After a Davis Cup wipeout against Italy, it's time for Gullikson
If the Brewers of Milwaukee were to bottle a beer commemorating
last weekend's Davis Cup tie, rest assured it would be a lite.
With Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang all in
absentia, the less-filling, less-thrilling U.S. team that
converged on Milwaukee Arena consisted of Todd Martin,
Jan-Michael Gambill and Justin Gimelstob. The trio--one
gray-templed veteran near the omega of his career and two Davis
Cup neophytes ranked 50th and 100th, respectively--was something
other than a murderers' row. "I guess you could call us the B
team," said Martin, "but we're the guys who got the call, for
better or for worse." Though their Italian counterparts were
themselves no-names whom only the most fervent tennis fan could
distinguish from the kitchen help in Big Night, it definitely
was for worse.
In the opening match the 21-year-old Gambill, playing Andrea
Gaudenzi, was afflicted with deer-in-the-headlights syndrome.
His aggressive baseline game blunted by a mysteriously slow
indoor hard court, Gambill played big points poorly, missed easy
volleys and after staving off eight match points, fell in four
sets. Martin then lost in straight sets to Davide Sanguinetti
(whom Agassi had demolished 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 at the U.S. Open),
and, faster than you could shotgun a can of Schlitz, the U.S.
was a point from elimination. The upsetissimo was completed on
Saturday when Martin and Gimelstob fell in five sets to Gaudenzi
and Diego Nargiso, neither of whom ranks among the top 100
doubles players. Italy moved on to the finals to play Sweden,
which defeated Spain in a tie that, by contrast, showcased four
top 25 players.
You wouldn't have known it from the Italians' riotous
celebrating, but their victory was diluted by the absence of the
best U.S. players. Adamant about not overtaxing his creaky body,
Sampras swore off the Davis Cup at the start of the year. Chang,
who has never been big on the event, begged off to apply the
defib paddles to his moribund career. As for Agassi, usually a
loyal Cup participant, the tie coincided with a fund-raiser for
his charity foundation in Las Vegas. Instead of explaining the
conflict and going on his black-tie way, Agassi took the
opportunity to rip the U.S. Davis Cup operation. "The USTA runs
it the way they want to run it, but no one who wears a tie
should be making the decisions," he said, adding that if he were
a fan and no top American were playing, he wouldn't buy a ticket.
All but a few thousand Wisconsinites thought likewise. (How's
this for a sign of the times: The Promise Keepers' convention,
held simultaneously at the adjacent Bradley Center, packed the
house.) Taken aback by such indifference to la Coppa Davis,
Gaudenzi said, "I would rather the whole place was filled with
fans who are against me than have it be like this. In Italy,
Davis Cup is the biggest event in tennis."
To make it bigger here, the USTA, ATP Tour and ITF have discussed
a range of options, from rewarding participants with tour
ranking points to holding the event every other year, like the
Ryder Cup. The first order of business, however, should be
replacing Tom Gullikson, who has played out his hand after a
solid if unspectacular five-year captaincy. Gullikson is
well-liked and respected, but the perception that he's a good
soldier (read puppet) for the USTA is fatal to his ability to
recruit the stars. "We need someone who will represent the
players," says Agassi. "Someone who can light a fire."
An obvious candidate is the cantankerous proprietor of a SoHo
art gallery. As he did last time there was a vacancy, John
McEnroe has made it known that he's available. Although volatile
and less than willing to appease sponsors, McEnroe would stand
the best chance of arming a team with top guns, and his presence
on the sidelines would bolster the event's popularity. "He would
be good as a player's coach," says outgoing USTA president Harry
Marmion, "but you have to become part of management. He's too
unpredictable. I wouldn't know where he stood on any issue until
I read it in the paper."
Perhaps not. But Mac would add much needed carbonation to a U.S.
Davis Cup team that's more than a little flat.
UP IN ARMS DOWN UNDER
The U.S. Open final, pitting Pat Rafter against Mark
Philippoussis, was a banner occasion for Australian tennis. It
was also a flash point for controversy. Angered that Tony Roche,
Australia's Davis Cup coach, watched the match from Rafter's
box, Philippoussis accused Roche of favoritism and Roche, in
turn, suggested he might resign from the team. Rafter, the
world's No. 2 player, responded, "If Rochey goes, I go. He
doesn't deserve the abuse he's gotten." With Roche coaching and
Rafter playing, Australia beat Uzbekistan 5-0 last weekend to
clinch a spot in the World Group of the 1999 Cup. Philippoussis
The recent contretemps is the latest in a long-running, if
petty, saga that resulted in Philippoussis skipping the previous
Davis Cup tie (in which the Aussies were upset by Zimbabwe) and
then Rafter dumping Philippoussis as a doubles partner. "Mark
and I are starting to patch things up," Rafter said a week after
the U.S. Open. "But it's hard to defend him when he offends a
Rafter, normally a preternaturally mellow fellow, is also
agitated that Pete Sampras wasn't more gracious in defeat the
last two times they played. Sampras attributed his loss in the
finals of August's ATP Championships to a questionable line call
on match point. After losing to Rafter in the U.S. Open semis,
Sampras noted that he was winning before pulling a quadriceps
muscle. "He has become a bit of a crybaby," says Rafter, fanning
the flames of a rivalry that men's tennis badly needs.
A Hot Prospect
ATTENTION, SERGEI FEDOROV
Jennifer Capriati turned pro at 13, only to burn out within a
few years, to be arrested on a drug-related charge and to become
a walking, talking cautionary tale. But Rick Macci, who coached
Capriati as a junior, has apparently learned little from her
experience. Two weeks ago the Macci Tennis Academy in Fort
Lauderdale issued a press release saying that Monique Viele, a
top junior in Macci's stable, will turn pro after her 14th
birthday this week. "We also are exploring the possibility of
legally challenging the age eligibility rule of 14 that the WTA
now enforces," the release adds. "We feel it inhibits Monique
from making a living."
More disturbing than this announcement is the academy's
breathless characterization of Monique, who's from Colorado
Springs. At a time when the WTA vows to market its players as
athletes and not underage sex symbols, the Macci release says of
Monique, "She rivals a champion thoroughbred with her physical
grace and beauty. Her long, lean, tanned, muscular legs are both
an attribute to her good looks and her speed on the court. Her
physique is astonishing...she looks more like a supermodel than
a tennis player." Even her "sea green eyes" don't escape mention.
Monique's results are encouraging. By 11 she had a top 40
ranking in Florida's girls' 18 division, and this year she
became the youngest player ever to win the 18 division of the
Florida Open. But those credentials hardly mandate turning pro.
Macci sees it differently. "Her intensity level is scary," he
says. "I see many Grand Slam titles in her future."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG Throw in the towel Martin (left, during loss to Sanguinetti) was the best vet Gully could get. [Todd Martin sitting courtside with head in hands beside Tom Gullikson]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN A true mate Loyal friend and Aussie Davis Cupper Rafter is standing by his man Roche. [Patrick Rafter serving]
By the Numbers
American juniors ranked among the top 20 internationally in boys
and girls singles.
Amount, in dollars, Andre Agassi will receive as an appearance
guarantee at the Czech Indoor later this month, in addition to
use of a private jet, luxury apartment, private pool and gym,
and satellite receiver, all of which Agassi demanded and got.
Amount, in dollars, to be awarded to the winner of the Czech
Amount, in dollars, awarded to the U.S. Open men's and women's
Amount, in dollars, to be awarded to the men's winner of this
week's Grand Slam Cup in Munich. The women's winner will get
Male 1998 Grand Slam champions (Petr Korda) playing in the Grand
World doubles ranking of Martina Hingis.
Games Hingis and partner Patty Schnyder won against Arantxa
Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez in the decisive Fed Cup
final match between Switzerland and Spain on Sept. 20.