ATP Tennis 360

January 4, 2010 7:10 AM

Davis Cup: an honour or a duty?

Andy Murray won't be part of the British team for the next Davis Cup match. Contrarily to the upsetting decision of Roger Federer not to take part in the forthcoming World Group first round against Spain, erasing the possibility to face Rafa Nadal, his desire to avoid participating in the Euro-African Group II tie against Lithuania was in the air. ""I don't think it's a case of me abandoning Great Britain. I've played a lot of matches for them," he said.

"You've got to do what is right for your tennis. That period of the year just before Indian Wells and Miami is very important for me.

"I've got a lot of ranking points to defend. I think it's the right decision". Even more considering he will lose the fourth place in the world rankings because of his choice to play the Hopman Cup and having in mind that the tie will be hosted in Lithuania on the clay.

The decisions by the two big players to under-rate the Davis Cup confirmed the atipicity of a squad tournament in an individual sport. Players are pro and has the undisputable rights to choose to play it or not if their commitments allow. Patriotism, attachment to the flag and similar were good arguments in pre-professionism era. And it was just a similar decision, in 1973, to give the key push for the creation of the ATP. The Yogoslav number one Nikki Pilic was suspended by his national association alleging he refused to play a Davis Cup tie, though he denied outright refusal. The federation tried to convince tournaments to refuse allowing Pilic play: Rome didn't accept, but Wimbledon prevented him to take part to the Championships. That decision brought a pair of key consequences: ATP became real and 79 players, including 13 of the original 16 seeds (but the Sheffield lefty Roger Taylor, and Ilie Nastase, under orders from Romanian authorities he said, rested in the main draw) boycotted the tournament, eventually won by Jan Kodes over Alex Metreveli.
Between the supportive players there were the Adriano Panatta and Paolo Bertolucci, punished by the Italian federation. As a result, the other two singles great players of that time, Corrado Barazzutti and Tonino Zugarelli, defeated Spain but they was beaten by the Czechoslovakia in the final.
And Italians are the only players, except Pilic, disqualified in Davis Cup. Because Italy is the only national association providing for punishments for players who refused to play the Cup. The article 18 of the Italian Federation regulation of justice says: "Players selected for national teams who refuse or don't answer to the convocation are punished with an administrative sanction and an inibition that could last until an year".
The first player suspended was Fausto Gardini, stopped twice. In 2001 the sixteen best Italian players, "guided" by Gianluca Pozzi, at the Australian Open signed a document engaging themselves in refusing every convocation in Davis Cup. The protest, against the newly elected Federal President Angelo Binaghi, mounted for two main reasons: players weren't consulted in relation to the appointment of the new Italian Davis Cup team captain, Corrado Barazzutti, and the "political" criteria adopted in the election of the players in the Federal Council. Pozzi was disqualified for one years, others for nine months.

More recently, Simone Bolelli was disqualified for preferring remaining in Bangkok for an ATP event to come back in Italy for the Euro-African Group I relegation playoff against Latvia, but after some months, and his separation with his long-time coach Claudio Pistolesi, he was "forgiven" and rehabilitated.

But in the rest of the world the situation is very different. Roger federer could win the trophy almost alone, but nobody would ever imagine to punish him if he decide to play for his country only now and then. The same happens in Great Britain, although Murray's presence could let them reach better results and probably the World Group. In Spain Albert Costa is spoilt for choice, and is blessed by Rafa Nadal's availability for the competition, but nobody would say anything if the Mallorcan should decide not to go to Peru and nobody has opposed critics when Tommy Robredo refused to be the fourth man in 2008 final in Argentina.

In the United States every captain, and the public opinion, positively welcomed the incidental participations of big names, like Sampras, Agassi, Connors or the Williams sisters in the Fed Cup, although their refusal to be part of the recent final costed Usa the final victory in Reggio Calabria against Italy.

The last case concerns Kevin Anderson from South Africa, who refused to play the playoff against India his country eventually lost. The captain John Laffnie De Jager announced him he wouldn't name him for the first 2010 match. But Anderson is very far from a formal disqualification.

Because, although in Italy they seems not to have completely realized it, Davis Cup has to be considered as a prize and an honour, but nobody can oblige players to feel part of it. It's the same in football: does anybody think it's fair to disqualify Francesco Totti because he decided not to wear the shirt of the Azzurri anymore?

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