Sit down for this: Australia
beat Switzerland, 3-2
, overnight to move into the Davis Cup quarter-finals (a home
tie against Belarus from 7-9 April).

Sure, world No. 1 Roger Federer wasn’t
playing, but neither was our top gun, Lleyton Hewitt. It left a raw and star-free
Australian team to compete a long way from home on an unfavoured surface. And
they won. It’s an impressive achievement. In fact, we have to admit to a whole
new level of respect for John Fitzgerald as Davis Cup captain.

Fitzy hasn’t done much wrong up until now
in the post, but his work over the past week should give him confidence that he
can step out of the shadows of Fraser and Newk.

First, he media-managed the whole saga of
Lleyton Hewitt not being available in a very Fitzy way, shrugging that Lleyton
had always been a great Davis Cup loyalist and he had no reason to doubt his
ankle injury excuse. Given that it’s universally accepted among the tennis
world that Fitzy is probably the nicest bloke ever born, only the most churlish
of media could dare question Lleyton’s absence after that.

Then Fitzy held firm in support of untried
singles player Chris Guccione
during the tie itself. This was a key moment in his captaincy, as the lanky
20-year-old had been beaten in his first singles rubber.

The Swiss replaced his
expected return singles opponent with the more experienced and
highly-credentialed George Bastl. The heat was on for Fitzy to respond by
replacing the rookie Guccione with Wayne Arthurs.

But Fitzgerald stuck
by his man
, saying: “I don’t think a lot of people know how good Chris Guccione
is yet.” I thought this might
be more Fitzy spin, but the comment was intriguing and, sure enough, Guccione
walked onto court for the tie-deciding fifth rubber and served 39 aces en route
to beating Bastl in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6. That is some serious nerve
when it counted.

You
might remember a tie against France at White City, Sydney, in February, 1997, when a young Patrick
Rafter came from two sets down against a white-hot Cedric Pioline to win. That
match is widely accepted as the moment Rafter gained the self-belief to move
from being a mid-rankings player to a top ten star and Grand Slam contender.

For Guccione, the
victory – and Fitzgerald’s faith – could just have a major effect on his career.

Peter Fray

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