The court draws some flak

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Sweden's non-playing captain Mats Wilander and Jonas Bjorkman take a breather. The court came in for a lot of criticism from the Swedes.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

THE Swedes were perturbed by the unpredictable bounce and the uneven nature of the match court. Yet, it was a surprise to see them coming down strongly on the playing conditions after winning the tie.

In fact, Mats Wilander and company had all along said that unpredictable bounce was one of the characteristics of a grass court and even Wimbledon was no exception. It was the same for both the teams.

Wilander also had said that there was no difference to the style of play on grass and other surfaces these days.

According to him the grasscourt was a leveller in the current tie. After Johansson had played his first match the Swedish captain said that his No.1 moved up for more volleys because of the bad bounce.

Actually, Jonas Bjorkman had said on the eve of the tie, that he appreciated the fact that the organisers did not have much time to prepare the court because of five days of torrential rain in the Capital.

Yet, the Swedes did expect the match court to behave better than the practice courts at the National Sports Club of India (NSCI), but it proved the other way round.

It was not as if Leander Paes and company wanted a bad court. The Indians only preferred a court on which the ball would not bounce high as it does at Wimbledon. For, on a superb fast court in Chandigarh, the Australians, spearheaded by Wally Masur, had crushed the host in the World Group semifinals in 1993 without conceding a set.

The court at the R. K. Khanna Stadium was not as dangerous as the Swedes made it out to be. Bopanna did take a wrong step and twist his ankle, but as Leander pointed out, that could have happened even on a hardcourt.

Though none slipped even once, unlike in the earlier ties against the Chinese and the Uzbeks, which literally spoke for a level playing field, the Swedes could not digest the manner in which the balls flew all over the place when served.

The quality of the game suffered as the Swedes had to play it safe, and make it a laborious task while playing even lowly ranked opponents, but that is what home court advantage is all about. Davis Cup is definitely not about seeing quality tennis. It is about beating the conditions as much as beating the opposition.

It is fresh in memory as to how Leander and company battled sub-zero temperature indoors against China, wearing multiple layers of clothing.

Of course, there was a long delay on the Sunday of the tie in brilliant sunshine as a stretch of grass on the side was still wet. The host had put a patch of grass on the adjacent synthetic surface with the approval of the ITF to meet the stipulation of measurements. It was stupid on the part of the host to have waited for the Swedes to say that the patch, though quite away from the action, was wet and dangerous.

Had the organisers been sharp, they could have dried it well in advance as they did the whole court, and enabled thousands of fans to enjoy more exhilarating action on a Sunday .

The bottom-line was that the referee, Wayne McKewen of Australia, was convinced about the quality of the surface, and categorically stated that he would not have allowed play on the court had it been as bad as the Swedes made it out to be. That apart, the floodlights should have been kept in working condition to come on immediately when required, especially after the tie had already lost 48 hours.

There was a discussion of the action being shifted to the hardcourts, in an attempt to finish the tie after the long interruption, but the Swedes clarified that it was a suggestion by the referee only.