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Rosewall and Hoad – fierce tennis rivals from Sydney

Posted in Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Sunday, 30 October 2011

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This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Davis Cup, picture, image, illustration

The first Davis Cup was thought up by Dwight Davis, who was on the winning team

Two sets of very proud parents sat in the stands as the two 11-year-olds, immaculate in their new gear, warmed up for their tennis match at Rockdale, a suburb of Sydney, Australia.

The star-studded American Davis Cup team was in town for an exhibition match and someone thought it might be a good idea if two of the most promising local youngsters came together in a curtain-raiser.

The boys chosen were Kenneth Robert Rosewall and Lewis Alan Hoad. Both came from Sydney, although from opposite sides of the city, both were born in 1934, with only three weeks separating their birthdays.

It was the first of hundreds of sets they were to play against each other, and the beginning of a rivalry that was to span some of the most illustrious years of tennis.

Ken Rosewall, although frail in appearance, proved more than a match for his more hard-hitting rival. He won that first match in two sets without losing a game and in three more meetings repeated the feat before Hoad managed to win a game.

Lew Hoad, stocky, tough and a keen player of all sports, was a little erratic in all he did. He hit the ball harder than any player of his age, but Rosewall, whose father had coached him carefully since the age of five, had the skill and speed to return everything.

Whereas Rosewall kept with his tennis, Hoad drifted away for a spell enjoying every sport he took up. He might have been lost to the game had it not been for Adrian Quist, a Wimbledon doubles winner before the war and one of the stalwarts of the Australian Davis Cup side in the thirties and forties.

Quist and others recognised Hoad’s potential. They gradually ironed out some of his faults and when he next met Rosewall in the New South Wales junior championships he won.

Their different styles – Hoad’s power and Rosewall’s clever placement of shots – made them an ideal doubles pair. They were only 15, but already they were being labelled the “mighty midgets”. They teamed up together to win the States under-19 junior doubles championship for three successive years.

The appointment of Harry Hopman as Australian team captain in the early fifties had a remarkable effect on the careers of masters Hoad and Rosewall.

Hopman, a shrewd tactician of the doubles game, had some outstanding players to call upon including Ken McGregor, Mervyn Rose and Frank Sedgeman, but he still decided to include Hoad and Rosewall in the party to play the 1952 European tournaments.

It was a tough baptism for the two 17-year-olds as they experienced the red clay courts of Paris for the first time and then moved on to Wimbledon, the cathedral of world tennis.

In the singles, Rosewall went out in the second round, but Hoad progressed two rounds further, producing more than a dozen ace services against the Czech star Jaroslav Drobny before going out.

The highspot of the “mighty midgets'” summer came in the doubles. Here they set Wimbledon alight by beating the No. 2 seeds Dick Savitt and Gardner Mulloy in a never-to-be-forgotten match. “Those kids were great,” Mulloy had to admit afterwards. Although the Australian youngsters went out in the semi-finals, they had suddenly arrived as world stars.

The impulsive young Hoad may have found the discipline imposed by team manager Hopman a little frustrating at times, but there is little doubt that the experience was of benefit to both their careers.

The Australian youngsters were being groomed for stardom and when Sedgeman and McGregor, then the world’s No. 1 and No. 3, turned professional, Hoad and Rosewall found themselves, at 19, the backbone of the Australian Davis Cup team.

They shared some great triumphs and perhaps their greatest was in retaining the Davis Cup for Australia late in 1953 on their return from a Wimbledon doubles triumph. Surprisingly, Hopman did not pair them together in the doubles, which Australia lost to go 1-2 down in the rubber. Hoad and Rosewall both needed to win their singles. Everything stopped throughout Australia as the young pair fought for the cup, which had far more importance in tennis than it does now. They both won.

Some critics maintain that Hoad’s win against the No. 1 player in the world at the time, American Tony Trabert, to keep the rubber alive was his greatest triumph. Perhaps it was, but he did go on to win Wimbledon in successive years and almost take the “grand slam” – winning the four major championships (Wimbledon, Paris, Forest Hills and the Australian championships) in the same season.

Ironically it was his great friend and rival Rosewall who robbed Hoad of the four-title success in 1956. Hoad was already Australian champion when the party came to Europe and he won the French championship for the only time in his career. At Wimbledon, the two came together in the singles final which Hoad won in four sets.

Three down and one to go, but at the year’s end an inspired Rosewall repeated what he had done the first time they had met. This time it was not a curtain-raiser but the final of the US championship at Forest Hills. Rosewall won and Hoad’s chance of a tennis clean sweep had gone.

The following year both switched to the professional ranks – Rosewall first for a guarantee of over £24,000 over 14 months plus a percentage of the receipts. It may seem a small sum today compared to the earnings of Jimmy Connors, but remember in those days the professional circuit was a much smaller affair and there were no open tournaments.

Hoad followed after winning his second Wimbledon, in 1958, but within eighteen months back injuries had forced him out of the top flight of tennis players.

Meanwhile Rosewall quickly adjusted to the professional game and with Pancho Gonzales, and later Rod Laver, he dominated the pro circuit until the arrival of open tennis in 1968. As late as 1970, Rosewall reached the Wimbledon finals, only to be worn down and defeated by the tireless energy of the younger Australian, John Newcombe. Later that year Rosewall beat Newcombe’s doubles partner, Tony Roche, in the United States final.

The evergreen Rosewall may never have won Wimbledon as his great rival did, but he had the consolation of being one of Australia’s leading tennis ambassadors until past the age of 40 – a remarkable feat for anyone in big-time sport.

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