Last year, the leading question facing the United States Davis Cup team was whether a Hall of Fame lineup featuring John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors could possibly ever be beaten.
When it was determined that, yes, it could--and that the Americans could be downright rotten losers about it--a new question was brought to the forefront for 1985:
Is good behavior more important than good tennis on the Davis Cup stage?
The United States Tennis Assn. has shown that it thinks so, mailing out code-of-conduct contracts to the country’s top 25 players. In order to be eligible for Davis Cup competition, a player must first sign the contract--agreeing to “represent the United States in the finest tradition of international sportsmanship” and display “courtesy and civility toward competitors, officials and spectators at all times.”
Neither McEnroe or Connors have signed the contract.
McEnroe dismissed the entire matter as “a big joke,” then zeroed in on USTA President Hunter Delatour. “He thinks we’re embarrassing,” McEnroe said. “He should look in a mirror.”
Connors didn’t exactly have to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the 1984 U.S. Davis Cup team, but his disinterest in the whole procedure has long been common knowledge. Last year, Connors reluctantly agreed to a trial run.
He tried it. He didn’t like it.
So, when the USTA counted up those who had signed and then passed along the names to U.S. Davis Cup team captain Arthur Ashe, the resulting lineup had an all-new look: Aaron Krickstein and Eliot Teltscher in singles, Ken Flach and Robert Seguso in doubles.
They all may be nice guys and they’ve all promised to mind their p’s and q’s, but, really, what the United States is sending to Japan for its first-round meeting March 4 is pretty much the junior varsity.
The Oakland A’s of the mid-1970s and the Los Angeles Raiders of the early 1980s never won any Amy Vanderbilt awards, but they did win championships. Should quality be sacrificed in exchange for better etiquette?
Charlie Pasarell, a former American Davis Cup player, hardly hesitates in his answer.
“Davis Cup is lot more than just winning for your country,” Pasarell said. “It’s also how you represent your country.
“The USTA feels very strongly about this, and I think it’s a step in the right direction. Certainly, it’s important to win. But how you do it is just as important.
“I think it’s fair. Corporations have certain ethics, certain manners that are required. I see nothing wrong with asking for a code of conduct on the tennis court.”
Krickstein and Seguso, both entered in Pasarell’s Pilot Pen tournament in La Quinta, agree.
Krickstein: “Obviously, if they can’t sign it (the conduct contract), they’re either stubborn or they can’t abide within the rules. I don’t understand it.
“I was in Sweden (for the United States’ championship-round loss) and it was pretty bad. Both McEnroe and Connors didn’t act that great--especially when you’re playing the finals of the Davis Cup.”
Seguso: “I can see how you could get upset for your country when you lose the championship. But McEnroe maybe went a little too far. I wasn’t around last year, when Mac was going crazy, so this is new to me. But you always should try to act proper.”
So, this is the USTA’s grand experiment. It’s a risk--although not as severe as it might initially seem.
Japan is not exactly state-of-the-art when it comes to tennis. As McEnroe put it last month at Las Vegas, “We could take our 50th guy and beat Japan.”
Flach and Seguso already have, sweeping Japan’s Davis Cup doubles team of Shigeyuki Nishio and Shinichi Sakamoto last year in a Grand Prix tournament in Tokyo, 6-1, 6-4.
However, by the time Round 3 rolls around and the United States finds itself paired against, say, Ivan Lendl and Czechoslovakia, we may see the return of McEnroe.
“I think McEnroe decided not to go to Japan for that reason,” Pasarell said. “We don’t need to field our strongest team to beat Japan. I think he’ll play in the later rounds.”
Pasarell, though, can remember when a similar strategy backfired for the United States.
“One year, we were going to play Ecuador. Ecuador! " Pasarell said. “I was in the Top 5 then and I was not even asked to go. We sent a team of Ashe, (Marty) Riessen, (Cliff) Richey and (Clark) Graebner. It was a good lineup, especially because they were playing the matches on clay.
“But then they went down there and got beat. When you play Davis Cup, national pride comes into play. You have to be careful.”