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TENNIS / JULIE CART

Nothing Wrong with Davis Cup When This Doctor Was Around

April 16, 1996|Julie Cart

It seems now like a distant time, but not so long ago it was regarded as a privilege to play for the U.S. Davis Cup team. There was a sense that you were in an exclusive, honored club. Not only were the players the best, so was the staff.

Such is the stature and legacy of Dr. Omar John Fareed, who died recently at 80. Fareed lived the idea of a physician traveling with the Davis Cup team, at a time when the team was literally that--U.S. players wore their Davis Cup blazers and traveled to Wimbledon and other tournaments together, shepherded through physical and emotional travails by the compassionate Fareed.

He began in 1976, after being appointed by captain Tony Trabert, and he served until 1991, when he was succeeded by his son, George. During his tenure--which spanned tennis' most tumultuous period of growth and change--Fareed managed to maintain a rapport with succeeding generations of players.

No less a temperament than John McEnroe adored "the Doc" and, when asked at a Davis Cup function in Dublin to say a few words, McEnroe chose instead to lead the diners in a toast to Fareed.

"He was the kind of man that, when you went to dinner and the busboy would bring water, Omar would ask his name and strike up a conversation," said former Davis Cup captain Robert Kelleher, now a senior U.S. District judge. "He was compassionate, he listened, he was humble and he was an excellent, excellent physician."

Fareed so seldom talked about himself that few knew of his college career at the University of Chicago as a blocking back for tailback Jay Berwanger, the first Heisman Trophy winner. Few knew of Fareed's expertise in tropical medicine, which took him to work at Albert Schweitzer's clinic in Lambarene, Gabon.

Born in Glendale, Fareed followed his psychiatrist-father into medicine, as his two sons followed him.

"Dad had great sensitivity, perception and empathy for others," said George Fareed, who was returning from the U.S. Davis Cup match in Prague when he learned of his father's death. "He loved medicine and he loved the sport of tennis."

He might like to know tennis, and those in it, loved him too.

*

What else is there for Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson to say? His cobbled-together team did its underachieving best in its second-round loss to the Czech Republic on April 7. The explanation will always be that the players Gullikson had simply weren't good enough.

Still, losing would have been easier to take for the defending champions if they had used the best players available. Not the case with the team of Todd Martin, MaliVai Washington, Patrick McEnroe and Patrick Galbraith.

Dependable Martin did what he was asked, winning his singles matches while wrapped in yards of athletic tape to support a sore groin. He lost his serve only once in six sets.

Gullikson's decision not to use Martin in doubles was widely questioned but probably was the most humane choice available to him.

It's not too much to ask singles specialists to play one doubles match. Unfortunately for this and other U.S. teams, the Davis Cup format emphasizes doubles: The failure of an American doubles team in Davis Cup competition once again highlights the crucial tactical role doubles plays. It's never a match to be taken lightly.

Gullikson, speaking recently from his home in Florida, was trying to keep the edge out of his voice while noting the absence of the top four Americans, all of whom cited "other commitments" during a week in which the international professional schedule is cleared of events.

"I always say it, but it comes down to priorities and commitment," Gullikson said. "You either want to do it or you don't. Tennis is always compared to golf. Well, American golfers would kill to be on the Ryder Cup team. It's something they all look forward to. Maybe if we only played Davis Cup every other year, our players would feel like that."

He may have something there. Gullikson also suggests an incentive system, whereby ATP points would be available in Davis Cup. Even as the Olympic tennis coach, Gullikson agrees with most players that Davis Cup play be suspended in Olympic years.

The top two American players who ducked Davis Cup, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, are "committed" to playing on the Olympic team, which barely gives them time to prepare for the grueling U.S. Open.

Which proves that it's really not about the schedule at all, it's a matter of priorities. You either want to do it or you don't.

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Tennis Notes

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