John Roberts: Escape from Davis Cup revenge for Duarte

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The Independent Online

After more than a century of jibes about grass being for cows, Spain will introduce its first ever custom-made tennis lawn in Barcelona this week. As with most innovations, this one was born of necessity: Australia decided to lay a grass court on the rubberised concrete in Rod Laver Stadium for the Davis Cup final in Melbourne next month, and the Spanish squad are keen to practise before the trip.

The choice of court surface is tit-for-tat, Spain having out-rallied the Australians on a slow indoor clay court in Barcelona in the 1999 final. Maximising home advantage is an integral part of the Davis Cup, although the Australians failed to capitalise on the lawn they laid for France for the 2001 final.

Feliciano Lopez, a 22-year-old Spanish left-hander who advanced to the quarter-finals of the Wimbledon men's singles last summer, would like to see more grass courts in Spain, to enable players - at least those who are not knackered after the French Open - to train for the brief grass court season.

All this may be encouraging in the long term. Meanwhile, the Australians are itching to repay Spain for the treatment they received in Barcelona four years ago, when the crowd's hostility marred an exciting contest. Lleyton Hewitt was the chief target, spectators booing his winning shots and cheering his errors.

The abiding memory is of Spain's captain, Javier Duarte, shamelessly orchestrating the crowd. He was on the court more often than his players. Duarte, no longer the team captain, nowadays spends his time coaching young players. It seems a pity that he will not be in Melbourne to receive a good old Australian vote of thanks.

Tiriac's tough line on betting

Ion Tiriac, the world's most prominent tennis entrepreneur, was vexed that media questions concerning allegations of match-fixing dominated the opening days of his Madrid Masters. When someone finally asked about the tournament, Tiriac smiled thinly and said: "We get from sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to the tennis tournament, that's very nice."

His own views on the internet betting stories? If such things are proved, he said, "that's criminal. They just have to go to prison, whoever they are. I don't believe that in the democratic world you can say the uncle of the uncle of Mr John Biscuit, who just happens to play tennis, and when the uncle was in London he made a bet of £5 and gets £150 because that guy had a blister on his left foot."

Perhaps. But maybe that's how the cookie crumbles.

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