Class of 1978
Grand Slam Results
7-time major champion, 11-time finalist
Member of the Australian Davis Cup team 1928, 1930, 1932
Overall Record 8-8
Singles Record 4-5
Doubles Record 4-3
Captain of the Australian Davis Cup team 1938-1969
Captain of the Championship Australian Davis Cup Team 1939, 1950-1953, 1955-1957, 1959-1962, 1964-1967
Consider the greatest sports dynasties in history: The Boston Celtics, the New York Yankees, the UCLA men’s basketball team, among many. Then add the Australian Davis Cup team into the mix.
From 1950 through 1967, under the stern and watchful eye of Coach Harry Hopman, the Aussies won 15 Davis Cup championships, widely regarded as one of the world’s preeminent international competitions.
His players called him “Captain Bligh” for his authoritative, militaristic discipline and others dubbed him “The Wizard” for his championship mastery. Hopman was legendary for being a hard and intense taskmaster, unyielding in his thought process, obsessive about fitness – his players were treated like racquet-toting soldiers – and he demanded they comport themselves with clean living and abide by “Australian Code,” a mantra of showing officials, opponents, and the game the utmost respect at all times. It made his endless stream of talented Aussie players competitive, intense, and tough. Hopman would extend his discipline off the court – there were no boundaries where his authority didn’t extend. He had gag rules and curfews, and players would be fined for picking up the wrong fork at dinner or failing to wear a sports coat at a reception.
Sports Illustrated confirmed the lengths Hopman would take to enforce his core values in an article published on August 30, 1954, “Hopman will also be alert for the slightest evidence of ‘bad manners,’ …The lad should be thinking of winning the next point instead of grousing over one that is lost.’ At the Newport tournament…Hopman twice impressed this general point on his 19-year-old whiz kid, Lew Hoad. When Hoad showed up for his opening match with bristles on his chin, Hopman flagged him down. ‘The fine for not shaving is five shillings,’ said Harry. Later, Hoad missed a shot and hurled his racket to the ground in disgust. "That's another five shillings," said Harry.
There are many Australians enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and although Hopman didn’t mentor all of them – he coached a lion’s share – and his imprint blankets the history Australian tennis. Of course there were an abundance of talented players, but it was Hopman who turned the Aussies into a dominant force in worldwide competition from the late 1930s until the late 1960s. He’d instruct his players to “relax and hit for the lines," and his troops – a wave upon wave of Aussies with varying playing styles and techniques – did just that. From Hoad’s power game to the inherent all-court beauty of Ken Rosewall, the Aussies were trained to put pressure on their opponent. Hopman preached hitting deep or crosscourt and trusted the fitness that was developed in arduous practice sessions.
A legion of great Hopman-coached players flooded the tennis waters, and simply dominated the majors and a slew of ancillary touring events, both in amateur and Open Era tournaments. The list of Hopman’s pupil’s reads like a Who’s Who of Tennis History: Frank Sedgman, Ken McGregor, Hoad, Rosewall, Rod Laver, Neale Fraser, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle, Tony Roche, Roy Emerson, Ashley Cooper, Rex Hartwig, Mervyn Rose, and Mal Anderson.
Just how dominant were the players that Hopman had run five miles in the morning before practice? In the 1950s, the Aussies won 21 of the 40 major championships: Australian (8 of 10): Rosewall and Cooper won two each, Sedgman, McGregor, Rose and Hoad one each; French (3 of 10): Rosewall, Hoad, Rose one each; Wimbledon (4 of 10): Hoad two, Sedgman and Cooper one each; U.S Nationals (6 of 10): Sedgman twice, Rosewall, Anderson, Cooper and Fraser one each. There were 14 all-Aussie finals in that decade. In the 1960s, the Aussies ratcheted up things, winning 32 of 40 championships (80 percent) and producing 23 all-Australian finals, including: Australian (10 of 10): Emerson six, Laver three, Bill Bowrey one; French (7 of 10): Emerson and Laver two each, Stolle, Roche and Rosewall one each; Wimbledon (8 of 10): Laver four; Emerson two, Fraser and Newcombe one each; U.S. Nationals (7 of 10): Laver and Emerson two each, Fraser, Stolle and Newcombe one each.
Hopman was more than qualified to dispense coaching knowledge and demand discipline. He won seven major doubles titles (two in men’s doubles, five in mixed doubles), all but one coming at the Australian Championships. In singles competition, he was a finalist in his home event three straight years (1930, 1931, 1932) and advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Nationals in 1938 and 1939 and the French Nationals in 1930. His two men’s doubles championships (he was a finalist five additional times) came alongside compatriot Jack Crawford. Four of his five mixed doubles titles were earned with his first wife Nell Hall (1930, 1936, 1937, 1939 Australian), which is a record for a married couple. The 1939 U.S. National championship was won with Alice Marble.
Hopman was a proficient player, and a three-time member of the Aussie Davis Cup team in 1928, 1930, and 1932, but his teams never got a sniff of a championship. That futility drove him as a coach. He was also keenly aware that Australians took Davis Cup competition more seriously than individual major titles, and drove himself – and his players – to become a winning machine.
Since its inception in 1900, the United States had been the dominant force Davis Cup play, and had won the first four championships after World War II (1946-49). That run, and previous American championships, didn’t sit well with Hopman. “One day I really got tired of seeing the Americans getting all the trophies, drink[ing] the best champagne and kiss[ing] the prettiest girls,” Hopman said.
Hopman captained the Australian Davis Cup team for 22 years. The first of his 16 championships came in 1939, 3-2 over the U.S., but thorough dominance was a decade away. Sedgman and McGregor led the charge at the West Side Tennis Club in 1950, each winning singles and doubles matches as Australia pounded the United States 4-1. The dynasty was ready to explode over the next 17 years, as only the United States in 1954, 1958 and 1963 won Davis Cup titles.
A talented journalist who was a sports correspondent and columnist for the Melbourne Herald, Hopman weaved his loquacious writing style into his coaching messages, once telling Sedgman, “If you must remember only one thing, remember that doubles is a little like marriage, nothing will destroy your union more than a lack of communication.”
Hopman long despised the notion of professional tennis, and it led to a crack in the armor of his Davis Cup dominance. He was never shy about voicing his disdain, Sedgman and McGregor being two of his most vocal targets when they turned pro in 1953 after leading Australia to Davis Cup championships from 1950-52. “What was possible to achieve when there was no money in tennis has ceased to be from the time the sport became pro,” Hopman said. “In 1968 it started to be ‘every man for himself.’ Players started to go to as many tournaments as possible, trying to earn as much money as possible. The team life, serious training, solidarity, it was all over.”
When players like Sedgman and McGregor opted for professional tennis, Hopman simply refueled like all great coaches, and brought in burgeoning teenage stars like Hoad and Rosewall. When the lure of money drove them to the pro game, they were supplanted by Cooper, Fraser, Laver, Emerson, and Anderson. The cycle continued as that group was replaced by Newcombe, Stolle, and Roche in what critics called an “assembly line” of players.
In 1969, Hopman left the Australian program during a period of financial cutbacks and made the United States his permanent home. He became a coach at the esteemed Port Washington (N.Y.) Tennis Academy, teaching future American stars Vitas Gerulaitis and John McEnroe. He opened the Hopman Tennis Academy in Largo, Florida in 1971.
The Hopman Cup, an annual international team indoor tournament held in Perth, Western, Australia each January, was named in his honor in 1989. Hopman authored two books, Aces and Places in 1957 and Harry Hopman’s Winning Tennis Strategy in 1978.
Australian Championships: F 1930, 1931, 1932
French Nationals: QF 1930
U.S. Nationals: QF 1938, 1939
Australian Championships: W 1929, 1930
French Nationals: F 1930, 1948
U.S. Nationals: F 1939
Australian Championships: W 1930, 1936, 1937, 1939
Wimbledon: F 1932, 1935
U.S. Nationals: W 1939