December 29, 1958: The day Peru’s Alex Olmedo played for USA in the Davis Cup

On this day in tennis history, a player from Peru represented the USA in Davis Cup action – and beat the two best players in the world

Alex Olmedo, On this day Alex Olmedo, On this day – © Tennis Majors

What exactly happened on that day?

On this day, December 29, 1958, Alex Olmedo, from Peru, played under the American flag in the opening match of the Davis Cup final against Australia, although he didn’t have United States citizenship. The South American player was eligible to be a part of the Davis Cup team as he had been living in the country for more than three years and Peru didn’t have a team, but his selection remained controversial. However, most of his critics softened when he defeated world No 2 Mal Anderson in four sets (8-6, 2-6, 9-7, 8-6) to give the United States a 1-0 lead, before clinching the title by winning the doubles on the following day and beating world No 1 Ashley Cooper on the final day of the tie

The players involved: Alex Olmedo and Mal Anderson

  • Alex Olmedo, born in Peru, studying in California

Alex Olmedo, whose father Salvador was a tennis coach, was born in Peru in 1936. He came to California at the age of 17 to compete in bigger tournaments, thanks to a fundraiser organised by some of his supporters. After working in a tennis shop, he learned to speak English and enrolled at the University of Southern California, becoming the NCAA singles champion in 1956 and 1958. That year, he reached the quarter-finals of the US Nationals (defeated by Neale Fraser, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6, 3-6, 6-3) and he was also chosen by the American Davis Cup captain, Perry Jones, to play the final of the Inter-Zonal Zone against Italy. Although his selection was controversial as he was not a United States citizen, he won his three matches, defeating the Italian legend Nicola Pietrangeli in the opener (5-7, 10-8, 6-0, 6-1) to propel his team into the Challenge Round (During the time, the defending champions of the Davis Cup got a direct entry into the final, which was known as the Challenge Round).

  • Mal Anderson, Australian at the height of his powers

Born in 1935 in Queensland, Australia, Mal Anderson was at the peak of his form at the end of 1958. In fact, he had just completed the two best seasons of this career. In 1957, he had claimed his first and only Grand Slam title, defeating compatriot Ashley Cooper in the final of the US Nationals (10-8, 7-5, 6-4). The following year, he reached two more Grand Slam finals, but Cooper took his revenge, beating him in the final of the Australian Championships (7-5, 6-3, 6-4) and in the final of the US Nationals (6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 10-8, 8-6). Thanks to these outstanding results, Anderson was the world No 2 amateur player.

The place: Milton Courts in Brisbane, Australia

The 1958 Challenge Round was held at Milton Courts, a tennis venue located in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The Australian Championships (the name of the Australian Open before 1968) was held there in 1923 and 1956. The main arena seated 7,000 people and opened in 1915. 

The facts: Olmedo gets picked over US No 1 Ham Richardson

In 1958, the Davis Cup was still played under the Challenge Round format, which meant that every year, the defending champion automatically qualified for the final and hosted it in its own country. The 1957 Davis Cup was won by Australia.

In order to challenge Australia for the Davis Cup title, the United States had to win the America Zone tournament as well as the Inter-Zonal event. The Inter-Zonal tournament was already held on Australian soil, in Perth, and in the final, the American team prevailed against Italy (5-0). In this final, the captain Perry Jones controversially chose Alex Olmedo, who had reached the quarter-finals at the US Nationals, but who didn’t have U.S. citizenship. The rules allowed him to play because his home country didn’t have a Davis Cup team and he had been living in the USA for more than three years.

Some sportswriters didn’t see any harm in it (Allison Danzig, from the New York Times, who simply wrote that the authorities were giving “equal opportunity to every player, to the foreign born as well as the homebred”), others felt ashamed that there was no American player who was good enough to represent the country (Arthur Daley, in his New York Times column ‘Sports of the Times’ wrote that Olmedo’s participation “has to make American tennis the laughing stock of the rest of the world”). 

The controversy cooled down when Olmedo won his both singles and doubles to propel his team into the Challenge Round. However, Perry Jones was not afraid of taking risks, and on December 29, 1958, he began the final by letting the US No 1 Ham Richardson, on the bench, to launch Olmedo against world No 2 Mal Anderson, who had played three major finals in the last two years. This bold choice paid off, as the Peruvian prevailed (8-6, 2-6, 9-7, 8-6), giving his team an important 1-0 lead before his team-mate Barry MacKay was defeated by world No 1 Ashley Cooper (4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4). 

What next? Olmedo wins two Grand Slams in 1959 and then turns pro

On the following day, Alex Olmedo would confirm his great form, partnering Richardson to defeat Fraser and Anderson in an epic doubles rubber (10-12, 3-6, 16-14, 6-3, 7-5). On the last day of the final, the Peruvian would clinch the title for the United States, defeating the best player in the world, Ashley Cooper, in four sets (6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 8-6).

Brimming with confidence after this amazing performance, Olmedo would claim his only two Grand Slam titles in 1959, beating Fraser in the final of the Australian Championships (6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3), and Rod Laver in the Wimbledon final (6-4, 6-3, 6-4). After his loss in the US Nationals final against Fraser (6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4), he would turn professional in 1960.

People in this post

Your comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *