Harry Hopman was universally regarded as the greatest Davis Cup captain in tennis history. The placid Australian was at courtside while his country’s teams won the Cup 16 times between 1939 and 1967. An adroit doubles player, he won four Australian Championship Mixed doubles crowns and he captured the U.S. Nationals mixed title once in 1939 with Alice Marble. He moved to the United States in the 1970s, continuing to mold youthful aspirants into stars. Among those he influenced during that period was none other than John McEnroe.
Hopman was born in Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales, before his family moved to Parramatta, a city adjoining Sydney and now effectively a suburb of the metropolis.
Harry Hopman was born as the third child of John Henry Hopman, schoolteacher, and Jennie Siberteen, née Glad. He started playing tennis at the age of 13 and, playing barefoot, won an open singles tournament on a court in the playground of Rosehill Public School, where his father was headmaster and later at Parramatta High School, where he played tennis and cricket.
Hopman was the successful captain-coach of 22 Australian Davis Cup teams from 1939 to 1967. With players such as Frank Sedgman, Ken McGregor, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, Neale Fraser, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle, Tony Roche, Roy Emerson, Ashley Cooper, Rex Hartwig, Mervyn Rose, and Mal Anderson, he won the cup an unmatched 16 times.
In late 1951, when it appeared that Davis Cup player Frank Sedgman was about to turn professional, Hopman used his column in the Melbourne Herald to lead a fundraising campaign designed to keep Sedgman in the amateur ranks. Enough money was raised to purchase a gasoline station in the name of Sedgman's wife-to-be and Sedgman remained an amateur for one more year. As Joe McCauley writes in The History of Professional Tennis, "For some reason, the pious Hopman, a strong opponent of the paid game, did not regard this as an infringement of Sedgman's amateur status.
Hopman was also a journalist, joining the Melbourne Herald in 1933 as a sportswriter. He provided sporting commentary. After World War II, this became his focus until he was once again coaxed into tennis coaching. As an example of Hopman's journalism, Kramer writes that Sedgman, by then a successful touring professional, once "volunteered to help train the Aussie Davis Cup team. Hopman accepted the offer, and then he took Sedg aside and told him that what Hoad and Rosewall needed was confidence. So he told Sedg to go easy on them, which he gladly did. After a few days, Hopman wrote an exclusive in his newspaper column revealing how his kids could whip Sedgman and how this proved once again that amateurs were better than the pros."
The Hopman Cup is named in his honour. His widow, Lucy Hopman, travels to Perth, Western Australia in January each year for the tournament.
Hopman was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island in 1978.
Tennis great Jack Kramer, who was also a successful promoter of the professional tour, writes in his 1979 autobiography that Hopman "always knew exactly what was going on with all his amateurs. He had no children, no hobbies, and tennis was everything to him. Hopman always said he hated the pros, and he battled open tennis to the bitter end, but as early as the time when Sedgman and McGregor signed, Hopman was trying to get himself included in the deal so he could get a job with pro tennis in America."
Kramer, who admits that Hopman "has never been my favorite guy", goes on to say "The minute one of his stars would turn pro, Hopman would turn on him. No matter how close he'd been to a player, as soon as he was out of Hopman's control, the guy was an outcast. 'It was as if we'd never existed' Rosewall said once."
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