Harry Hopman, Master Builder, by John Barrett

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by newmark401, May 6, 2013.

  1. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    This long, insightful article on the legendary Australian Davis Cup coach, player and journalist Harry Hopman (1906-1985) was featured in the "Grand Prix Tennis Annual" for 1976. It was written by the English journalist and commentator John Barrett, himself a former player and Davis Cup captain.

    Harry Hopman, Master Builder

    By John Barrett

    Part I of III

    “The war was over. Gradually, the threads of life were picked up again as normality returned. The Davis Cup, that proud symbol of national tennis supremacy, was brought up from the vaults of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia, where it had lain since the historic defeat of the Americans at Philadelphia’s Merion Cricket Club in 1939, to be dusted off in preparation for the 1946 challenge.

    “Australia was captained by 51-year-old Gerald Patterson whose first Wimbledon victory had come, curiously enough, immediately after the end of the First World War in 1919. Two members of his 1946 team – the ambidextrous John Bromwich and his energetic little doubles partner, Adrian Quist, had been responsible for that 1939 victory and one of their opponents then, Jack Kramer, was a member of Walter Pate’s American team which came to Kooyong for the first post-war Challenge Round.

    “The Americans carried all before them. Only two sets were lost as Kramer, Ted Schroeder and Gardnar Mulloy swept to a 5-0 victory that amply rewarded Pate for the somewhat surprising defeat of his much-fancied 1939 team (Bobby Riggs, Frank Parker, Joe Hunt and Kramer) by the two young Australians. But Bromwich and Quist had been shrewdly prepared then by playing captain Harry Hopman who had learned much from the bitter taste of defeat in his first match as captain the year before. Then 32, Hopman had grown up in the game with another legendary Australian, Jack Crawford, who in fact had been the fourth member of the successful 1939 team.

    “But even in defeat the post-war Australian administrators were slow to realise the importance of leadership and for the next three years the Americans conducted an annual massacre at the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills, New York. By margins of 4-1, 5-0 and 4-1, they imperiously dismissed successive Australian challenges that were led by three different captains – first a wartime official, Roy Cowling, who was being rewarded for loyal service and then, as playing captains, the two men who had wrought the 1939 miracle – Bromwich and Quist.

    “During this period Hopman was out of favour with the authorities. Resuming his journalistic duties with the ‘Melbourne Herald’, which had first brought him to Victoria from his native Sydney in 1932, he was critical of the lack of sold training and of the inadequate preparation of Australian teams. But he was not one for criticising without being prepared to do something about it himself.

    “It was in character, then, that during the same period Hopman established a training centre at Kooyong where he collected around him four young men with immense talents. Frank Sedgman and an awkward young left-hander, Mervyn Rose, were both from Melbourne but Ken McGregor, a gangling, 6-foot, 3-inch South Australian, came 500 miles south-east from Adelaide to join the camp, and later George Worthington travelled as many miles south-west from Sydney to sharpen his game.

    “On Saturday mornings the best of Victoria’s young players were subjected to punishing routines of play and practice by the tireless Hopman. One of them, Owen Davidson, who later went to win the U.S. Open doubles championship with John Newcombe and the Australian doubles with Ken Rosewall as well as the Wimbledon mixed title with Billie Jean King, recalls: ‘We used to work so hard some of us were physically sick. When I got home all I could do was sleep. Half of me used to dread those mornings, but the other half loved the intensity of it and appreciated the improvement it brought.’

    “Hopman’s methods set new standards in tennis training and because of the publicity they received galvanized the young swimmers and runners in Australia to greater efforts. Like Percy Cerutty, who motivated Herb Elliott to produce world record times on the track, Hopman knew exactly what he wanted. ‘The first step to making a successful team is to have a fit team. Sedgman, McGregor, Rose and Worthington would do anything to strengthen muscles, to gain flexibility, to improve their wind, speed, reflexes, suppleness, coordination, balance and rhythm, agility and stroking.’ Merely to list all these attributes is enough to leave one breathless but Hopman’s driving belief in the basic values of work, work and more work had yet to be put to the test.
     
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  2. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Part II of III

    “At last, in 1950, the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia invited Hopman to take a team overseas in quest of that prestigious silver trophy that seemed at the time destined to remain in America forever. There were no surprises when the team was announced – Sedgman, McGregor, Rose and Worthington. Little did they realise it at the time but these four together with Bromwich, who played some of the early singles and shared the doubles with Sedgman, were to inaugurate an astonishing period of Australian dominance in the world game that was inspired by the drive and energy, the belief and powers of leadership of this dapper little journalist from Melbourne. For the next 20 years the Hopman method would mould and develop some outstanding raw talent that would succeed in 15 Davis Cup Challenge Rounds and collect the men’s singles titles of Wimbledon 13 times, of France 10 times, of the USA 14 times and Australia 18 times, as well as capture 61 men’s doubles titles in these same championships.

    “Hopman led by example and his formula was simple: ‘Lots of hard work on the court, plenty of rest and the sacrifice of what are known among some young people as the good things of life like parties and rich food and, of course, smoking and drinking.’ When the world saw the successes of Sedgman and the others they knew he was right and, more importantly, the next generation of young Australian players knew it too and accepted the disciplined form of life as a matter of course – even though at times they hated it. And the system of overseas touring teams composed of a blend of experienced and promising players who travelled from April to September, and then the preparation of Challenge Round Davis Cup squads in defence of the Cup in November and December produced a seemingly endless stream of talented champions to replace those who, one by one, after 1952, followed Sedgman into the professional ranks. Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall and Rex Hartwig in 1953-56, Ashley Cooper and Mal Anderson in 1958, Neale Fraser, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle between 1959 and 1965, with John Newcombe and Tony Roche covering the period up to the introduction of Open tennis in 1968 – all played their parts in maintaining Australian supremacy.

    “Certainly Hopman did have the talent to work on but in a sense he created it by providing the right climate in which it could develop. ‘They were easy to manage only because I gave full attention to them, thinking up likely problems before they arrived. The Press around the world accused me of being heavy with discipline. They used the wrong word. It was organisation, not discipline, the players needed. I organised their training, their parties and fun generally, their moderate way of life, often their choice of friends, which meant protecting them from the small percentage of “rubbish”, male and female, that a travelling team meets on its way around the world.’

    “Although to Hopman the strictly ordered regiment was merely organisation, it is significant that Rod Laver remembers Hopman as a disciplinarian. ‘Looking back, his greatest asset was the discipline, and I can see now he was right in working us the way he did. Our results proved it. I always respected him for his 100% effort for the game. He was utterly selfless in trying to get the best out of us and he started to respect my game, too, when he saw I was working hard. And he knew when to pick the man in form and we all knew he would be fair so there was always a wonderful team spirit. He put me into my first Davis Cup match with Neale (Fraser) against Mexico ahead of Emmo because I was on form. He was not always popular, of course, but he was not there to be popular. He was just doing a job to the very best of his ability and we all respected him for it. Certainly he helped my game enormously as I developed and if he had had a fellow from another country with talent – say like Mark Cox – he could have done the same for him, I’m sure.’

    “Tony Roche, who climbed the ladder of success to win the Italian and French titles in 1966, started on Hopman’s bottom rung. ‘I was the drinks boy. In fact, my job was the “everything boy”, from cleaning shoes to giving the juniors some serving practice. As we did not have many left-handed Davis Cup opponents, I was not needed much in team practice.’

    “Undoubtedly, Hopman had the right pedigree for the job. As a youth in Sydney he had shown ability in most school sports. Running, soccer and rugby came easily to him so that his tennis, which he had started at the age of 13, was influenced by the value of team games – a sense of doing something for others that his headmaster father reinforced as a prerequisite for success in life itself. At the end of 1927, when he was 21, he played his first international match with Crawford, who had dominated the Australian junior scene with him. They played the Frenchmen, Jean Borotra, Toto Brugnon, and Christian Boussus, who were touring the world after wresting the Davis Cup from the Americans.

    “The following year he and Crawford had their first taste of Davis Cup duty, as they did again in 1930 and 1932, when Australia challenged again. After one last European tour, on which he beat Ellsworth Vines at Queen’s Club the week before that dynamic American won Wimbledon, came the move to Melbourne and the need to earn a living – which meant a new life as a sportswriter and more travel with a pen now instead of a racket as the main piece of luggage. His marriage to Nell Hall in 1934 was no surprise to the many friends who had seen them as constant companions for seven years and their success in mixed doubles (four Australian titles together) was no surprise either, for Nell was a fine player in her own right and later an able administrator too.

    “After five years of combining writing with as much play as time would permit, which included much honorary coaching of the promising junior players as was as a typically energetic foray into squash, badminton, hockey and table tennis, came the two years as Davis Cup captain, in 1938 and 1939.
     
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  3. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Part III of III

    “By 1950 when, at the age of 44, he assumed the role of guide, philosopher and friend to his charges, he had amassed a wealth of knowledge about the game and its players which taught him above all that every individual needed different treatment – something his detractors never credited him with. ‘The Press frequently accused me of treating the team as robots with all members running millions of miles and sent off to bed with lights out at 10 p.m. The truth is that Rosewall would sneak off to bed at any early hour after 7 p.m., whereas his best friend and doubles partner, Lew Hoad, seldom made it to bed before 11 p.m. That was their habit growing up in tennis and I made no attempt to change it.’

    “It was the same on court. ‘Oh, yes, I did sometimes play favourites on the running or the exercises or the toughness and long hours of a team work-out on the court. John Bromwich and sometimes Ken Rosewall and later Fred Stolle would stay with my pace, while “Macca”, “Sedg”, “Lew”, “Wrecker”, “Coop”, Emmo” Fiery”, “Rocket”, “Frase”, “Newc”, “Davo” or the “Boy” would in turn forge ahead of the pack. I don’t suppose any athletes anywhere were fitter than Emmo at his peak.’

    “The nicknames were all very much a part of the daredevil camaraderie that developed between these talented athletes. And because each in his turn would do well, there was a refreshing absence of jealousy – in fact, there was a “one-for-all-and-all-for-one” affection that led them to support one another’s matches wherever they were playing.

    “Success was based on knowledge. ‘It meant getting to know our young champions in their early, junior days. Once they had gained selection to a Davis Cup squad I would get to know them better than their parents. A captain must know his team intimately – how much pressure they can take, whether they can sleep easily after a discussion on tactics the night before an important match, or whether it would be better to have that discussion immediately before the match; do they want a movie the night before or are they better off relaxing with their team mates?; who likes to be left alone, who enjoys company?; how long before play do they like to eat and whether the warm-up should be good and tough or light and quick. Finally, of course, the captain must know which player is in the best form for the venue and the occasion.’

    “It was this last point – one which Laver had mentioned – that made Hopman supreme as a winning captain for he had the happy knack of bringing a player to his peak for the occasion and fearlessly putting him ahead of a more obvious choice for a vital match.

    “The experience was sometimes unnerving. Listen to Fred Stolle: ‘Imagine how I felt at the official dinner after we had beaten Italy in the 1961 Challenge Round. Hop had praised the rest of the team in his speech and said in conclusion, “Of course, Stolle is only our fourth man he’s never going to be good enough to represent Australia.” I wanted to disappear through the floor. Then, three years later, we were playing in Mexico and without warning, I was chosen for the second single along with Emmo and ahead of Frase. I only knew I was playing when my name came out of the hat at the draw. Although I lost my singles, Emmo and I did win a long, close and decisive doubles and that was enough to prove my nerve to Hop. I couldn’t get out of the team after that.’

    “There had been a flirtation with stock-broking in 1956 but tennis had always assumed greater importance in Hopman’s life so that when he retired from the Davis Cup captaincy in 1969 with the remarkable record of 16 successes from 21 Challenge Rounds in 22 years, it was natural that he should transfer his talents to another area of the game. He had lost Nell two years earlier and in 1970 moved to the United States to run a tennis camp at Amherst College, which was an immediate success. There followed five energetic years at Hy Zausner’s Port Washington Tennis Academy which, besides catering for up to 800 juniors per week at peak periods, also became a Mecca for many of the world’s leading youngsters, from Vitas Gerulaitis and Billy Martin to John Lloyd and Ilana Kloss.

    “Marriage to Lucy Pope Fox in 1971, a niece of the late Hazel Wightman, gave him a happiness he thought he could never again expect, and last August they moved to Florida’s Treasure Island sporting complex where Harry is busy building yet another palace of tennis excellence.

    “By a rigid adherence to the old-fashioned virtues – sobriety and hard work – and by a love and understanding of young people, Hopman had etched a unique place in the game’s history. The Queen recognised this long by bestowing an MBE and CBE upon him but generations of youngsters whose games and lives he has influenced will retain an affection based on another of those of those old-fashioned virtues – respect.
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  4. jaggy

    jaggy G.O.A.T.

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    Back when I lived in blighty I always loved to hear John Barrett
     
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  5. austintennis2005

    austintennis2005 Semi-Pro

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    very interesting reading .. thank you for posting!!
     
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  6. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    Harry Hopman is the most successful tennis coach but he also had negative aspects: He was maybe the reason why Lew Hoad has ruined his back by exaggerating training. He also ignored those Aussies who turned pro.
     
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  7. gavna

    gavna Hall of Fame

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    Great post!!!!! Great article!!!!!

    I was one of those lucky kids at Port Washington from 1971 thru 1978!
    Also attended some if those first Florida camps - man those were the days!
    Just thinking of Hoppy makes my legs and lungs hurt:)!!!
     
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  8. robow7

    robow7 Professional

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    I find it interesting that we always hear how tough Hopman was on his guys and therefore how all the Aussies were in such great shape and yet we then turn right around and often hear how Lendl revolutionized conditioning and workouts and raised the bar for men's tennis. What are your thoughts here?
     
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  9. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    Thanks for the article. What i find best about Hopman is, that he let top players evolve their own style. Bollettieri for instance tried to streamline his players into big forehand baseline players. Hopman favored offensive, aggressive and athletic players, but in that frame in the Aussie teams we had classical slice and drive players like Rosewall, powerhorses like Hoad, topspinners like Laver, and serve and volley men like Newcombe. Hopman was not really loved by his men, but his training regimen like the one on twos he perfected made those Aussies super fit.
     
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  10. Tshooter

    Tshooter Hall of Fame

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    Hopman used to drive around in a golf cart and he would jump out and make corrections/tips. A nice guy (clearly liked kids) but boy was he into drills and exercise.

    Some of the instructors from L.I. were not so happy if you were going down to his camp the feeling being that Hopman's liked to break down your strokes and "rebuild" them.
     
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  11. gavna

    gavna Hall of Fame

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    Absolutely........there was none of the "if you hit a great ball with your stroke don't fix it" it was classic strokes - you would start out hitting everything continental THEN start moving to a eastern and some kids semiwestern FH. But as an example "proper" volley technique (continental) was a must! Fitness ruled as you said as well.....those first summer camps were brutal - New York gets humid but man Hopman and staff running you with line drills and army like old school calisthenics - he started using the cart when he developed issues with his legs, but even at 70+ the dude could do 100 push-ups easy.

    I was lucky - we moved to Howard Beach in 69 and Gerulaitis Sr as my teaching pro (Vitas's dad was our local pro at our "indoor bubble courts!!!) that Port Washington program (still going strong btw!!!!) was legendary.......coaches like Gerulaitis, Palafox, Hopman...etc

    You had freaking Vitas, Peter Fleming, Mary Carillo, Peter Rennart, Billy Martin, McEnroe......etc so many more that played in college. There all at he same time over the yrs. What was cool is that most all were local kids (you had a few like Fleming who commuted from New Jersey every day and others ) - its wasn't this $$$$$ high dollar academy - regular suburban New Yorkers -
     
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  12. ga tennis

    ga tennis Hall of Fame

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    WOW!!! Im jealous!!!! That would have been awesome to be there back then.
     
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  13. gavna

    gavna Hall of Fame

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    What's so funny is that at one point the "stars" were guys like Rennert and Fleming - Vitas was the super star and his sister Ruta was a great player as well..........good times!
     
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  14. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Well, the players Hopman coached probably didn't travel around with a dietician, a psychologist, various advisers, etc. But they did have the best training and facilities available at the time just as Lendl would have during his time as a player, although by Lendl's time things had progressed somewhat. However, Hopman's methods were an important development in the whole area of fitness and training.
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  15. gavna

    gavna Hall of Fame

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    How times have changed......back in the 70s and even into the early 80s quite a few players smoked cigarettes on a regular basis.
     
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  16. robow7

    robow7 Professional

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    Even in cycling

    [​IMG]
     
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  17. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Long life to Mr Australia.what a great dinasty bulder¡¡
     
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