Nice article on the '74 Davis Cup Final(where India forfeited to South Africa)

Moose Malloy

Four men who dreamed of sipping Champagne from the Davis Cup finally had their hands on it, but there would be no celebration.

“We were told to put our tennis clothes on and come down to accept our trophies,” recalled Raymond Moore, a member of the only South African team to win the Davis Cup.

Bob Hewitt, who played singles and doubles for that South African team and was later inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, remembered, “We were proud to see our names on the Davis Cup, but the way we got it left a sour taste in our mouths.”

Tuesday is the 35th anniversary of the most important tennis matches never to be played. In 1974, South Africa and India advanced to the final of the Davis Cup, which had been won by either the United States or Australia every year since 1936. But the Indian government boycotted the final in protest of South Africa’s system of apartheid.

The players who would have contested the final have had decades to debate the merits of the decision, but there still is no consensus.

The South African players opposed apartheid but took different approaches to representing what had become a pariah state.

Cliff Drysdale, who was the top-ranked South African player in 1974 and is now a tennis commentator for ESPN, publicly opposed apartheid, left the team and renounced his South African citizenship after playing one Davis Cup match in 1974.

Drysdale said that he grew tired of representing a country whose government had become “increasingly unacceptable to the whole world.” (In a notable example, South Africa was barred from the Olympics from 1964 until 1992.) Drysdale said he had begun to feel like an “unwelcomed guest” at tournaments around the globe. “I just had had enough of it,” he said.

Moore was a vocal critic of the apartheid regime, while Hewitt and his doubles partner, Frew McMillan, did not comment publicly on the issue.

“I could understand the nature of governments opposing the politics of South Africa, which I opposed myself, but I was not a political animal, I was a sporting beast,” McMillan said.

While the rising tide of condemnation for South Africa’s minority-rule government complicated the team’s surprising run to the Davis Cup final, India’s path there included more on-court drama. After upsetting the defending champion, Australia, in an epic confrontation that set a record for games played, 327, India still had the Soviet Union standing in the way of a trip to the final.

The team was led by Vijay and Anand Amritraj, who were brothers and rivals.

“I was always better than Vijay growing up,” said Anand Amritraj, who was two years older. “Then in ’73, he had a breakout year, and I was left in the dust.”

With India leading the Soviet Union after the doubles, 2-1, Anand Amritraj clinched a berth in the final with a rousing five-set win over Teimuraz Kakulia.

“It was two brothers taking their country to the final, which had never happened, and this was for a billion people,” Vijay Amritraj said. “It was past the goose-bump feeling.”

India’s celebration proved short-lived. South Africa defeated Italy to reach the final, and after weeks of speculation that a compromise might be reached to play at a neutral site, the Indian government decided to boycott the final. The decision, which most believe came from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, ceded the Cup to South Africa and came as a crushing disappointment for the players on both teams.

The boycott did spare the South African officials that ran Ellis Park in Johannesburg, which was scheduled to host the matches, from having to accommodate Indian fans.

“The crowd at Ellis Park would have been segregated with just a very small section near the top reserved for nonwhites,” said Sy Lerman, who covered the Davis Cup in 1974 for The Daily Mail in Johannesburg.

Would South African officials have allowed Indian fans to sit among whites, or might they have relegated friends of the Indian team to the nonwhite section? “That would have been a ludicrous chance for us to take,” Vijay Amritraj said.

The passage of time has not produced a consensus on whether the boycott was justified.

“At the end of the day, the Indian government was right,” Moore said. “If more countries had boycotted South Africa, maybe apartheid would have crashed down sooner.”

McMillan, who lives in England, maintained that sports should be separated from politics. “If we had played, they might have seen that we weren’t as bad as some people thought,” he said. “I would like to think that they took the worst course of action.”

The Indian team is no less divided.

“I think it was a bad call,” Anand Amritraj said. “The only time we had an excellent chance of winning the Davis Cup, we gave it away.”

But Vijay Amritraj contended that the Indian government made the right move. “As a sportsman I was disappointed, but as an individual I took pride in the fact that my government made the right call,” he said.

Each side remains convinced that it would have won.

“I felt then and I feel now that we would absolutely have beaten them,” said Moore, who lives in California and is a director of the Indian Wells tennis tournament. Anand Amritraj, who owns a tennis club in Bayshore, N.Y., disagreed, saying: “I think they’re definitely delusional. We would have won, 4-1.”

During a Davis Cup tie with India in 1967, Hewitt broke his leg late in the final set of a doubles match with McMillan but finished and won the match in South Africa’s 5-0 victory.

In September, India and South Africa met in Davis Cup play in Johannesburg — India won their World Group playoff tie, 4-1 — but the lost Davis Cup meeting is viewed as a missed opportunity by the men who would have played. South Africa never made it to another final, and India still has not won the Cup.

vive le beau jeu !

Talk Tennis Guru
very interesting, thx moose.
both teams think they should have won it... but who was the favorite ?
tennisticaly, too bad for india... who also lost in the final in 1966 (vs. australia) and more recently in 1987 (vs. sweden).

by the way, india was not the only one to forfeit to south africa (but of course the only one to do it in a final, as it was the only final ever played by south africa):
  • monaco [1953]
  • poland [1964, 1969]
  • romania [1968]
  • czechoslovakia [1969]
  • argentina [1974]
  • india [1974]
  • colombia [1975]
  • mexico [1975, 1976]
(i only included the WO occuring during the appartheid, between 1948 and 1994, but it has to be checked that the official WO reason was indeed the appartheid)

and it was not the only forfeit by india either:
  • finland [1933] (before india's independence in 1947 ?)
  • south africa [1974]
  • israel [1988]
would be interesting to have a list of all the davis cup WO... and the reasons !
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Imagine if both teams played a DC final in the middle 80´s, with Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan against Johan Kriek and Kevin Curren, specially if they played it on grass.

A very attractive meeting whatsoever.