The Davis Cup and Fed Cup offer the professional tennis player rare opportunities to represent his or her country officially. Other opportunities are the Olympic Games and the Hopman Cup. I say "officially" because professional tennis is not simply marketed as a bunch of good players earning a dollar. The star system, or personality cult, is vital to professional tennis's success, but there is a still further magic ingredient--the nationality of the player.
The fact is that, unofficially, the player is always representing his or her country--at least to the majority of supporters. The extra support any home-town player receives is ample testimony to this. When Pat Rafter won the U.S. Open there was much rejoicing here in Australia, not simply because some stateless young man had won a title and a lot of money. It was of course because Rafter also represented Australia and had brought his country glory.
That the player represents his or her country is inevitable. This is true whether the player wishes it or not. A player cannot complain about it or escape from it because it underlies the appeal and financial strength of the game, from which the player earns a good living. Many if not most fans follow the player for this reason. Selection and playing in the Davis or Fed Cup are therefore both a national honour and duty. This is why declining to play is always a betrayal and always a bad career move. It is a betrayal of the fans and an undermining of the rationale of professional tennis. Whatever Philippoussis's reason for not playing Davis Cup last year (right or wrong), it hurt him here. His choice to play this year is a large step in his rehabilitation with the fans. Pat Cash may have had shortcomings in some areas, but his willingness to play Davis Cup and his heroic efforts always overcame them and more.
Another unavoidable responsibility falls upon a nation's best player. Because of the star system and the representative nature of tennis, the best player from a country becomes the leader of the sport in that country. Where there is no such player the sport is without that leadership. Australia has been blessed with fine leaders--Bromwich, Quist, Sedgman, Laver, Hoad, Rosewall, Emerson, Stolle, Newcombe, and Roche in the men's game, and Margaret Court and gracious Goolagong in the women's. By their being fine role models and great national representatives, the game flourished, as did national interest. A lack of top players after Newcombe saw a decline in the game here. Davis Cup probably saved tennis in Australia from an even greater decline, as the Cup remained always a focus.
Australians expect a lot from their representatives, official or not. The player must be a gracious loser and a modest winner. Generous in heart and spirit and always sportsmanlike. A champion player and a champion person. Rare as all this is in any one individual, our great expectations have usually been fulfilled, as the list of players already mentioned shows. Another fine representative was Paul MacNamee. And now, in Pat Rafter, our expectations have again been met, and how! Rafter is a rare human being and a marvelous leader of Australian tennis. It is he, more than any other, that has led Australian tennis to its new heights of national popularity. We respect his ability, but it is his character that we most like and are proud of. I could not imagine Rafter declining Davis Cup.
Into this comes young Dokic. Australia has not had a strong woman player since Goolagong. Onto her shoulders have fallen not only the role of our female representative but also the role of leadership in the sport on the women's side. How a sixteen-year-old is meant to cope with all this remains to be seen. Others have certainly found it overwhelming, as some recent events have shown.
Young Hewitt has already shown his appreciation for the history of the game and the players who went before him. In talking of Wimbledon recently, he emphasized tradition and all the great things that had gone on there before. Hewitt may be a gem for the game in this respect.
For now though, bring on the Cups!