What if you went to this week’s Oliver Group Champions Cup men’s tennis tournament — and a Davis Cup donnybrook broke out.
Given the names and backgrounds of the eight players in the Outback Champions Series singles showcase that begins tonight and runs through Sunday at The Players Club & Spa at Lely Resort, such an encounter — albeit hypothetical — would surely be a toe-to-toe skirmish.
Five Americans and three Swedes make up the Oliver Group Champions Cup draw and all of them are dripping with Davis Cup tradition. In their heyday, some of them even have tangled head-to-head in memorable Cup showdowns of the past.
Making up lineups for a mock Davis Cup battle this week would be intriguing, to say the least. For the U.S., you’d have Jim Courier, Todd Martin, John McEnroe, Aaron Krickstein and Jimmy Arias from whom to choose. The Swedish delegation consists of the towering Magnus Larsson, Anders Jarryd and Mikael Pernfors.
“Courier and I would play singles and McEnroe would play doubles by himself,” Martin mused at Tuesday night’s kickoff “Night at the Net” social function.
“I think the ‘five’ team would be the ‘three’ team right now,” Martin added. “But you know what, the Swedes are all great and they are so much fun to be around. It’s great that they are still supportive of the tour over here.”
For the record, the braggin’ rights at the present time belong to the Yanks, who have won nine of their 12 Davis Cup ties against the Swedes. Such matchups date back to 1946. The U.S. has won the last two, in 2004 and 2007, respectively.
“I think we could have a little territorial battle here with the Swedes, for sure,” Courier said. “Every single one of us has played Davis Cup. We would put a strong team out there with any one of the guys playing singles. I think I’d put John and Todd out there together in doubles. Todd has matured so well. He’s so big at the net. A righty-lefty combination is always good, too.”
Courier played Davis Cup only once against the Swedes — in 1992 in a 4-1 U.S. World Group semifinal win contested in the Target Center in Minneapolis. He defeated Nicklas Kulti, but lost to Larsson.
“Larsson would have to play singles. He’s just nasty,” said Martin, attempting to pencil in a lineup for the Swedes. “Then it would depend on the surface between Anders and Mikael. If it was a faster court, for sure, Anders. With a slower court, I would presume Mikael.”
He’d team up Jarryd and Larsson for the doubles.
“Jarryd was one of the best doubles players of all time,” he said. “He serves great and returns well. I can’t stand him.”
Jarryd’s best memories of U.S. vs. Sweden go back all the way to the 1984 Davis Cup World Group final on clay in Gothenburg. The Swedes prevailed, 4-1, and Jarryd won his doubles match with partner Stefan Edberg. They topped Peter Fleming and McEnroe, one of the most dynamic Davis Cup doubles teams ever.
Larsson played against the U.S. in both the 1994 and 1997 Davis Cup encounters. Sweden won both. The ’97 action was a World Cup final and the ’94 was a World Group semifinal confrontation. Both were played indoors on carpet in Gothenburg.
Larsson beat Pete Sampras and Michael Chang in the 5-0 sweep in ’97. In ‘94’s 3-2 win, Larsson lost to Sampras and defeated Martin.
Despite the pressure of playing for one’s country, Jarryd says the Davis Cup action was fun, too.
“You have the best players,'' Jarryd said. "Davis Cup plays an important role in tennis. We need to have a team competition like that. You want to do well. You want to win. The whole population at home expected us to win.”
“For me it was a huge priority and for most players, it’s a priority,” Martin said. “But what happens is that sometimes the public’s perception sways the players’ perception. It should be the opposite way around.
“I think if we got together as players, and former players, and put our energy towards getting into a system that works for the public and works for the nations, we could make a huge priority in the tennis public. It just plays second or third fiddle to just about everything right now.”