On this day: USA tops Romania to defend Davis Cup crown in Charlotte


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On this day: USA tops Romania to defend Davis Cup crown in Charlotte

Struggling to make an impact in the most prestigious team event in the world for half a decade, the United States was back at their best in 1968, toppling six opponents to lift the crown and rattle off another nice streak.

Facing Romania, Germany and again Romania in 1971, the Americans had the upper hand in the finals held in front of their fans, taking four straight titles to match what Australia did in the 60s during their glory years. That 1971 Davis Cup campaign was the last with the ancient challenge system that had been sending the defending champion straight into the next year's final at home, making it much easier to win consecutive titles and keep the trophy locked up in your cabinet.

For example, the United States had to play three ties to conquer three titles between 1969-71 while Romania had to pass no less than six rivals alone in a single season to reach the title clash that took place between October 8-10, 1971, at Olde Providence Racquet Club in Charlotte, with all teams starting from the bottom from the next year.

The Romanians were in a powerful rhythm that year, beating the Netherlands, Israel, Yugoslavia, Germany, India and Brazil, earning another trip to the Stats just like in 1969 when the Americans beat them 5-0. The home nation was the favorite again and they grabbed a 3-2 victory for the 23rd Davis Cup crown, with Stan Smith who delivered two singles triumphs to carry his country over the top.

The American captain Edward Turville decided to replace Clark Graebner with Frank Froehling who got the opportunity to play only the third Davis Cup tie and the first since 1965. Froehling won eight out of ten sets against Graebner during their practice runs in the last two weeks and that was an indicator for Turvilla's to bring him in for the second rubber against Ion Tiriac.

In the first clash of the tie at Julian J Clark Stadium, Stan Smith ousted Ilie Nastase 7-5, 6-3, 6-1, taking a close opening set and dominating in the other two to push the USA in front and mount pressure on Tiriac who had to defeat Froehling to keep Romania alive.

That match could not have been completed on Friday, abandoned because of the darkness at 6-6 in the fifth set after three hours of play and continued on Saturday before the doubles clash. The American made the worst possible start, taking just four games in the first couple of sets and having no room for errors in the rest of the encounter if he wanted to fight for that second point.

Finding his serve, Froehling made a comeback in a similar style, losing four games in the next two sets where he opened a 4-2 lead, serving for the victory at 5-3 as the sun was slowly moving beyond the horizon. Nonetheless, he couldn't make that one last push, spraying four errors to suffer a break and keeping Tiriac in contention in the next couple of games to stay locked at 6-6.

The legendary Harry Hopman halted the action at that moment and the players had to return on Saturday, leaving the court after just six minutes as Froehling grabbed both games to stage a 3-6, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3, 8-6 triumph and become one of the rare players who managed to overcome two sets to love deficit in the live rubber of the Davis Cup final tie.

In the doubles rubber, Ilie Nastase and Ion Tiriac paired up for the 21st time, defeating Stan Smith and Erik Van Dillen 7-5, 6-4, 8-6, prevailing in the crucial moments against the rivals who played together for the first time to reduce the deficit to 2-1.

It would have been a much tighter clash if Smith had the opportunity to play with Bob Lutz who signed the professional contract that ruled him out from the Davis Cup, with Smith making too many errors and Van Dillen who couldn't do much on his debut for the USA.

On Sunday, Stan Smith took down Ion Tiriac 8-6, 6-3, 6-0 in an hour and 35 minutes to grab the third point for the home nation, celebrating the fourth consecutive Davis Cup crown in front of the crowd of 5,500 at Julian Clark Stadium.

Heavy rain on Saturday night and Sunday morning could not have slowed down the court, with the organizers drying the court with helicopter and gasoline that made the court feel more like slow asphalt than fast clay. Tiriac saved a set point in the tenth game to break back and level the score at 5-5, with another break for the American in the 13th game that gave him boost for the rest of the clash, playing better and better as the match progressed to seal the deal and keep the Davis Cup trophy safely in the United States for another year.