Tennis: Sweden step into arena of intimidation

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The Independent Online
ANDERS JARRYD says that he cannot understand why some of the game's leading players refuse to play in the Davis Cup.

"You want to grab as many titles as you can because you never know what's going to happen, when there will be another chance," said the retired doubles specialist, an assistant coach for Sweden's Davis Cup final against Italy, which started yesterday.

"It's sad the US team doesn't have their best players all the time. It's a shame," Jarryd said.

Fielding a second-string squad, the United States lost to Italy in September's semi-final. No 1 Pete Sampras led the United States to the 1995 title against Russia in the final, but skipped the team event in 1996 and 1998.

Andre Agassi, sixth in the world, did not appear for the semi-final against Italy citing a prior commitment - and then criticised the head of the US Tennis Association.

Jarryd does see something positive in the lack of stars at the final - neither side has a player in the top 30.

"It means in a way that tennis is a global sport. Individual rankings don't mean as much when it's a team sport, so that's good," he said. "Of course, in another way, when you don't have the top players," he added, "it's difficult for the general public to understand why".

With yesterday's opening match between Andrea Gaudenzi, Italy's No 1, and Magnus Norman, Sweden's No 2, going to five sets, every effort was made to turn the 12,400-capacity Fila Forum into a football atmosphere for the first Davis Cup final ever staged in Italy. "Welcome to Hell," was one of the banners that greeted the Swedish team.

The message was amplified by klaxons, drums, cymbals, cheers, jeers, whistles, boos, songs, chants and the intermittent sound of racket on ball.

For many of the spectators, sportsmanship was not necessarily part of the agenda, which was to raise the Italian players to heroics while doing their best to intimidate the visitors.

Sweden, winners of the Davis Cup six times since 1975 and runners-up five times, generally prosper under pressure. But the atmosphere generated yesterday was bound to take a toll on the nerves.

That was equally true on both sides of the net, as Gaudenzi and Norman soon discovered.

Gaudenzi was playing his first match since the semi-final against the United States at the end of September.

The flag-waving and chanting of "Italia" had scarcely begun when Gaudenzi found himself 3-0 down in what proved an epic first set. Epic, that is, in terms of length and twists of fortune rather than the quality of the tennis.

Norman made his first costly error in the fourth game to beckon Gaudenzi into the match. The Swede appeared to lose his footing on the second break- point of the game and dumped a forehand into the net.

The crowd loved that, and were delighted when Gaudenzi held to love for 3-3. The Italian then had a chance to break for 4-3, but hit a forehand over the baseline.

Gaudenzi had two more break points in the 11th game, but was unable to nail either of them, and the set rumbled on to a tie-break, which Gaudenzi won 11-9.

The second set followed a reverse pattern, with Gaudenzi winning the first three games only for Norman to haul him back and force another tie- break. This time the Swede won the shoot-out 7-0.

Within 45 minutes Gaudenzi had taken a two sets to one lead, winning the third set, 6-4, but Norman came back to again level the match at two- sets all, winning it 6-3.

The Italian called for the trainer to massage his shoulder before the start of the final set, and the Italian's serve was broken in the opening game.