To represent your country in the sport’s world team competition, the Davis Cup, used to be the ultimate honour a tennis player could aspire to. Since the game went “Open” or professional, in 1969, the lure of ever increasing prize and sponsorship monies has persuaded many top players to either turn their backs on their country, or give less than 100 per cent in its cause. In Britain’s case it is simply a lack of talent and development at grass roots level that has caused the team’s demise forcing it to struggle against the likes of Israel in the lower divisions of the competition. But only the aforementioned factors can explain why the “big guns” fell at the first hurdle last week. Joining reigning champions Spain on the first-round casualty list are the US, for example. Playing in their own backyard, at the Home Depot Centre in Carson near Los Angeles, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi and Co. contrived to lose 3-2 to Croatia, who Ivan Ljubicic apart, fielded such unknowns as Roko Karamusic and Mario Ancic.
France overcame the fancied Swedes 3-2, the Netherlands beat Switzerland, for whom Roger Federer failed to turn out, also 3-2 and the once indominable Czechs went down
5-0 to Argentina. Germany struggled against nobodies, and only Australia, thrashing Austria 5-0, seem to retain the sporting principle.
• In the Europe/Africa Zone Group II Portugal beat Estonia 4-1 to go through to the
second round where they will beat Algeria, winners over Poland.
• Former women’s world No. 1 Kim Clijsters made a successful come back from a nine
month injury lay off by beating Australia’s Nicole Pratt 6-2, 6-1 in just 49 minutes.