Tennis: Britain to face US in home World Group tie

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THEY WERE the original rivals in 1900. They last played each other in 1978. And they must have wondered if they would meet again this side of the millennium. Imagine the joy yesterday when British tennis was blessed with a home tie against the United States in the first round of the Davis Cup World Group from 2 to 4 April next year.

Barring mishaps, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski will head the British challenge. Whether Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon champion, and Andre Agassi, the game's biggest crowd-puller, will be in the American team remains to be seen.

Tennis is unrecognisable from the time Dwight Davis, a Harvard student, conceived the notion of a men's international team competition. Sampras, the world No 1, considers that Americans no longer care about the Davis Cup, and it seems that Agassi will only play when, where and for whom it pleases him. Neither of them were available for last month's semi-final in Milwaukee, which was won by Italy.

The internal politics in American tennis have reached the point where it is even possible that John McEnroe, who made his Davis Cup debut against Britain in 1978 - played 30 ties, won 59 matches, lost 10, and smashed a few - will be the team captain when the squad arrives here.

Agassi believes the ball ought to be in the players' court. He refused to play in Milwaukee because the semi-final clashed with his annual charity show in Las Vegas, adding that he would have played if the tie had been held on the West Coast.

Blaming Harry Marmion, the US Tennis Association president, Agassi said he would not have played in the final even it was held in his backyard. It will, in fact, be played in an Italian backyard. The Italians had so little faith in winning that they did not book a venue for the final.

Marmion, who pointed out that the world does not revolve around Agassi, ends his term as president this year. "Once Harry Marmion is out, I'll try to start new again with next president," Agassi says. "But there's plenty of damage done."

Agassi emphasises that he is not opposed to the current captain, Tom Gullikson. "It's his position that's the problem, not the way he handles it," Agassi says, "he doesn't have the say-so. He can't ask the team, `What do you want to do?' then get it done. That comes from higher up. I think Tom has made a couple of decisions that have been tough through the years, but he's also done pretty well. I think the players enjoy playing for him."

McEnroe's name has been linked with the captaincy before. "I would certainly consider him, but I would want to think about it," Agassi said during the United States Open. "He would be one person whose name should go on the list, no question. Here is a guy who has done as much for Davis Cup as anybody, and he didn't get the job because he is going to speak his mind."

Sampras, who thinks physical problems which can be traced to Davis Cup matches have handicapped him in the past, was particularly disappointed about the response in America to his courageous display in the 1995 victory against Russia in the final in Moscow.

David Lloyd, the British captain, has no sympathy for Agassi and Sampras. "I just can't understand anybody not wanting to play for their country," he said. He added that attitudes would change if the American Davis Cup team was defeated regularly over the next few years. The first job for the Lawn Tennis Association is to find a place to stage the tie. "The match will be a major showpiece for British tennis," John Crowther, the LTA's chief executive, said. "It has to be played indoors because of the time of the year.

"We shall need a stadium capable of holding between 8,000 and 10,000 people. That means it will probably come down to Birmingham, Wembley, Newcastle, or the G-Mex at Manchester. But I understand that David [Lloyd] will also be looking at Glasgow."

DAVIS CUP World Group: First-round draw (2-4 April, 1999; home teams named first): Sweden v Slovak Republic; Germany v Russia; Great Britain v United States; Zimbabwe v Australia; France v Netherlands; Spain v Brazil; Belgium v Czech Republic; Switzerland v Italy.



1900: USA defeated British Isles 3-0, Longwood Cricket Club, Boston, USA. Winning captain: Dwight Davis. Losing captain: Arthur Gore. Surface: Grass.

US names first: Malcolm Whiteman bt Arthur Gore 6-1, 6-3, 6-2; Dwight Davis bt Ernest Black 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4; Davis and Holcolme Ward bt Black and Herbert Roper Barrett 6-4, 6-4, 6-4; Davis v Arthur Gore 9-7, 9-9 unfinished (rain).


1978 final: USA defeated Great Britain 4-1, Mission Hills Cricket Club, Rancho Mirage, California. Winning captain: Tony Trabert. Losing captain: Paul Hutchins. Surface: Hard.

US names first: John McEnroe bt John Lloyd 6-1, 6-2, 6-2; Brian Gottfried lost to Buster Mottram 6-4, 6-2, 8-10, 4-6, 3-6; Bob Lutz and Stan Smith bt Mark Cox and David Lloyd 6-2, 6-2, 6-3; McEnroe bt Mottram 6-2, 6-2, 6-1; Gottfried bt John Lloyd 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.


1 United States: Played 59, Won 31, Lost 28.

2 Australia P43, W26, L17.

3 Great Britain: P17, W9, L8.