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Curry Kirkpatrick
December 10, 1990
The U.S. cleaned up on some indoor dirt to win the Davis Cup
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December 10, 1990


The U.S. cleaned up on some indoor dirt to win the Davis Cup

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Whether building a red clay tennis court, hidden away from the glorious Florida sunshine inside a domed stadium, to ensure victory in the Davis Cup finals was a bigger crime against nature than Philip Agassi's astounding new wig became a moot question last weekend, when the United States of America finally won the thing. Not the hairpiece, the Davis Cup. It had been eight long years, but the way the U.S. team—composed of Andre ("Let's dance") Agassi, Phil's exquisitely coiffed little brother; Michael Chang, who is merely little; Rick Leach; Jim Pugh; and Lee ("Proud to be an American") Greenwood—celebrated, one would have thought that 800 years had gone by since the country had prevailed.

The final score was U.S. 3, Australia 2, Greenwood 47. Although Greenwood, a country and western singer, wasn't there in the flesh at St. Petersburg's intimate 50,000-seat (but only 20,000 for tennis) Suncoast Dome, he was there in voice: Forty-seven was the approximate number of times Greenwood's patriotic anthem, God Bless the U.S.A., was played over the loudspeakers throughout the weekend, reviving a jingoism that hadn't been seen on domestic sports battlefields since the 1984 Summer Olympics.

Whoo, boy! You think Andre and the other U.S. giants could have beaten the Aussies without such flag-waving? O.K., how about without the U.S. Tennis Association's having installed that bogus dust-to-dust surface in the dome? It would have been nice to see the U.S. try to win on something normal. After all, Agassi had just won the ATP Tour World Championship on indoor carpet in Germany, beating the two best players in the world, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, back-to-back. Further, the Australians showed up in St. Pete with a Davis Cup rookie from Tasmania named Richard Fromberg and a still-gimpy Pat Cash, who would be limited to doubles. What was everybody—read: the USTA—so terrified about?

Nobody asked the Agassi boys how they liked the musical interludes spicing up the first Davis Cup finals in the U.S. since 1981 (America 3, Argentina 1, in Cincinnati). As most television viewers know, Andre is a Red Hot Chili Peppers man, that being the backup band on his newest rock-'n'-roll-and-tennis-shoe video. Phil is a fan of late '50s music, judging from his spectacularly inventive Fabian-does-Julio-of-Tuscaloosa's-perm-curls new look. Instead, the younger Agassi, who makes a living at tennis, was kept busy giving answers about the surface, and the older Agassi, who makes a living around the game, was kept busy planting the questions.

After acknowledging that the Americans had gone out of their way "to create a scenario to give us the best chance to win," Andre made his case. "We've played all over the world," he said. "You want to see unfair? Go to the stadiums where they pound the drums." And all the time, thanks to those Nike commercials, you thought this guy liked tennis loud.

While it is true that American teams have been repeatedly abused on foreign soil by thieving linesmen and ornery crowds, shouldn't the USTA stand above petty connivery? And shouldn't the opponent—Australia, an honored tennis rival since early in the century and the most sportsmanlike nation on earth—have been considered in the mix? The scenario Andre Agassi referred to evolved like this. Following the U.S.'s semifinal defeat of Austria on red clay in Vienna in September, America's captain, Tom Gorman, discovered that a clay court—a European clay court, at that—could be set down in the Suncoast Dome. Clay is not only Agassi's and Chang's best surface but also Australia's worst, and only the 20-year-old Fromberg had enjoyed any kind of success on the slow stuff.

The USTA didn't decide to go with red clay until Oct. 11, nine days after it had been required to announce its surface selection. The lateness of the decision, coupled with the surface itself, raised the considerable ire of longtime Aussie captain Neale Fraser, who pointed out that the rules stipulate that the surface must be "in general use" in the country where the tie is played. So the USTA canceled an order for German clay and ordered 170 tons (two courts' worth) of a good domestic '90 burgundy from Plant City, Fla. It still wasn't green Har-Tru, an ersatz clay that is prevalent in the U.S. and is somewhat faster than the imported brand. And it certainly wasn't a surface on which pro tennis is played in America. It was, admitted Agassi, "something similar to a beach." But, hey, who cares? A 'W is a 'W,' especially when the Americans hadn't had one in the finals since they whipped France in Grenoble in '82.

"This is an embarrassment to the USTA," said Cash. And that was before he got a couple of bad bounces in a practice match and smashed several rackets to smithereens. "Aw, Cashy gets frustrated even on his own court at home," Fraser would say later.

As either a player or a coach, Fraser has been part of eight winning Davis Cup teams, and in both 1959 and '60 he won the singles, doubles and mixed-doubles crowns at Forest Hills. He is a feisty sort, who last week complained about the arena, the match scheduling, the works. "The lighting is not uniform," Fraser said. "And it's colder in here than [when we arrived]. They've obviously turned on the air conditioner. I've been in a lot of Davis Cup finals, and everything is spot-on. But here, things are just not spot-on."

The ESPN-dictated starting time of 5 p.m. for the first of Friday's two singles matches, followed by doubles on Saturday at 1, was especially galling to Fraser. He said the scheduling forced him to change his lineup. "We've talked and argued, and everybody knows it [the schedule] is wrong," he said. "So we have to wait until 1991 to get back to some sanity." (As of next year, there must be at least 22 hours between the start of the singles and the start of the doubles.)

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