Tennis: Davis Cup rethink follows Swedish success

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The Independent Online
AS THE arias subsided on Saturday with the realisation that Italy's Davis Cup final campaign had ended in defeat after three matches, Davide Sanguinetti's mobile telephone was stolen from the side of the court. The Italian No 2 was probably relieved that he was unable to take calls.

By this time the switchboard at SVT, the Swedish terrestrial television service, had resumed normal service. It had been jammed by irate viewers complaining that coverage of Friday's epic opening match between Magnus Norman and Andrea Gaudenzi had been cut off with the Swede serving at 5-4 in the fifth set.

Regional news programmes were shown in place of the dramatic climax to events at the Fila Forum, where Gaudenzi saved a match point and was then forced to retire because of a torn shoulder ligament when serving at 6- 6, 0-30.

This was not the first example of Swedish television pulling the plug on the Davis Cup. The match between Thomas Enqvist and Italy's Renzo Furlan during last year's semi-final was cut for a children's programme, and none of the monumental 1996 final against France in Malmo was shown live.

"It seems that they don't understand what the Davis Cup... means to people," said Jan Francke, president of the Swedish Tennis Federation, who is among the contenders to succeed Brian Tobin as president of the International Tennis Federation next July.

Tobin saw Swedish television's action as part of a wider problem. "We love exciting five-set matches like we had here on the first day," he said. "Great drama, great stuff. Swedish television knocked off in the fifth set and and didn't finish the match because of time constraints. That's not very good from their point of view. But, again, it leads home to the fact that we have to try to contain the matches into some sort of reasonable period."

The Davis Cup Committee is considering a proposal to have three-set singles matches for the first two rounds of the competition and five-set singles matches for the semi-finals and final. The doubles matches - the only contest played on the second day - would continue to be played over five sets.

"We're looking into that proposal [for 2001]," Tobin said. "It's out of deference to the players to some extent, their schedule. It's out of deference to the time people sit, and to the television time you can get."

Tobin was asked if there was not a danger of damaging the purity of the game. "That's the fear," he agreed. "Neale Fraser [an Australian member of the Davis Cup Committee], who captained in Davis Cup matches, will tell you that stamina and fitness is a big component of being able to win tennis matches. He believes that five-set matches are the ultimate test. He's weakening, though."

Fraser's idea is to play two three-set matches on the opening day while retaining five sets for the doubles and "live" reverse singles.

Tobin, emphasising that the committee is "only discussing options", added that another proposal was to reduce the number of teams in the elite World Group from 16 to 14.

"What does that do? It gives the two finalists [from the previous year] a bye. Sometimes you win the Davis Cup in December and you lose it in February. It would supposedly give the top players one match less in a year, one week less. Does that get [Pete] Sampras, or whoever, to play? I don't know.

"We're looking at perhaps combining some sort of round-robin system instead of a knockout for the first three rounds. That way you know where the matches are, which helps the host country promoting. Television knows where it is, sponsors know where it is. The competition has been going for a hundred years... and we've got to be very careful to change it. We don't want to go backwards."

Diego Nargiso saved Italy from a whitewash, defeating Norman 6-2, 6-3 in the second of yesterday's reverse singles.

DAVIS CUP FINAL (Milan, It): Singles (Fri): M Norman (Swe) bt A Gaudenzi (It) 6-7 7-6 4-6 6-3 6-6 (Gaudenzi retired injured in fifth set); M Gustafsson (Swe) bt D Sanguinetti (It) 6-1 6-4 6-0. Doubles (Sat): J Bjorkman and N Kulti (Swe) bt D Nargiso and D Sanguinetti (It) 7-6 6-1 6-3. Singles (Yesterday): M Gustafsson bt G Pozzi (It) 6-4 6-2; D Nargiso bt M Norman 6-2 6-3. (Sweden win 4-1).