The once-glorious Australian tennis empire will be making an extra curtain call during the Aetna World Cup match this weekend. In a format switch designed to salvage the cup for one Last hurrah, some of the best over-35 players from Australia and the United States are scheduled to meet in Hartford, Conn. Normally, younger players from these countries square off in this cup rivalry. But of late the competition has become so lopsided in favor of the Americans as to be both uninteresting and embarrassing.
The idea of pitting the US and Australia across the net was a good one when launched a decade ago as a small, underfinanced local event. The Aussies were still feeling their oats then and, in the first six year, ran off with five of the six cups.
A dramatic shift occurred thereafter as the Ken Rosewalls and Rod Lavers weren't replaced by Australians of similar stature. By 1977 the US team had scored the first shutout in the event's history, sweeping all seven matches. Another blanking was administered last year, forcing the cup organizers to adopt the golden-oldies format for the competition's final installment.
assembling to do court battle will be a team of some of the legendary Australian players -- Laver, Rosewall, John Newcombe, Roy Emerson, and Fred Stolle. Opposing them across the net will be a less illustrious US contingent of Marty Riessen, Tom Gorman, Dennis Ralston, and Charlie Pasarell.
If not the dream match-up some might like, this showdown at least promises more excitement than one between today's top American and Aussie stars. Although Uncle Sam could recruit players like John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Vitas Gerulaitis, Australia would have to counter with a lineup headed by John Alexander. Though Alexander was the top Australian on the 1979 computer rankings, he was still only No. 18 in the world, and his closest countrymen were Peter McNamara, No. 48, and Kim Warwick, No. 49.
A number of reasons have been advanced to explain the Aussies' tennis decline. These include the fact that a country with only 13.5 million inhabitants has a limited pool of talent. A failure to adapt to "open" competition, in which pros and amateurs mix, is also cited, along with the demise of the total team system that once saw the greats traveling and learning together.