Davis Cup shines again in America

Celebrating its 100th, the event returns to its roots

It courtside, the pulse of American tennis is going pitapat.

Is this because of Pete Sampras and Lindsey Davenport's crowning wins at Wimbledon? Or the riveting sweetness and success of Alexandra Stevenson on the same hallowed sod? Maybe Andre Agassi's run at the French Open, or his new hairdo?

Perhaps all.

But before all this June-and-July jubilation, something noteworthy happened April 23: The tickets for the Davis Cup game between the United States and Australia - which begins today - sold out in 81 minutes. It was the quickest sale in US Davis Cup history - and timewise, on par with Bruce Springsteen's much-heralded tour.

Although the stadium for the Davis Cup game is fairly small, the enthusiasm came as a refreshing respite at a time when many believed the competition was losing its luster in America.

"The Davis Cup is getting back to being a front-page story," says American tennis player Jim Courier, at a recent press conference in Boston. "It's such a compelling competition to be a part of, as a player and as a fan."

Courier delivered that euphoria. His scintillating come-from-behind victory over Greg Rusedski, in Birmingham, England, extinguished England's flame and reignited America's passion.

Sampras was a casualty of that euphoria. For the past few years, Sampras put personal ambition ahead of patriotism. Now, he says, he's seen the flag.

"To be honest, what Jim and Todd [Martin] did in England was an inspiration," said Sampras. "I want to be in that situation with a crowd like that. That's what tennis is all about."

This weekend, a similar ambience with festivities will be served at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Mass., where the Davis Cup began 100 years ago.

The US will be represented by Martin, Courier, Sampras, and Alex O'Brien, while the Aussies have Patrick Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, Mark Woodforde, and Sandon Stolle.

On paper, the US team makes a good read. Factor in the home-court advantages: A surface that favors the hosts, and fans who mirror the surface.

The Aussies have been hampered by injuries to Mark Philippoussis and Todd Woodbridge. Meanwhile, Sampras says he doesn't want to be considered for the singles, at the expense of the regulars.

"I feel like Jim and Todd deserve to play singles because they went to England and won a great tie," says Sampras. "That is what I feel is best for me and the team. I just want to show the commitment by being part of the team."

Whatever the eventual lineup or outcome, this tie will add to Davis Cup lore. Sellout crowds will scream, and flags will wave. For the fans who can't make it to the Longwood Cricket Club, here's the big picture: A 9-by-12-foot TV screen will telecast the Davis Cup live at the Boston Common.

Otherwise it wouldn't be cricket.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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