On the day before the Davis Cup showdown, Australia pulled a slow one on the United States.
The Aussies, who will be heavy underdogs to the U.S. team in the first two singles matches of the Cup final today on a slow red clay court in the Suncoast Dome, came up with a semi-shocker Thursday. Neale Fraser, the Australian team captain, bypassed fast-court specialist Pat Cash and chose instead 20-year-old Richard Fromberg, his country’s best clay-court player.
For Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion, getting left out of singles had to be hard to take, although he tried to look a little less sullen than usual at a news conference after the draw.
Cash’s spiked hair fairly bristled as he admitted only to being “a little bit disappointed” about sitting out the singles.
“Due to the surface of the match, I think (Fraser) made the right choice,” Cash said grimly.
Possibly, but it could also be seen as a huge gamble. What Fraser gave up was Cash’s eight years of Davis Cup experience for someone who has never played a Cup match, let alone a Cup final.
U.S. Captain Tom Gorman did not second-guess Australia’s shortage of Cash. “Well, that’s Neale’s decision,” he said.
Fromberg, a 6-foot-3, curly-haired son of an accountant in Tasmania, runs straight into Andre Agassi in the first singles match at 2 p.m. PST. Darren Cahill plays Michael Chang in the second match.
In Saturday’s doubles match, Cash and John Fitzgerald will play Rick Leach and Jim Pugh. The remaining two singles matches will be played Sunday.
Fromberg maintained that he wasn’t nervous making his Davis Cup debut in such a pressure situation against Agassi, ranked No. 4 and coming off a victory in the ATP Tour World Championships at Frankfurt, Germany, where he defeated both Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg.
“I feel all the pressure is on (Agassi),” Fromberg said. “He’s going to have 17,000 screaming Americans yelling for him. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Fromberg also said he thinks Agassi is sometimes fragile in tense situations, adding: “He can play good under pressure and he can also play bad.”
Agassi didn’t seem interested in being drawn into a discussion of his frailties, but he did react when told of Fraser’s repeated mentions that the United States may be faced with suffocating pressure in the favorite’s role.
“To be honest, it sounds like somebody stuck a quarter in him,” Agassi said. “It’s just a question of going out there and playing our best tennis. If we stick to that, I think we’ll be OK.
“On paper, there’s no question it would be a huge upset for Australia to beat us, but with all the crazy things that happen in sports, you can’t assume you are going to win.”
However, such assumptions became widespread once the United States announced it would play the final, its first since losing to France in 1984, on red clay. The slow surface is regarded as a huge advantage for clay-court devotees such as Chang, the 1989 French Open champion, and Agassi, the French Open runner-up last June.
Australia’s chances, at the same time, were greatly diminished when a clay surface was chosen instead of a fast court, such as grass, cement or carpet.
“We just wanted something similar to the beach,” Agassi quipped.
The numbers tilt impressively toward the United States. Agassi is 55-15 and Chang 21-9 on clay, and Fromberg’s record is 14-8, Cahill’s 31-25.
Cash, who is only 19-25 on clay and did not play a match on that surface this year, may have decided his own fate during practices when he failed to win a set against his teammates.
The U.S. Tennis Assn.'s decision to play the best-of-five final on clay effectively diminished Cash’s role. Instead of playing for three points--in two singles matches and one doubles match--Cash is reduced to doubles only.
Fraser made no apologies for his singles selections and informed Cash of his decision over breakfast. “We’ve picked players who we think are going to beat Agassi and Chang . . . players who are most suitable to play on clay,” Fraser said.
The United States has not won the Davis Cup since 1982, when it did so for the 28th time. Australia is next with 26 Davis Cup titles.
Fraser said it is too early to award the Davis Cup to the United States, despite the odds favoring the Americans.
“I can assure you favorites lose,” he said. “We came here to win. Don’t be surprised when it happens. Everybody expects them to win. If you believe there is no pressure on them, you’re crazy. There is tremendous pressure on them. If they falter, our guys will be there to step right in.”
Davis Cup Notes
Jim Pugh did not attend the draw because he was sick. “He has a little bit of a bug,” said U.S. Captain Tom Gorman, who expects Pugh to be fine for Saturday’s doubles match. . . . In the event of any fifth sets, matches will be played out with no tiebreakers.
The draw ceremony at the St. Petersburg Pier was delayed 18 minutes when both team buses arrived late. As hundreds of spectators sweltered in bright sunshine and high humidity, a band next to the dais and played “Winter Wonderland.”
Richard Fromberg won two clay-court titles in 1990 and improved his ranking from No. 126 to No. 25. However, Michael Chang said Fromberg could be at a disadvantage because of his lack of Davis Cup experience. “I think Fromberg is in a difficult situation,” Chang said. “To all of a sudden be stuck in the final, there is a lot of pressure.”
Andre Agassi, downplaying his own pressure situation, said: “People’s expectations go flying around and around and people’s opinions go flying around before and after, but I can honestly say that as soon as you step on the court, it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side.”