instance, called 18 foot-faults against Sidney Wood, of a U. S. team, in one match with Fred Perry. But our linesmen, out of courtesy to visiting players, invariably give them the benefit of the doubt.
Means, Men and Spirit
The postwar era means a fresh start for all the competing teams. It can mean an era of court prestige, which Canada has never enjoyed. We have the means and the men, and Canada has never lacked the spirit of wholehearted sportsmanship. All we have lacked is the hardheaded astuteness of other countries—England, the United States, Australia, and France—all of whom have borne the Cup proudly home. They have recognized the hard facts attendant on producing winning teams. They have chosen the best
available players, putting financial and political considerations aside. They have, in fact, played to win, and they have won.
And we can do it too. There’s no magic existing below the 49th parallel that produces Tildens and Budges and Vines. But there is a down-to-earth
awareness that these men must have the time and the facilities to develop their court strength if they are to bring honor to themselves and to the country that sponsors them.
Looser purse strings and more open minds will go a long way toward bringing that coveted trophy to Canada.
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