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TENNIS

U.S. Open Didn't Sit Well for Runner-Up Australian

September 22, 1998|LISA DILLMAN

The man with a fierce-sounding nickname, Scud, is actually a sensitive, finely tuned young bloke.

Australian Mark Philippoussis, 21, pays close attention to seating arrangements at tennis tournaments. Once, he seemed more upset about a business associate who wasn't at his match one fine day at Indian Wells, Calif., than the loss itself.

If that bothered him, imagine his reaction when he spotted Australian Davis Cup coach Tony Roche sitting among the supporters of Patrick Rafter at the recent U.S. Open final. Philippoussis, who lost to Rafter in four sets in the final, thought he saw Davis Cup captain John Newcombe there as well, but Newcombe was working for Australian television and sitting elsewhere.

Now, it has turned into something of a soap opera in the days after the U.S. Open, keeping men's tennis in the news. Everyone Down Under is threatening to quit Davis Cup--if Roche goes, Newcombe goes, and so does Rafter.

Somehow, it is heartening to realize that the United States isn't the only country with Davis Cup problems.

Instead of celebrating the joy of an all-Aussie final--the first at the U.S. Open since 1970--mates are taking sides.

The guy who hasn't been playing Davis Cup in 1998--Philippoussis--started the saga after a falling-out with Newcombe and Roche. Any movement toward a reconciliation stalled when he ripped the seating arrangement after the final.

(Of course, U.S. Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson didn't have this problem because there were no Americans in the final.)

"I've worked out things with Pat [Rafter, about not playing Davis Cup]," Philippoussis said. "I've tried to work out things with John Newcombe, you know. Everything's fine. To be quite honest, today, when you see those guys, Davis Cup captain, coach sitting in his box. What's the right words?

"I would say I was extremely disappointed. I expected a lot more. I should have known a lot better. I'm disappointed. I'm sure if you were in my position you'd feel the same way."

The sides had been working toward Davis Cup diplomacy, a carefully crafted resolution that would allow the discontented Philippoussis to return to the team. Now, that hardly seems likely.

"We've spent a lot of time trying to heal this rift," said Tom Ross of Advantage International, the agent for Philippoussis.

"There were signs of progress and we were cautiously optimistic. Certainly, it is [Roche's] prerogative, but it has dealt the process a severe setback. It hurt him. He's a young impressionable guy."

Ross had said the wound was on the way to healing until Roche sat down with Rafter's entourage, saying: "Now, we've ripped the scar open."

Should the well-liked and respected Roche have been sitting with Rafter's group during the midst of delicate Davis Cup negotiations?

No.

Should Philippoussis get over someone's mistake and represent Australia in Davis Cup?

Yes.

Somehow, it doesn't seem as though it will be that simple.

NOT STANDING PAT

Meanwhile, Rafter has had a few things on his mind. For the second year, he donated a sizable amount of his U.S. Open prize money to charity--about $180,000.

He has been thinking about Pete Sampras too. In an interview with the Brisbane Sunday Mail, Rafter noted that Sampras has been overly bothered by his last two losses to him, at Cincinnati in August and the U.S. Open.

"He's become a bit of a crybaby but it doesn't worry me," Rafter told the newspaper. So, who is looking forward to the next Sampras-Rafter match?

Rafter admitted he had questions about himself before winning his second U.S. Open.

"The first time you win a Slam, you don't know if it's a fluke or not," he said. "When you win a Slam for the second time, it does two things--shuts up the critics and shuts up yourself."

DROP SHOTS

Steffi Graf, who lost to Patty Schnyder of Switzerland in the fourth round at the Open, needed surgery to remove a bone growth in her right wrist. She will sit out two tournaments in October, one in Germany and the other in Russia. . . . When the Fed Cup final between Spain and Switzerland on Sunday was decided by doubles, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the cup would return to Spain. Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario have won 17 of 20 Fed Cup doubles matches. Martinez was plagued by blisters during her three-set singles victory against Schnyder. She wasn't the only ailing player, as Martina Hingis of Switzerland suffered from leg cramps in her match against Sanchez Vicario.

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