As a tennis coach there can be few experiences that equal sitting in the court as a Davis Cup Captain. You’re an integral part of the drama and at the core of the excitement. The fact is that you are communicating directly with your player at each changeover and therefore actively participating in the match.
The conditions we experienced in the different countries we visited varied greatly. We were drawn to play Kuwait in an early round of the 1990 Competition during the time of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims around the world. During the daylight hours you are expected to abstain from drinking and eating which would have been fine if we didn’t have to play the best of five sets in the hot desert sun.
The tie was broadcast locally live on TV and during the changeovers the camera would discreetly pan away from the players and into the crowd, allowing players from both countries to drink water!
The timing of our return home from that fixture against Kuwait was fortunately two weeks before Kuwait was invaded by neighboring Iraq, or we may have been trapped there during the hostilities.
In Iran one year the Thai Davis Cup team was jogging around the tennis complex warming-up before a practice session when a horrified groundsman came running up to us to ask us to cover our legs. It seems it was improper for men to display their legs in public, even while playing sport.
On that same trip we were shown a far hill near the tennis complex with seating for about 6 people, This was the seating used by women to watch the tennis. It was at least 200 meters up the hill and I guess had something to do with men’s bare legs again!
Crowds play a big part in Davis Cup ties, none more so than in our tie against Sri Lanka, also in 1990, when I was lucky to get off the court in one piece.
During the weekend of that tie there were 14 over-rules from the local umpire, all going against Thailand! On each overrule I got out of my seat to protest to the neutral ITF referee. Sometimes my protest was brief but many times a full dispute developed.
In the middle of one particularly heated dispute, with the Sri Lankan crowd chanting obscenities at me, I happened to look up at the Thai section in the crowd and caught the eye of the President of the Thai Tennis Association, Khun Varin Pulsiriwong. He gave me a sheepish grin and a look of “I’m glad you’re out there and not me”!
Having an input in the eventual result of some matches was thrilling; it was like captain and player competing as a duo. I would use my tactical knowledge and the players would use their physical and technical skills.
Danai Udomchoke was playing an Iranian in Teheran during the opening singles match several years ago. The local player was built like a bull, huge legs and incredible power in his shots. Danai on the other-hand could have been mistaken for one of the ball boys! (despite his small stature Danai was later to reach #77 on the ATP world rankings and was a great player).
I guess the Iranian crowd saw Danai enter the court and could smell victory, after-all their Thai opponent was so small and they were playing on home ground. The Iranian player had a large group of friends in attendance to witness what would be a comprehensive victory.
The first 2 games went by real fast with the Iranian blasting winners left and right. Danai looked over at me wondering how to stem the flow of winners. It also didn’t help that on every winner from the Iranian his friends would bang the tin fence surrounding the centre court in approval. The place was going nuts!
What I did next changed the match almost immediately. At the next changeover I stood up from my courtside chair and applauded the Iranian as he came to sit down. This guy was playing the match of his life, in Davis Cup competition and with his friends and family watching on from the stands. He was literally playing on rocket fuel and now the opposition Captain was acknowledging his superiority!
When the players returned to the court the Iranian began attacking the first point again, only this time his half-court forehand winner completely missed the court, hitting the back fence with a loud bang.
On the next point he hit a backhand passing shot into the bottom of the net. The tide had turned and Danai stormed back to win the match easily. For the rest of the match the friends who had been so supportive in the beginning stopped banging the tin fence and fell silent. The Iranians winners had dried up.
Overall, I Captained Thailand 13 times in Davis Cup Competition. I also Captained Thailand in Federation Cup, Asian Games and South East Asian Games competitions. But it was the Davis Cup which was special to me and from where many of my best memories come from.