As for the Aussies, they celebrated in style. They mobbed Rafter on the court before turning to their loud cheering section and—Brandi Chastain, you created a monster—ripping off their shirts. "What a great feeling, especially this being the 100th year of Davis Cup," said Rafter. "We sure had a lot of drama this weekend, didn't we, mate?"
New African-American Star?
Harvard Can Wait
In keeping with a Davis Cup tradition, James Blake endured some good-natured hazing as the U.S. team's youngest practice partner. One of his chores was to give a speech at a team dinner before last weekend's tie. Blake, an affable 19-year-old who had just finished his sophomore year at Harvard, spoke movingly about how honored he felt to be on a team of players he had idolized as a kid. "When I sat down, no one said anything," Blake says wistfully. "Then Jim Courier told me I need to make better eye contact, and everyone started laughing."
Fortunately for Blake, his calling in life is not as a spokesman but as a strokes man. After finishing the college season ranked No. 1 and reaching the NCAA singles final (he lost to Florida's Jeff Morrison in three sets), Blake turned pro. At 6'1" and a wiry 155 pounds, he is a superb athlete who covers the court like a tarp, hits the ball hard and draws high marks for his tennis acumen. "He reminds me a little of Tim Henman at that age," says Tom Gullikson. "When you talk about promising young Americans, he's way up there."
With a white mother and an African-American father, Blake has the additional pressure wrought by race. While he grew up middle-class in Fairfield, Conn., he first gripped a racket in the Harlem Junior Tennis Program, for which his dad, Thomas, was a volunteer coach. "If kids, especially in the inner city, want to look up to me, I don't want to disappoint them," says James, who plans on returning to Harvard to get his degree in economics when his pro career is over.
His older brother, Thomas Jr., who graduated from Harvard in 1998, is ranked No. 420 on the ATP tour, so James knows of the rigors that confront new pros trying to qualify for main draws. But because of his sterling college career—and his recent signing with omnipotent IMG—he ought to receive his share of wildcard entries. Early this month, in fact, he got a free pass to the first round of the Newport event and won his first ATP tour match. His opponent, Mai Washington, is one of the lamentably few other African-Americans on tour.
"Everything's happening pretty fast," says Blake. "Of course, someday I'd love to be out there representing our country in Davis Cup, not just serving as a practice partner." Surely by then his rhetorical skills will pass muster.
Bigger Balls in Davis Cup
Once and for All: Size Matters
In hopes of countering runaway racket technology and of blunting ballistic serves, the International Tennis Federation will start a two-year trial of a larger (and slower) tennis ball, albeit only on fast surfaces. The first laboratory will be low-level Davis Cup and Federation Cup ties in early 2000.
The new ball, roughly 8% larger than current balls, which are 2�-2?" in diameter, creates more air resistance and gives returners an extra .03 of a second to react. That amounts to 10% more time to read a serve. "The ball will make tennis more attractive to spectators," says Andrew Coe, the ITF's head of technology.