Davis Cup Tennis : McEnroe and Becker Are Under the Gun Today

Special to The Times

For days, even weeks, all the parties involved in the Davis Cup relegation round between West Germany and the United States have been tossing the word pressure around.

Nikki Pilic, the West German team’s captain, has suggested that there is more pressure on the Americans because the United States is playing at home.

West Germany’s Boris Becker has claimed that in Saturday’s doubles match against Wimbledon champions Robert Seguso and Ken Flach, the pressure is squarely on the Americans, since they’re expected to win.

And surely, John McEnroe has some thoughts on Becker. He does.

“On paper, Tim (Mayotte) and I aren’t favored to win against Becker,” he said at Thursday’s press conference here. “Then again, who was expecting us losing to Paraguay and West Germany losing to Spain. That’s what makes it interesting.”


Said U.S. team captain Tom Gorman: “The order is the most important thing. John is great, he tells it as it is. On the other hand, you can’t control the draw. All the pressure is on Boris. The pressure won’t be on John.”

The McEnroe-Becker match, both long awaited and much discussed, will be played today at the Civic Center, just after Mayotte opens against Eric Jelen of West Germany. In Saturday’s doubles, Becker and Jelen will play Flach and Seguso. In Sunday’s reverse singles, McEnroe will play Jelen and Becker will play Mayotte.

However it’s figured, it would seem there is enough pressure to go around. The loser of the best-of-five match this weekend will be relegated to zonal qualifying rounds in 1988, banished from the 16-team World Group at least until 1989.

Certainly, for the United States, it would be an embarrassment for the once-proud tennis power. And, in West Germany, a defeat would have an especially bitter sting, since its team played in the Davis Cup final just two years ago.

“It hasn’t really hit me, what the consequences would be if we lost,” Gorman said. “Maybe I’ll start feeling nervous on Friday. The players are aware of it but haven’t been dwelling on it.”

Both Becker and McEnroe referred to the possibility of being relegated to zonal qualifying competition, with McEnroe saying he doesn’t care whether he loses two matches if the United States wins, 3-2, and avoids the “minor league division.”


“There’s so much pressure on all of us,” said Becker, who is happy to be playing McEnroe today rather than Sunday. “I don’t think in Davis Cup it matters who’s playing better tennis. It’s a match of who has better nerves. So many things can distract you. You have to be cool for four hours and five sets.”

Davis Cup Notes

This week, John McEnroe has been talking about his renewed dedication to tennis and, more specifically, to a serious conditioning program. Of course, you can’t judge whether it’s a new and improved McEnroe on the court from just one weekend. But McEnroe, a big music fan, is sporting his own new-wave look these days, complete with a diamond in his left ear. . . . It has been four months since the opening-round loss to Paraguay but some still find it hard to believe. Several reporters were talking to Tom Gorman after Thursday’s press conference when one looked at Gorman and shook his head. “What happened down there?” he asked the U.S. captain in a tone of disbelief. Said Gorman: “Go get some tapes from ESPN and go through the nightmare. I’d like to forget that.” . . . Gorman, on his role for this three-day event: “We’ll talk about the strategy for each player tonight. But tennis is such a game of reactions. It’s not like football where you have a set game plan. You’re not going to tell John McEnroe to change the grip on his serve.”