Advantage Mr. Fish


Mardy Fish shows his fierce focus on his forehand.

Following last summer’s announcement by the International Tennis Federation of what ABC News has described as a “radical makeover” of the Davis Cup, the United States Tennis Association named former world No. 7, Davis Cup veteran and Vero Beach hometown boy Mardy Fish the new captain of the U.S. Davis Cup Team. Fish, who succeeds Jim Courier to become the 41st captain in the American team’s 120-year history, will make his debut at the newly transformed Davis Cup Finals November 18–24 in Madrid, Spain. Not bad for a guy who, when playing competitive tennis as a Beachland Elementary student, was so small he had to stand on a chair to change the score.

With 32 titles to its credit, the U.S. Davis Cup team has set the standard for team competition for more than a century, its alumni including not only Fish, but Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, Bill Tilden, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Only one other nation, Australia, has won the title more than 10 times. Now, under the captaincy of Fish, who will function as a non-playing coach, the U. S. team will compete in a controversial new format of half the previous duration. The ITF believes this lesser commitment will be more attractive to elite players who often pass on the event because of crowded schedules, with the added benefit of becoming more attractive to sponsors and broadcasters.

In the new format, 24 nations that have played in a qualifying round one week in February will advance to the November championship. This arrangement will replace the former, tiered system, in place for 37 years, in which play occurred over four weekends throughout the months of February, April, September and November in home and away venues. Players will also compete in the newly styled round-robin season-ending 18-team tournament for what the ITF says will rival Grand Slam prize money. While certain federations, such as Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association and Tennis Australia, have refused to back the changes, an increasing number of top players who have skipped matches in recent years to ease their schedules, including world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and 13-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djkovic, have backed the reforms of the top team event in men’s tennis.

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