John McEnroe is now boss of the underachieving U.S. Davis Cup
As he walked across the grounds of the U.S. Tennis Center early
last Saturday evening, John McEnroe cut his usual U.S. Open
figure: head bowed, suit jacket flapping, a superstar striding
fast toward Arthur Ashe Stadium. Men and women flitted about
him, snapping photos, hoping for a word. He didn't slow.
Everything about him looked the same, so how were the gawkers to
know that not only were they looking at a new incarnation of
McEnroe--SI had learned that he would soon be named U.S. Davis
Cup captain--but that they were also about to witness the
changing of the guard?
McEnroe skipped up a set of steps and headed toward the employee
entrance. To his right, on a small swatch of grass, stood ousted
Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson, chatting on a cell phone.
Gullikson, informed six hours earlier that McEnroe would be
taking his job, turned and saw McEnroe coming. McEnroe's eyes
stayed glued to the ground. He blew through the door, the U.S.
Tennis Association's newest employee entering the USTA's
showplace. "I haven't talked to him yet," Gullikson would say
later. "He probably didn't even see me. Whatever."
Gullikson shrugged. He looked exhausted, said he felt hollow. He
had spent much of Saturday afternoon wondering what had hit him.
USTA president Judy Levering had told Gullikson at noon that
after six years, his briefly triumphant, often disastrous tenure
as captain was over. "I still don't understand the reason,"
Gullikson said. "No one explained why."
On the surface the reason is obvious: During an era of American
supremacy in the men's game, the U.S. won only one Davis Cup
under Gullikson, in 1995. Just seven weeks ago, in Boston, the
Americans lost to Australia in a quarterfinal tie marked by U.S.
roster machinations so clumsy that the Aussies and the media
accused the Americans of trying to cheat. That embarrassment was
rivaled by the one last year in Milwaukee when the USTA-endorsed
choice of a disastrously slow indoor playing surface helped doom
the U.S. to a semifinal loss to Italy.
Still, if results were the lone criterion for selecting next
year's captain, Gullikson would never have been in the running.
Yet only he and McEnroe were serious candidates for the job,
which says plenty about the captaincy's inherent weakness. For
much of this decade, the cup has been a middling priority for
top players like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang,
reducing the captain to little more than a glad-handing
recruiter of lesser talents.
In Boston, Sampras insisted on playing only doubles, a noble
gesture to the stalwarts who had played the team into contention
but one that left Gullikson hamstrung. If he strong-armed
Sampras into playing singles from the start, Gullikson risked
offending Sampras and losing his services for next year. Such
no-win contortions will remain part of the job description.
McEnroe has been called a lot of names, but diplomat isn't one
of them. "He's very well qualified, but I think a lot of [USTA]
people fear he's a loose cannon," said U.S. player Chris
Woodruff last week. "Then again, he's a loose cannon who's won a
Though McEnroe's credentials are unmatched--he played in and won
more Davis Cup matches than any other American--it is his
celebrity that matters most. At 40, McEnroe remains one of the
most popular figures in the men's game, and when he is announced
as captain, the choice will be rightly hailed as a
public-relations coup for the USTA. McEnroe is magic on TV, a
dynamic personality who will give the Davis Cup visibility it
hasn't received in years. He refused to speak about the
captaincy last week.
His ability to recruit won't be tested early. Agassi, who vowed
never to play Davis Cup again after the USTA fired team doctor
George Fareed last March, spearheaded the push for McEnroe, and
when it became apparent that McEnroe's candidacy was gaining
steam, Agassi said last Friday that he was "very interested in
being back" next year.
Meanwhile, Sampras, who in Boston had said that he would only
play for Gullikson, told SI on Sept. 2, "I meant that at the
time. But I realize he's not going to be the captain for the rest
of my career. I have no problem playing for John."
McEnroe's appointment signals a dramatic capitulation by the
USTA in its longstanding battle with the players for control of
Davis Cup decisions. Levering confirmed last week that Fareed
would rejoin the Davis Cup medical team next year, but Agassi
has no plans to stop with half a loaf. He says, "The players
need to have say-so in a few important factors: who takes care
of us physically, who our captain is, the surfaces we play on,
where we play--the things that give us a platform to succeed."
It will be interesting to see how long the honeymoon lasts. Can
McEnroe ride herd on egos as large as his? Will he dare name
himself to the doubles team? How many USTA cocktail parties can
he endure without snapping? Such questions will make the McEnroe
era of Davis Cup captaincy impossible to ignore, which is exactly
Teen Dumps IMG
VIELE PLAYS TRUMP CARD
Befitting a man whose threshold for shame is so high that he
names skyscrapers in his honor, Donald Trump issued a press
release last week to announce that he was in the tennis agent
business, never mind that his lone client has yet to play a pro
match. T Management Group, as Trump's agency is called, will
represent Monique Viele, a 14-year-old prodigy who had been with
IMG since she was nine and her parents sent the omnipotent
management firm a videotape of her whacking balls.
Monique's father, Rick, says that Team Viele hired Trump in part
because IMG "dragged its feet" in pressuring the WTA tour to
suspend its age-eligibility rules and allow Monique to embark on
her pro career. Rick and his wife, Bernadette, had long vowed to
sue the WTA if Monique wasn't allowed to turn pro by this year's
U.S. Open. The Vieles never filed, and when they finagled a
minor relaxation of the rules to permit a 14-year-old to receive
one wild-card entry to a tour event, Rick says, he signed a
waiver against bringing legal action against the WTA. "We were
disappointed that IMG didn't do more to help us," says Rick.
"Monique's dream was to debut at the U.S. Open, and it's a shame
she didn't get the opportunity."
The Vieles say that another reason they divorced themselves from
IMG--which represents scores of tennis players, including
defending U.S. Open women's champ Lindsay Davenport--was the
agency's neglect of Monique's off-court talents. "We didn't
think IMG took her singing, her acting and her modeling
seriously enough," agrees Monique's coach, Rick Macci. "With
Trump and his capabilities, there's a lot more synergy and
Viele's former IMG agent, Tony Godsick, replies, "Monique has a
ton of potential, but the tennis has to come first."
All eyes will be on Monique when she makes her pro debut at the
Toyota Princess Cup in Tokyo later this month, two weeks before
she turns 15. While a legion of experts who have seen her
practice predict that she will be a star, others point out that
she hasn't played a sanctioned match in more than a year. "With
all the publicity they've tried to drum up for her," says one
former top women's player, "she ought to be the best thing since
Says Macci, "She's going to be the first tennis player to sing
the national anthem before a match and then go out and win the
tournament. You just wait." --L. Jon Wertheim
by the numbers
$17,250 Total money earned if a player loses in the first round
of singles, doubles and mixed doubles at the U.S. Open.
$130,000,000 Projected revenue of the 1999 Open, up 54% from
four years ago.
0 Sets won by sixth-seeded Tim Henman and sixth-seeded Amanda
13 Qualifiers and lucky losers (out of 20) who advanced to the
second round of the main draw of singles on the men's side.
8 Number of years that have elapsed since Jennifer Capriati
reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
4 Number of 1998 U.S. Open male semifinalists forced to
withdraw from this year's tournament because of injury.