Next weekend, the U.S. Davis Cup tennis team will play its quarterfinal match against last year's Cup winner, Czechoslovakia. It promises to be the most fiercely contested Davis Cup match in 25 years.
Unless there are last-minute injuries, as the U.S. captain I will name John McEnroe, Jimmy Conners, Stan Smith and Bob Lutz as the official four-man team. The lineup has to be announced 10 days before the tie (as a Davis Cup match-up is called). One substitution for legitimate injury can be made up until five days before play begins. After that, no substitutions for any reason are allowed.
The Czech team is on a hot streak. As well as last year's Davis Cup, it won the Nation's Cup held in Duseldorf two months ago. Its leading player, Ivan Lendl, is ranked fourth in the world by the Association of Tennis Professionals computer and he was a finalist in the recent French Open, losing to Bjorn Borg. Not since the mid-1950s have the world's second, third and fourth (McEnroe, Connors and Lendl, respectively) ranking players competed in the same Davis Cup encounter.
Earlier, I had picked the Mayer brothers, Sandy and Gene, to play the crucial doubles. But both have been injured recently; Sandy hurt his back and Gene had a recurrence of tendinitis in his wrist. Inasmuch as Gene is ranked fifth in the world and, next to McEnroe, possibly is the world's best backhand court doubles player, I was reluctant to replace him.
But Gene's decision not to play at Wimbledon meant he would not have an apportunity to test his wrist in competition. I had to weight using the completely healthy team of Smith and Lutz against my earlier choice of the Mayers and the thought of leaving the world's fifth-ranking player off the team was very unsettling.
My tenure as captain begn at last September's U.S. Open when I was named to replace Tony Trabert. At the time, I felt our biggest strength was the doubles. Now, suddenly, I am scrambling and hoping nothing happens to Smith or Lutz, or McEnroe and Connors.
Injuries have decimated what was once a stacked deck of doubles teams. Peter Fleming, who plays with McEnroe, has a bad arm; Victor Amaya, whose partner is Hank Pfister, had recurring back problems; and Smith, Lutz's regular partner, had cortisone injections in his arm in March. Having the world's best players is not good if they're not fit to play.
Another twist in this tale is that Bjorn Borg declared, "I will not be playing this next Davis Cup match against Australia because I want to concentrate on the major events."
Even though Borg's absence may increase U.S. chances of winning back the cup, I wish he would reconsider. As in other major tennis events, if the top players don't participate, the sponsors may turn their advertising and promotional efforts in other directions.