Fed Cup by BNP Paribas is this year celebrating a landmark birthday. Fifty years ago the first women's competition took place involving sixteen nations, with that figure growing rapidly to nearly 100 nations in 2013. Wendy Turnbull, a former Grand Slam doubles champion, continues our series of blogs on FedCup.com to celebrate the birth of a competition that has played a crucial role in women’s liberation and the emergence of women in sport over the past half century.
In 1980, Australia lost in the final to the USA but we considered ourselves lucky to even be in West Berlin let alone the last two nations!
Tennis Australia had named Dianne Fromholtz, Sue Leo and myself to the Fed Cup team. Dianne and I played an exhibition tournament in Osaka, Japan the week before Fed Cup along with the American Captain, Rosie Casals. That is where our ordeal began.
To make sure the three of us could catch our flight to West Germany, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova agreed to play the doubles final before their singles final. Our Lufthansa flight from Osaka to West Germany, with a short stopover in Tokyo, would have us arriving in plenty of time.
Just before we landed in Tokyo the captain announced that they had received a bomb threat. After they searched the plane we were told the flight would not leave until the following day. The three of us agreed to share a room at the airport hotel and therefore were able to avoid the long line for a room and got one immediately (but not before Rosie had gone upstairs to make sure it was big enough!)
At the hotel we overheard other passengers saying that the flight was cancelled and other arrangements had to be made. Dianne and myself made up two thirds of the Aussie team, so we could not be delayed any further. We phoned Mary Hawton, our captain, in West Berlin to see if anything could be done from her end to get us on an earlier flight.
To make a very long story short, after several phone calls we were told we were on a JAL flight from Tokyo to Moscow that would leave at midday and then transfer to a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. We would get there in time to play our first round match. It all sounded so simple!
When we boarded our flight the previous day in Osaka our flight coupons had been taken which presented a problem at the airport check-in. JAL did not rewrite the ticket, they just gave us boarding passes to Moscow and said the Lufthansa rep would meet us in Moscow with the onward boarding passes. When we landed in Moscow no one seemed to know anything and told us we were being put on the JAL flight to Rome. As we were being escorted to the gate we were debating what to do because if we flew to Rome we would not be there in time for our first round match.
Our voices got a little loud. As luck would have it a Lufthansa rep overheard our discussion and got on her walkie talkie. She confirmed we were on the flight to Frankfurt that left in a couple of hours. They were some of the longest hours ever – remember this is 1980 and the USSR was hosting the Olympics later that year and the internet was not around then!
We were taken to a room and watched by three guards. Rosie, Dianne and I had some funny discussions while waiting in that room. Finally the Lufthansa rep came back and we were transferred to the new International airport. At passport control an intimidating official asked me if I had changed my passport photo and all kinds of other questions. We started to get a little nervous but finally they let us through and we were the last passengers to board.
After what seemed like an epic adventure we arrived in West Berlin exhausted and wanting a nice hot shower and a comfortable bed. When Dianne and I arrived at the official hotel our rooms had been given away to the security guards of a visiting politician. Mary Hawton and Sue Leo gave up their rooms, and slept on cots, so we could get some much needed rest.
So while it was a marathon getting to West Berlin we managed to finish strong. Much to the chagrin of the locals, Australia defeated West Germany in the semifinals before losing to a strong American team in the finals.
I have a beautiful Japanese vase that the Australian team received as runner-up and it reminds me constantly of the ordeal we went through to get there! Rosie, Dianne and I still laugh at that experience.