Angus Phillips

Davis Cup: Bryans Seperation Similar To 1986 Flach-Seguso Situation

Say it ain’t so – Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan NOT playing Davis Cup together?!? It indeed will be strange to see Mike Bryan playing Davis Cup for the United States this weekend in the semifinals against Spain in Madrid without twin brother Bob by his side. However, it certainly will be make entertaining TV viewing to watch Mardy Fish substitute for Bob, ailing with a left shoulder injury, pair with Mike and take on Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez in the crucial doubles rubber on Saturday. Incidentally, Mike has had success in men’s doubles without Bob in the past – winning two ATP titles without his left-handed double in 2002, winning Long Island with Mahesh Bhupathi and Nottingham with Mark Knowles.

A comparable situation in Davis Cup play for the United States came in the 1986 Davis Cup semifinals when the United States played Australia in Brisbane and the legendary American doubles team of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso were forced apart due to injury. A lingering knee injury from Seguso prevented him from posting with Flach Рthrusting Paul Annacone on the line for the United States (incidentally, Annacone’s only on-court appearance for the United States Davis Cup team). As documented on my upcoming book On This Day In Tennis History ($19.95, New Chapter Press, available for a special 32 percent off pre-order at the bottom of this article), Flach and Annacone played a two-day epic on Oct. 4-5, 1986 as excerpted below

October 4, 1986 – Pat Cash wins 16 of 20 games played and defeats Tim Mayotte 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in the completion of a rain-postponed match to give Australia a 2-0 lead over the United States in the Davis Cup semifinals in Brisbane, Australia. Mayotte begins play leading Cash 6-4, 1-2. Cash the pairs with John Fitzgerald in the doubles match, and nearly puts away the Americans by an insurmountable 3-0 margin, but darkness postpones their match with the ad-hoc U.S. doubles team of Ken Flach and Paul Annacone, with the Aussies leading 10-8, 6-1, 5-7. Annacone, in his Davis Cup debut and what ultimately becomes his only Davis Cup playing experience, substitutes for an injured Robert Seguso.

October 5, 1986 – Ken Flach and Paul Annacone keep American hopes alive against Australia in the Davis Cup semifinal as they complete a come-from-behind, darkness delayed victory over Pat Cash and John Fitzgerald by a 8-10, 1-6, 7-5, 13-11, 7-5 margin. Entering the day’s play trailing two sets to one, Flach and Annacone prevent a 3-0 shutout by the Australians by rallying to win the final two sets in dramatic fashion.

A summary from my notes and writings on this 1986 tie as the former U.S. Davis Cup team media director is as follows;

The practice sessions leading into the semifinal would reveal that the doubles would be the major question mark for the United States as Robert Seguso’s knee problems from the US Open prevented him from being 100 percent fit. Annacone would fill in and pair with Flach, his steady doubles partner from the 14, 16 and 18-and-under junior competition. Tim Mayotte and Brad Gilbert would be the singles players.

“Robert is very disappointed, but we gave him as long as we could. In terms of form he wasn’t quite there,” Gorman said. “That gives us the option of three singles players and we can also change the doubles team. If the singles are long matches, we can change and the Australians will probably be thinking the same thing. Our players respect the Australians, but if we play our best tennis, we can win three points (matches).”

“Breaking up one of the best doubles teams in the world is not what you want to do. It’s not the best circumstances,” said Annacone. “There’s a lot of chemistry — who takes what ball, how you react under pressure. It may take a set, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, but there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy playing together, and if we play well, we have a very good chance.”

Gorman, a singles player when Rod Laver and John Newcombe won the 1973 Cup final in Cleveland, was eagerly awaiting his return to Australia-US ties. “”There is a long tradition of great rivalry between our two countries in Davis Cup, though we are great rivals in all sports, not just tennis,” he said. “”There aren’t too many rivalries which go back as far as this, when the winning team is the best in the world,”

The United States and Australia were the two most successful Davis Cup nations, with the U.S. winning 28 Davis Cup titles and Australia winning 25. The two nations met in the Davis Cup final 28 times. The United States led the series with Australia 23-17, but the United States had recently dominated the Aussies, winning their last four meetings. The Australians had not beaten the U.S. in Cup play in 13 years, since the 1973 Davis Cup Final in Cleveland when Gorman was a singles player on the U.S. team that lost 5-0.

Gilbert, ranked No. 12 in the world, opened the tie against 31-year-old Paul McNamee, a doubles specialist with major titles on his shelf with fellow Aussie Peter McNamara. The 25-year-old Gilbert played strong tennis in the 90-degree temperatures and took a two-sets-to-one-lead into the 10-minute locker room break. What transpired following the break was one of the more perplexing turnarounds ever seen in Cup play. With a firm two-sets-to-one lead and momentum on his side, Gilbert emerged from the break only to lose 11 games in a row before holding serve down 0-5 in the fifth set. McNamee then closed out the 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-1 victory, giving Australia the 1-0 lead.

“I don’t know what happened,” Gilbert said after the match. “He got positive, I got down. It was like a sinking ship. It was definitely the worst two sets of my career, and it comes at a bad time. The first match of a Davis Cup series is the most important one. But he raised his game and I was flat.”

The second rubber featured Mayotte against Pat Cash, the former No. 8 ranked Australian who had reached the semifinals of both the US Open and Wimbledon in 1984. After two years of enduring back problems and an appendectomy that saw his ranking drop as low as No. 413, Cash was again finding his top form and had reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon just three months earlier and negotiated his ranking up to a somewhat respectable No. 80 world ranking.

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Mayotte’s grass court game was on full display in taking a 6-4, 1-2 lead over Cash before rains riddled the Milton Courts, postponing play until Saturday morning. The new day resulted in new life for the 21-year-old Cash, who reeled off the first four games of the day to take the second set 6-1. Cash then broke Mayotte twice each in the third and four sets to register the 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 decision to put the Australians in the comfortable 2-0 driver’s seat.

Cash was given a two-hour break before he teamed with John Fitzgerald in the doubles against the makeshift team of Annacone and Flach. Annacone’s Davis Cup jitters were in full blossom in the first two sets, losing his serve three times as he Flach dropped the first two sets, putting the United States on the verge of elimination and an embarrassing 3-0 sweep. But Annacone began to find his footing in the third set as darkness began to envelope the Milton Courts. The bleeding was stopped when the Americans won the third set 7-5, breaking Fitzgerald in the 12th game, forcing the match to be continued on Sunday morning due to night fall.

Sunday morning’s fourth set would prove to be an epic as neither team flinched on their serve. The Americans were closest to elimination at 11-11 in the fourth set, when Annacone wiffed an overhead that he lost in the brilliant Brisbane sun, putting the U.S. down 15-40 on Flach’s serve. But an error from Cash followed by a Flach volley winner erased the Australian opportunity. After Flach held serve, the match was then leveled at two sets apiece when the Americans again broke Fitzgerald to the dismay of the 6,500 assembled Australian fans.

The tight and intense tennis continued well into the fifth set with the Americans giving every ounce of effort to stave off elimination for their country. Wrote Angus Phillips of The Washington Post, of Flach and Annacone “They stalked the court like hungry cats, moving unexpectedly to the net on Australian first serves, making challenging gestures and dangerously aggressive returns of serve, and hurling themselves after difficult shots. Flach dove after a shot in the last set and conked himself on the head with his racket, but refused to stop play to regroup. Then Annacone, a Davis Cup rookie, went flying into a TV camera on the next point.”

Flach and Annacone took an early 3-1 lead in the fifth set and Fitzgerald again showed his vulnerability, losing his serve for the second consecutive time. Annacone, however, returned the favor in the next game, faltering on serve to put the decisive set back on serve. In the 10th game of the fifth set, the U.S. reached its first match point at 4-5 with Cash serving at 30-40, only to have the Aussie heroically escape. Four games later at 6-7, the Americans had double match point on Cash’s serve at 15-40, only to see two service winners bail the Aussies out of trouble. While Cash’s serve proved too tough to crack, Fitzgerald’s serve, as witnessed at the end of the third and fourth sets, would prove to be the Australian Achilles heel, as the 1986 US Open doubles champ’s serve was broken for a fourth time in three sets two games later to put the Americans over the hump. After four hours and 56 minutes – two hours and 45 minutes on Sunday alone – Annacone and Flach emerged triumphant in an 8-10, 1-6, 7-5, 13-11, 9-7 victory that ranks as one of the great doubles victories in U.S. Davis Cup history. The Australian fans, always ones that respected good tennis and tremendous efforts on a tennis court, gave the Americans a standing ovation at the conclusion of the doubles epic, called by Brian Dewhurst of UPI “one of the most memorable Davis Cup doubles matches of recent times.”

“I enjoy good tennis,” said Australian Captain Neal Fraser, “and if there’s any satisfaction from watching, I’d say this was probably one of the best doubles matches I’ve seen in a long time.”

“No one else seems to think we can win this tie, but the team doesn’t think that way,” Annacone said after the doubles epic. “We’ve got a lot of guts and winning the doubles will give the team a big emotional uplift.”

Said Gorman, “We are looking at this like a football game. Australia won in the first half, but now we have to win the second half.”

The Cash-Gilbert match would be delayed until Monday, as an ITF rule allows for a player to have a night’s rest should he play in more than 30 games in a day. Cash certainly needed the rest having played a total of 120 games in three days of play – including 40 games of doubles on Sunday – entering his match with Gilbert.

Cash certainly had the upper hand on Gilbert in the big match experience department, having played in two Grand Slam tournament semifinal matches – one being a tie-break in the fifth-set loss to Ivan Lendl at the 1984 US Open. Cash had also clinched Australia’s last Davis Cup victory in 1983, with a convincing win over Joakim Nystrom of Sweden. To date, Gilbert had not reached a major quarterfinal and still had his Friday melt down to McNamee fresh on his mind in only his second appearance in a U.S. Davis Cup tie. After the two split the first six games of the match, Gilbert reeled off 11 straight points en route to claiming the first set 6-3. Cash rebounded by breaking Gilbert twice before serving out the second set 6-2.

As Cash seized the momentum, Gilbert began self-deprecating comments, while chirping at Cash who walked away or put up his hand telling Gilbert that he was not ready to receive serve. Gilbert complained of “stall tactics.” Cash would later counter that Gilbert was “quick-serving” him.

“The umpire should have done something about it because he did it 30 times,” Gilbert later said. “If I’m ready to serve, he shouldn’t be able to walk away. It’s unfair. Play should be continuous. ”

Two double faults in the opening game of the third set resulted in Gilbert’s serve being broken again and Cash holding on to take the third set 6-3. At 3-3 in the fourth set, the stalling/quick serving banter erupted again. Gorman protested to chair umpire Guy Nash that Cash’s repeated attempts to stall Gilbert was again going too far. Cash would break Gilbert in that game to take the 4-3 lead and three games later, would serve out the 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 victory in two hours and 23 minutes.

“At 3-3, the guy (Nash) goes: “Next time he does that you play two (serves),'” said Gilbert. “It was a fairly crucial point for “next time’. I play a little quickly but I feel like the receiver should play to the server’s pace.”

Said Gorman, “It is the first time I have heard a receiving guy saying: “Wait, I’m not ready’ between first and second serves. I always thought that when a guy is at the line looking at the server, he is ready. They have 30 seconds to start the point, but if he wanted to take extra time he should take a step back, like our players do.”

Cash countered by saying he felt Gilbert quick-served him in his loss to the American two weeks before the Davis Cup at the ATP event in Los Angeles and that he had warned his teammate McNamee of Gilbert’s quick-serve tactics prior to the opening rubber of the series.

Said Cash, “Three weeks ago, he quick-served me in Los Angeles and he did it to me 20 times again today. I have a right to slow him down. If I didn’t, he’d have 100 more points. The guy just rolls up and serves. He doesn’t even look across the court to see if you’re there.”

The win placed Australia into the Davis Cup final against Sweden, which it would win in Melbourne two months later by a 4-1 margin, with Cash clinching victory with a stirring two-sets-to-love comeback over Mikael Pernfors. The loss ended Gorman’s first campaign as the U.S. skipper – a year which saw some highs – namely efforts from Mayotte and Gilbert in Mexico and by Flach, Seguso and Annacone in doubles – and some low-lights, namely the absence of John McEnroe from the team, which in all likelihood would have resulted in the United States hosting a Davis Cup final against Sweden – a favorable scenario for a 29th Davis Cup championships for the United States. Asked in Brisbane whether having McEnroe on the team would have made a difference in outcome, Gorman did not want to think about what might have been, stating, “That is not a relevant question.”

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