WINNING tennis titles around the world was almost taken for granted by Australian tennis fans in the golden era of the 1950s. GEOFF POULTER looks back on those glory days:
“ONCE upon a time Australia had the eight best players in the world.” We’re talking tennis and referring to around the peak of a golden era 60 years ago.
The author of those emphatic words was Mervyn Rose, the 1958 French Open singles winner who died a few months ago. A Rose obituary at the time contained this claim and clearly it was largely unchallenged.
Neale Fraser, 84, the 1959 and 1960 US Open and 1960 Wimbledon singles winner, confirmed my guesstimate that the period to which Rose was referring would have been around about 1957-58.
At this stage Frank Sedgman was the leading professional and Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad were joining the professional tennis ranks. There was no doubting the standard of the virtually ostracised pro tennis circuit as every new signing took a while to match their established performers.
That leaves the amateur ranks and Australia, at that time, was dominant. We had Ashley Cooper, Fraser, Mal Anderson, Rose, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Rex Hartwig leading the way.
To be fair the emerging Alex Olmedo, who represented the United States, would win the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in 1959. Not all 10 Aussies mentioned above would have been certain to beat Olmedo. And Pancho Gonzales (the 1948 and 1949 US Open winner), though fading a little, was still a force on the pro circuit.
Cooper was a four-time major singles winner and Anderson had won the 1957 US singles title. Laver and Emerson were emerging on the scene and Hartwig was strong, reliable competitor.
Rose had also won the 1954 Australian Open. And, as Fraser pointed out this week, in those days we usually won Davis Cup.
Fraser touched on the then dominance of Australian tennis this week when I asked him about Rose’s claim. He conceded that eight out of eight might have been stretching it a little bit. “Let’s say eight of the best 10 might have been a fairer estimate.”
Fraser spoke at the 90th birthday celebrations at Kooyong for fellow Victorian Sedgman, undoubtedly his early idol and inspiration. They are among the nation’s – best ever players.
Fraser referred glowingly to Sedgman’s ability to prepare and perform, to build and improve his game, and become the best player in the world.
Fraser emphasised that Sedgman’s knowledge and understanding of what was required to be a top player would be a telling lesson for emerging players today.
Sedgman won five majors from 1949 to 1952, including two US Opens and a Wimbledon singles before turning professional and eventually becoming the No 1 player in pro ranks.
Australian tennis is the 1950s and 1960s was supreme. Gradually, for all sorts of well-documented reasons, it declined.
As the Australian Open approaches, we pray for a miracle. We pray for a new Sedgman or Fraser to emerge to take us back to the glory days of the 1950s.
Ah, if only!
Author: Geoff Poulter
GEOFF POULTER, 69, has spent 51 years in sports media. He was the last Melbourne Herald chief football writer. CV: Sports oracle, author, historian, impersonator, raconteur, poet, quiz whiz, philosopher, song-writer, intellectual scholar – and still employable!