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Old Apr 3rd, 2005, 02:51 PM   #34
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In 1961 the British team included Angela Mortimer, Wimbledon Champion, Ann Haydon French Champion and Christine Truman, Wimbledon runner-up.

The US team was largely rookies. Karen Hantze, had been a Wimbledon and US quarter-finalist but the other members were untried - Billie Jean Moffitt (remember it is 1961!), Margaret Varner, Gwyn Thomas, Justina Bricka and captain Margaret duPont.

It was played on hard courts at Chicago and in the event the US swept the Brits aside 6-1 with Angela Mortimer defaulting from the final doubles.

But the main talking point was the exclusion of the US #1 (and then Forest Hills champion) Darlene Hard from the team. Darlene had been out for some weeks having contracted hepatitis while nursing Maria Bueno over the illness in Paris earlier that year.

When she heard that she had not been named to the team Darlene called the omission " a low blow" :

"They've pulled dirty strings to keep me off the team. They're playing politics and it really hurts, because after I've devoted my life to tennis they've stepped on me when I got to the top. In view of my health I asked only that I be invited to Chicago to practice with the team. I was willing to let the captain, Margaret duPont, determine whether I should be on the team, but I thought they owed me that chance. Last year I practically killed myself in those matches - and this is what I get."

When Bud Collins of the Boston Herald put this to duPont she was "surprised" by Darlene's outburst:

"The committee had been split but in the end felt she should have shown she was fit by playing a tournament or two. The previous year they had been stung by a member (Sally Moore) whom they took to Europe on her say that she was in condition. She wasn't."

Reporting back to Darlene, she told Bud that she had been playing at home for the last six weeks:

"seven sets a day. The Wightman Cup selection used to be cut and dried - if you had the ranking you were on. I worked hard and waited to get to the top. This is a low blow to my prestige. What other reward is there for a woman in tennis? The selectors say they are protecting my health. Why didn't they at least take a look at me? I thought they wanted the best team. Tennis officials have always considered me a rebel. I didn't dress right, then I was too fat, then they didn't like my friends. Maybe I didn't conform, but I've never committed a crime. The record shows I am the top player. Maybe Mrs duPont didn't want me around because she might have to play me instead of herself in the doubles."

This is what duPont said in her official match repotrt to the USLTA:

"After lengthy and considerable investigation, discussion and letter writing and telephoning, the USLTA Wightman Cup Committee on August 10th decided not to ask Darlene Hard ,our 1960 National Champion, to play in the Wightman Cup matches this year. Due to her attack of infectious hepatitis in June, the committee felt it would be injurious to her health to participate so strenuously in international matches and it was, therefore, for her own protection that the negative decision was decided upon. We had been unable to find any concrete evidence that Darlene had regained her health sufficiently to be physically fit for Wightman Cup play. She had not played since losing to Edda Buding in the French Championships in May (up to which time she had a poor record), and indeed could not even ascertain with whom she had been practicing in California.

Darlene's lack of cooperation with USLTA officials, who were trying to help her, was deplorable. She had not had a physical check-up after returning home and she sure gave us no opportunity of being SURE that she was physically fit. The risk to her health seemed too big for an amateur sporting association to take. The only possible factor in favour of Miss Hard's selection was her being the National Champion. Consequently, the question arises as to whether or not we should, in the future, HAVE to select a player merely because she has won a championship the previous year, despite a weak seasonal record, lack of recent tournament play prior to the Wightman Cup matches, uncertain health conditions, questionable behaviour, lack of cooperation with tennis officials, etc. [doesn't hold back with her punches, does she?] Following the final announcement of the complete make-up of the United States team, our Wightman Cup Committee, the Chairman in particular, were severly criticized by Darlene Hard in the press. However, it seemed the reasons for the Committee's decision should be stated and recorded here in this report, in an intelligent manner, rather than through the press."

When asked for her opinion Hazel Wightman, the 74-year old donor of the Cup (she is not a selector), tactfully stated that it was a shame to leave the Champion off the team, that she felt badly for Darlene, but that perhaps she should have given more tangible evidence that she was fit.

Perhaps spurred on by this debacle Darlene then proceeded to win four tournaments in a row - Essex, the US Champs, Pacific Southwest and Pacific Coast beating 6 of the world's top ten in the course.

Whether due to lingering bad feeling or not, it was not the last controversy involving Darlene and the Wightman Cup with trouble occuring the following year when the event was held in England. But that's another story........
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