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Putting More Bounce in Tennis Game

California coach would change Davis Cup, broaden sport's appeal

If Wayne Bryan, a self-styled tennis cheerleader, had his druthers, fundamental changes would be made to the Davis Cup and the Olympics so that they would be more similar.

Davis Cup play - which pits national men's teams against one another in a five-match formula - is now scattered across the globe throughout the year. He would play Davis Cup at one time and place like the Olympics, and transform the Olympics into a team event not unlike Davis Cup.

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A resident of Camarillo, Calif., Bryan has long been active in numerous tennis capacities. By his own estimation, he owns a "unique perspective" that is the product of being involved in the sport "in every conceivable way," including once as a "very minor, crummy tour player."

He is the director of coaching at the Mark Weil Tennis Academy in Ojai, Calif., the father of two college-age tennis players, the husband of a former touring pro, an instructor at numerous teaching clinics, and a Johnny Appleseed sower of tennis at Kids Days and other introductory events conducted by the men's professional ATP Tour.

Bryan calls the present Davis Cup format - which culminates this weekend (Nov. 28-30, check ESPN listings) with a United States-vs.-Sweden final in Gteborg - confusing.

"People don't understand it," he says of the disjointed competition, which begins with national teams playing in geographic zones to work their way up to a 16-nation World Group draw. The 16 countries play in four widely scattered showdowns to reach the final. (This year, Pete Sampras leads the US contingent as it attempts to regain the Cup the Americans won in 1995; they failed to reach the 1996 finals. Sweden counters with its top player, Jonas Bjorkman, who is ranked fourth to Sampras's first in the world.)

'We need to rethink the Davis Cup format and bring it into the modern era," says Bryan, who would make it a week-long event every other year, thereby copying golf's successful Ryder Cup format.

This, he says, would relieve the scheduling pressures on top players, who are "already booked to the gills" and get criticized when they don't devote four weeks of the year to playing for their country.

The catch, he acknowledges, is that small countries often profit from hosting preliminary matches. "We've got to find another way for them to make money," Bryan concludes.

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Olympic tennis could also benefit from some retooling, he believes. The current format awards medals to singles and doubles winners. Bryan, however, favors making things more team oriented, with national squads vying in six singles matches (three for men, three for women) and three doubles matches (men's, women's, and mixed). "This way you'd have the USA versus Russia, like a hockey tournament," Bryan says, relishing the nine-point battles, which would go to the team that reaches five points first.

He sees this type of format as a growing trend, with nationwide support. "Junior team tennis is starting to expand," Bryan says, citing 850 junior teams now playing in southern California.

He also thinks that college tennis holds largely untapped potential for expanding interest in the sport. From watching his twin sons, Mike and Bob, play for national champion Stanford University, he knows how electric it can be when "2,500 screaming maniacs" attend Cardinal matches.

And the quality of play is often exceedingly high. "When you watch Stanford play UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] the tennis is incredible," he observes.

Bryan also would like to see tennis move toward wiping the rankings slate clean each year instead of rolling over the results.

"If we start the calendar anew, it lets more players come along," he says. "It creates the kind of urgency you have in baseball's pennant races or football's drive to the Super Bowl."

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