Stars who snub this great party should be docked ranking points

Unique format and team camaraderie make the Davis Cup tennis’s greatest treasure

THE ultimate experience for anyone who seriously swings a tennis racket is to win Wimbledon or any of the other three Grand Slam titles. Of course it is. But to some of us who appear rather old-fashioned in this day and age, there is something special about representing your country, combining with your mates and striving to be the best team in the world.

For me, that is why the Davis Cup is one of the biggest treasures in tennis. It brings a unique atmosphere of camaraderie in a sport that is otherwise very selfish.

Repeatedly Davis Cup produces some of the most exciting action anyone could hope for on a tennis court. Call me a traditionalist, but bar a few minor tweaks, it should not be changed.

Maybe I’m biased. Twice I hit the ball that won my country the Davis Cup and I did it in front of an ecstatic crowd in my own back yard, on the grass of Kooyong in Melbourne a mile or two from where I grew up. I could not choose between those two victories in 1983 and 1986 and winning Wimbledon in 1987. The achievement was that fulfilling.

I am dismayed by the growing number of the game’s elite players turning their backs on playing for the country. No, I would even go stronger than that — it saddens and upsets me. And I would like to see something done about it. Fining somebody who wins $20m in one year is not going to hurt him but how about docking ranking points for a player who avoids Davis Cup duty? World No 1 Novak Djokovic purports to be a proud Serbian who loves his country. Yet in the past two years, he has played just one tie in the Davis Cup. Roger Federer had been an habitual absentee for Switzerland and what did he do after finally completing his list of tennis accomplishments by winning it a year ago? He immediately made himself unavailable for this year’s first round.

Life has not been particularly easy for Rafael Nadal in the past couple of years but he’s another who has turned away from playing for Spain because of internal political reasons rather than that he’s simply been injured. All these great players have expe-rienced the elation of winning the Davis Cup, and I just don’t understand how they can almost immediately leave their country in the lurch by saying they haven’t got time to play.

Hats off to Andy Murray this year — he’s given Britain his all. Believe me, playing three best-of-fivesets matches in three days takes a massive physical toll and requires more recovery than a normal tournament.

But he’s made it common knowledge he’s unlikely to be so committed next year when he’s got an Olympic gold medal to defend along with the new experience of fatherhood to contend with.

The Davis Cup is run by the International Tennis Federation and I’m afraid that ruling body is out of touch with the top stars of the game. Finally there’s a former player, American Katrina Adams, on the board, but for too long it was the domain of suits and blazers who had no idea. With a new president, Dave Haggerty, there is the potential for a closer link with the ATP World Tour and the players. But I’m not holding my breath.

I would not argue with the Davis Cup being held over in Olympic years because players are representing their country in a different way. I’d even listen to plans to stage it every other year and maybe hold something akin to a Tennis World Cup in one designated setting to fill the gaps. However I believe that playing in the Davis Cup for your country, with your mates shouting you on from the bench, can turn a young talented rookie player into a man. It was the case for me, at the age of 17 against Great Britain in Adelaide, and John McEnroe wasn’t much older in the 1978 Davis Cup final.

The Davis Cup is a tennis treasure and like any valuable antiquity, it should be preserved.