Sun, 06 Mar 2005

A few good men: Picking and choosing needs a level head

After losing its two previous Davis Cup encounters with Uzbekistan in 3-2 squeakers, Indonesia has a chance to change the scoreline in Sunday's final singles matches. But with one name notably missing from Indonesia's lineup, former top 20 women's singles player Yayuk Basuki examines the tricky art of making the right choices.

Coming in to the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Group 1 tie, I thought we had a good chance to make it third time lucky against Uzbekistan. We are playing at home, in the heat (very different from a European winter) and we have hometown support.

Uzbekistan also does not have the same players that it did in Jakarta in 2001 and in Tashkent two years later. There is no Oleg Ogadorov this time, and Vadim Kutsenko is only playing doubles. In their place, the Uzbeks are fielding two 19-year-old Cup rookies.

So I was disappointed when our team lineup was announced last week. Instead of Febi Widhiyanto, the powers that be decided that Suwandi was a better pick.

In my opinion, it was the wrong choice.

Suwandi, who is a member of the tennis camp of Indonesian Tennis Association (PELTI) chief Martina Wijaya, is no longer a full time player.

When he was 16 and making his Cup debut, he had it all, with a flowing game and the ability to hit a backhand slice or topspin at will.

Today, at 29, he is no longer in top condition, has other interests and does not seem to have the necessary commitment to the game. Winning or losing seems all the same to him. He lost in the quarterfinals in the Cigna Open two weeks ago here to veteran Sulistyo Wibowo, who is now a coach.

But Prima Simpatiaji is a good choice. Coming off his win in the Cigna, he is now following in on his big serve to put the ball away, instead of just waiting back on the baseline. I saw him play on Friday, and he was attacking at every opportunity.

He's in good shape, he has matured and now has the experience that he lacked just a year ago. He is a dependable choice to win both his singles.

Prima actually has more weapons than Febi, but the latter is tougher. Prima could probably beat him, but Davis Cup is a whole different ball game from individual play, where the pressure of playing for your country can overwhelm "softer" players.

For Davis Cup, you need someone who is really cool on the court, who won't give up easy points in tight situations, and those are the qualities I like in Febi.

In my understanding, Febi was left off the team because he chose to play tournaments in Australia instead of training at home here. But he was back in Indonesia last week, and would have been ready to play this week. And he was playing those tournaments to get in top shape for Uzbekistan.

It seems to me there were other things behind the decision. For one, Febi's coach, Deddy Prasetya, has had a few run-ins with the association.

Second, Prima, who had been coached by Deddy for the past few years, suddenly decided to leave about three months ago, saying he wanted to go back to school.

A week later, he was playing for Martina's camp. That kind of parting of the ways is not good, especially when you are supposed to be a professional athlete and in the small community that is Indonesian tennis.

Although I have always hated the politicking that goes on in tennis, I have experienced it first hand. In 1997, PELTI decided that we would play our Fed Cup match against Italy on clay -- my least comfortable surface but the one the Italian women are raised on. The Italian players could not believe their luck.

The association had not consulted me, their top player. I asked my husband, who was also my coach, to send a letter to the International Tennis Federation to find out how much time was required for a decision to be made on changing the surface.

I was not telling them to change the venue, but PELTI chose to see it that way.

I was banned from playing in the tie, and the Italians massacred us in Senayan.

This Davis Cup team lineup has once again showed how decisions can be tarnished by personal, petty disputes and concerns.

Who plays and who doesn't in something as important as a Davis Cup tie has to be made fairly and with a level head. Put aside the differences, the past problems and issues, and come together in the goal of Indonesia winning.

A team must be made up of the best players, regardless of whom they are affiliated with or whether they are one's personal favorite. A leader must be willing to listen to others outside his or her immediate circle, for members of the latter may have their own agenda.

I sincerely hope that my fears will be proved wrong on Sunday, especially with a 2-1 lead and Prima's skills. If not, Indonesia will have to eat humble pie once again due to partial decision- making.

Yayuk Basuki talked to The Jakarta Post's Bruce Emond.