Here's an interesting piece of information for you regarding the Davis Cup final of 2001 played at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, 30th November- Dec 2, between Australia and France. Now you all know my views on Tennis Australia and their lack of faith in their players to win on anything but a grass court but this little chestnut is rather staggering.
It all began at Wimbledon in the same year.
A Frenchman by the name of Nicolas Escude was seeded 24 and took on Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, seeded 5 in the fourth round. Most would have tipped Hewitt to win that particular match but Escude had a rather unique style which was not unlike that of Swede Mats Wilander particularly his backhand which was a magnificently fluent shot.
Escude managed to beat Hewitt in five sets which on paper looked like an upset but anyone who knew just how talented the Frenchman was knew that this win was within his capabilities. The Frenchman went through to the quarters and won the first set off Agassi before losing in four. Let's now fast forward to the US Open of that same year.
Lleyton Hewitt survived a tough five set test in round two against James Blake before going on to beat Roddick in the quarters, again in five, then Kafelnikov in straight and then belted Sampras in straight sets also for the title. Hewitt had hard court form without a doubt. Now let's fast forward to the Davis Cup final of 2001.
The team in Australia comprised of Hewitt, Rafter, Woodbridge and Arthurs. Todd Woodbridge had won his 18th Grand Slam Doubles title with Bjorkman at the Australian Open on hard court in 2001. Todd also had hard court form. Wayne Arthurs made it to the semi finals of the 2001 Australian Open Mens doubles with Zimonjic. So it would be fair to say that Arthurs also didn't mind playing on hard courts.
Pat Rafter had already won the US Open Mens Singles title twice, in '97 and '98. His form on hard court could not be questioned. Rafter in fact won ten doubles tournaments over the course of his career though four of those were with possibly one of the greatest doubles players of all time, Swede Jonas Bjorkman. ( I reckon I may have had a chance to win at doubles with Bjorkman on my side of the net ). Jonas was a doubles genius and he did not require a fellow doubles expert on his side as he proved in a tournament win with John McEnroe in 2006 when Mac was 47.
I believe only one player in the World could have taken McEnroe out of retirement and won a doubles tournament, that was Jonas. Yes Mac was a doubles expert but he had been in retirement for around 12 years apart from the Seniors tour and that is a huge difference from the ATP Tour.
Sorry I have got off track again, as I usually do.
So the Australian Tennis 'brains trust' decided to lay a grass court over the hard court at the home of the Australian Open for reasons unbeknown to anyone but themselves. The above statistics all pointed to a hard court show down against France in that 2001 Davis Cup final. Yet it did not happen and it backfired big time. There was however another monumental blunder in that particular final that didn't get enough air play at the time yet it was the most relevant issue in the final.
Why did Rafter play doubles with Hewitt when these two were not a proven team and they had never won a title together ? Why also did the issue of Rafter's injured arm not get taken more seriously and why was he not just used as a singles player ? Were the Aussies trying to lose this final ??! Why was Woodbridge overlooked for the doubles when he had been Australia's most successful doubles player in the last 40 or so years and one of the World's all time great exponents of the two on two format ?
Wayne Arthurs was no World beater yet he was more than a handy partner for Woody and surely his semi final showing in January at the Aussie Open was more than enough to put these two together for the pivotal doubles. Apparently not.
So to the final; Escude beat Hewitt again in five sets which proved his Wimbledon win against him was no fluke.
Rafter held his end of the bargain up with a win against Grosjean in straight sets. The little 'Maestro' as he was known Fabrice Santoro, the French doubles genius teamed with Pioline who really had no doubles form to speak of yet it was not a necessity either. Anyone could have won with Fabrice, he was as clever as Jonas on a doubles court, a genius in fact. He was the one player in that doubles match that made the difference.
The Aussies did not do their homework on this final and the amount of blunders in it were nothing short of almost comical. Hewitt did end up taking the tie to the final match with a straight sets win over Grosjean in the first reverse singles yet Rafter could not play the final match due to how bad his arm was after the doubles so Arthurs played it. Escude won that in four sets as everyone expected him to, he was a class above Arthurs who was not a proven singles player.
The whole set of circumstances did not make sense.
Surely if Rafter had issues with his arm then he shouldn't have played the doubles but John Fitgerald as the Captain should not even have looked at him for doubles as Woody was the only man who could match Santoro's genius in doubles.
It actually would have made for a great match, Woody/ Arthurs vs Pioline/ Santoro. For history's sake the French won that match in four sets, 6-1 in the fourth, totally outplaying a team in the end who were dubbed 'the Dream Team' at the start of the match. They were anything but.
This Davis Cup final will go down as one of the biggest 'cock ups' in Australian tennis history for all of the above reasons. Someone should have sent Tennis Australia a 'please explain letter' back then and asked for some answers.
Pity I didn't know how to type back then..........