U.S. Davis Cup doubles team must pull off feat of clay

November 04, 1990|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,Los Angeles Times

When the United States Tennis Association decided to play the Davis Cup final on a clay surface, which player was consulted first:

* a-Andre Agassi

* b-Rick Leach

* c-Jim Pugh

If you answered a, then you understand just who is utmost in the USTA's mind. And it isn't the doubles team of b (Leach) and c (Pugh), which doesn't really surprise b.

"They sure didn't ask me first," Leach said. "I had an idea before that we might use clay, though. And I thought then it was a pretty good idea. But it's not our best surface, though."

Far from it, actually. Clay is probably the worst surface for Leach and Pugh. But when the United States plays host to Australia in the Davis Cup final, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, at the Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg, Fla., the doubles team will be riding a one-match winning streak on clay. In fact, the United States wouldn't even be playing in its first Davis Cup final since 1984 if Leach and Pugh had not won their doubles match in the semifinals against Austria last month on slow clay in Vienna.

"After that match, we're pretty confident on clay," Leach said. "I think the match that we won in Vienna, we overcame a big obstacle."

Leach said he and Pugh quickly understood that the U.S. decision to play on clay would be a smart move.

"The biggest factor is we've taken [Pat] Cash's biggest weapons away," Leach said. "We've kind of taken him out of the Davis Cup. And he could beat anyone in the world in Davis Cup."

Cash favors courts with fast surfaces, especially grass, because of his serve-and-volley style. But that style is less effective on clay, where baseliners have the edge because the ball slows down when it bounces.

"We might be able to win the final with Jimmy and I playing a match that really doesn't matter," Leach said. "If so, that would be great."

But first, Leach and Pugh need to get their game back together.

Since winning their important Davis Cup match in Vienna, they have lost consecutive first-round matches in ATP Tour events at Tokyo and Vienna. Both of those matches were played indoors on Supreme, which is a semi-fast surface that ought to favor Leach and Pugh. Maybe they should have stayed on clay.

Leach and Pugh will be in Paris next week to play another indoor event on Supreme and try to shake out of their short slump.

"The match against Austria did take something out of us," Leach said. "We got so up for it, we've kind of had a letdown since. There was so much pressure on us, I guess both of us were really tired after that."


Sampras vs. Chang: Teen-age Grand Slam winners Pete Sampras and Michael Chang will meet in an exhibition, the Forum Tennis Challenge, Dec. 18, in Inglewood, Calif. Sampras, 19, of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., is the youngest male player to win the U.S. Open. He beat Agassi in the final and defeated Thomas Muster, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe in succession to get there.

Chang won the 1989 French Open at 17 to become the youngest male player to earn a Grand Slam title. Chang, of Placentia, Calif., joins Agassi and the doubles team of Leach and Pugh when the U.S plays Australia in the Davis Cup final.


Slims chances: Apparently, there is no way Jennifer Capriati won't be playing in the Virginia Slims Championships, not after ,, all the strings have been pulled to get her there.

Capriati, 14, is the beneficiary of a series of rules changes designed to make her eligible for the Championships, the women's season-ending event, Nov. 12-18 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Not only did the Women's International Tennis Council (WIPTC) change its rules and permit Capriati to turn pro before her 14th birthday in March, the WIPTC also allowed her to play more major tournaments. There wasn't much reaction to these moves, but the latest action has drawn widespread attention.

The WIPTC made a third rule change for Capriati's sake last month. She wanted to play a major tournament at Filderstadt, Germany, so she would earn enough Kraft Tour points to ensure qualifying for the Championships. But the WIPTC noted that Capriati had already reached her limit of 10 major, or so-called "Tier II' events, and ruled that Capriati can play only minor, or "Tier IV" events the rest of the year.

So how would Capriati pick up enough points to stay in the top 16 who are eligible for the Championships? The WIPTC obligingly downgraded from Tier II to Tier IV an event in San Juan, Puerto Rico, thus making it a minor event. Capriati quickly entered and played in the tournament last week.

She is on the bubble for qualifying, No. 15 in the latest Kraft Tour points standings. It may well be that Capriati's eligibility is a non-issue, that Capriati would have easily had enough points if she hadn't been limited to so few tournaments, that she is certainly one of the top 16 players and a worthy entrant regardless of what rules were changed to help her get the needed points.

Mary Joe Fernandez, a solid No. 5 in the points and already qualified, is not surprised how Capriati was dealt with.

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