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Dent Is Davis Cup Commodity

January 15, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MELBOURNE, Australia — Call it an arms race.

The twin tattoos give away an intriguing, ongoing national tug of war over prospect Taylor Dent.

The hard-serving 20-year-old from Newport Beach has images on his arm of the U.S. flag and an Australian flag, representing, respectively, his native country and the nation of his father Phil, who reached the Australian Open final in 1974.

Australian Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald is on record as saying he would like Dent to play for Australia, someday. Phil Dent once approached Tennis Australia, looking for support for his son. And U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said Monday he is considering Dent to play in the first-round match against Slovakia next month at Oklahoma City.

It may come down to the fastest-moving country and brings forth another question: When was the last time the United States and Australia fought over anything?

Two things have helped Dent at the Australian Open. In his main-draw debut here Monday, he was dominating in a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 victory against Michal Tabara of the Czech Republic. Today, another potential Davis Cup contender, Jan-Michael Gambill, went out in the first round against 30-year-old Wayne Ferreira of South Africa. Gambill, who lost, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (6), has never won a singles match in five appearances at the Australian Open.

Another player in the U.S. equation came through with an upset. James Blake, also making his main-draw debut, defeated 14th-seeded Alex Corretja of Spain, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2, in 2 hours 51 minutes Monday. Blake has played Davis Cup for the U.S., winning his singles matches in the relegation round against India last year.

Dent is cagey about the issue of Davis Cup representation, leaving his options open. While one might assume that he would automatically play for the U.S., he is unpredictable. He split from his father as coach last year, realizing it was straining their relationship. More recently, he parted, amicably, with respected Eliot Teltscher.

Now, Dent is coaching himself, an unusual move. It is just as conceivable he could join Australia, which is lacking substantial depth after Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis.

"I'm really heading toward leaving it in the future," Dent said. "I just haven't made up my mind. I want to be a steady singles player. You never know what happens and what works out. The more options you have, the better off you are. I'm sure everybody knows where I stand."

Dent, smiling, mocked himself.

"Hyped up, 120 in the world, that's all I have to say," he said, joking. "It is flattering, but I still have to be levelheaded. I have to get healthy and play some ball."

Several other criteria would have to be met, according to International Tennis Federation rules. If Dent were to want to play for Australia, he would need a valid passport, and there is a loose residency requirement. Additionally, officials are required to submit an application to the ITF six months in advance of a match.

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