The early part of the 20th century featured Davis Cup dominance by a small number of countries. The 1950s, like the 1960s, were a time of prominence for just two: an all-conquering Australia and an almost perpetual runner-up USA.
Australia and the USA featured in every Davis Cup Final from 1950 to 1959 – the finals being Challenge rounds where the interzonal winners won the chance to challenge the defending champions. During this period, Harry Hopman’s Aussies won eight titles, losing out to the Americans just twice.
1950 was the start of Hopman’s second stint as captain, and one that would lead him into the record books; he and his team amassed a total of 16 Davis Cup titles during his period in charge between 1939 and 1967.
In that first final of the decade, Hopman’s men travelled to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York, where Frank Sedgman, Ken McGregor and John Bromwich dealt a decisive blow. They won the first four matches against the USA’s Tom Brown, Ted Schroeder and Gardnar Mulloy with only Brown winning the final singles match, against McGregor.
The 1951 final featured one Vic Seixas for the Americans. He was at the start of what would prove a prolific career in Grand Slam tennis, a career that would put 15 major trophies in his cabinet – across singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
Sedgman, the aussie hero
That year, Seixas had lost in the final of the US Championships to Sedgman just a few months earlier, and the pair met again in the fifth, and deciding, match of the Davis Cup final in Sydney. Sedgman once again got the better of his American opponent, taking the match, and the title, in straight sets.
Sedgman was Australia’s hero during this period. In 1951 he won all three titles (singles, doubles and mixed doubles) at the US Championships, and then did the same at Wimbledon the following year.
At the end of 1951, Sedgman considered turning professional. It was Hopman who kept him in the amateur ranks, leading a fundraising campaign to buy a business that meant the Australian could continue playing amateur tennis.
Sedgman’s amateur status lasted only one more year though, and he turned professional at the end of 1952, the 22-time Grand Slam winner ruled out of any further Davis Cup action.
Would Sedgman’s absence open the door for a US team hungry for their first win since 1949? The Americans travelled to Melbourne in 1953 with high hopes, but Hopman had no shortage of world class players to choose from. It was a close tie, but Australia once again emerged victorious.
The Americans returned to Australia in 1954, and it seemed the tide was to turn. It was a hard-fought clash, with the singles between Ken Rosewall and Tony Trabert the only match decided in straight sets.
And this time, it was an American victory; Seixas, who that year had taken all three titles at the US Championships, was finally able to add a Davis Cup to his exceptional trophy haul.
Australians regain dominance
But it was a short-lived time at the top, and the Australians fought straight back the following year with a punishing 5-0 victory in New York.
1956 and 1957 brought more of the same for the Americans. First, in Adelaide, Rosewall and Lew Hoad – both not only multiple Grand Slam singles winners but also a phenomenal doubles pairing – sent the team of Seixas, Herbie Flam and Sam Giammalva packing with another 5-0 victory, dropping just three sets between them over the course of the tie.
At the end of 1956 Rosewall signed a professional contract, with Hoad following suit midway through 1957. The absence of star players once again gave hope to the Americans, and that December in Melbourne just one match – the doubles – didn’t go the full five-set distance. Australia once again took the title, but it was a tight one.
Another hard-fought clash in 1958 finally gave the Americans their second Davis Cup title of the decade, with the USA’s Alex Olmedo taking his only Davis Cup trophy in a career that would net him the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles the following year.
The decade ended as it began, with Hopman’s men travelling to the West Side Tennis Club in New York to challenge the Davis Cup title holders. And, as in 1950, having taken a fifteenth Davis Cup title, it was the Australians who would be defending champions the following year.