INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – "You need to be a chameleon. You need to massage egos. You need to be all things to all people and know when to talk and when to shut up."
Tom Gorman was talking about what is required to become a successful Davis Cup captain as he gazed out at the beautiful sunken court at the La Quinta Resort, where he is now happily installed as director of tennis.
Gorman should know. For eight years, he was captain of a U.S. Davis Cup team that included such diverse characters as John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi – none of them shrinking violets in the ego department.
Gorman has just lost his longevity record as captain to the current incumbent, Patrick McEnroe. "But I've still got one more win than Patrick!" he says with the cheeky Gorman grin that made him one of the most popular players on the tour when his serve-and-volley talents took him to the Wimbledon semi-final in 1971 and the last four at the U.S. Open and French Open in subsequent years.
The subject of Davis Cup captaincy is a hot topic in the players' restaurant at Indian Wells just now, not because McEnroe's team lost to Serbia in Belgrade – without Andy Roddick that was not a shocking result – but because, further down the Davis Cup food chain, Britain lost to Lithuania. And that barely credible result has impacted on the captain, rightly or wrongly, as well as the American coach, Paul Annacone.
John Lloyd resigned in the wake of that defeat, if "resigned" is the right word. It is becoming clear LTA, under fire on all fronts in the British media, already had a different agenda, and everyone expects Greg Rusedski to be named as the new captain in time to take over the bottom-of-the-pile relegation tie against Turkey on grass at Eastbourne the week after Wimbledon.
Lloyd, who has been on vacation at La Quinta this week with his Los Angeles-based family, will not talk about possible successors because of his contractural agreement. But, in a phone conversation, he did make some salient points about the overall problems involving one of sport's most difficult jobs, which basically requires someone to take a bunch of high-powered individuals playing a very individualistic sport and turn them into a cohesive team three or four weekends a year. Not easy.
"My contract was for 12 weeks a year, and I don't think you can do the job properly in that length of time if you have players on your team ranked below 200 in the world," Lloyd said. "It's different for Guy Forget with his French players and Albert Costa with his Spaniards. They have top 10 players to handle, and with them, you need to be a cheerleader, to make sure they are comfortable and keep things ticking over.
"But players who are young and much lower ranked actually need your advice before and during a match, especially when things start to go wrong and they have a tendency to panic. But to heed that advice, they need to have complete trust and confidence in you, and that is not easy to establish when you are with them so seldom."
Without Andy Murray, the British team was made up of players like James Ward and Dan Evans, who have yet to climb into the world's top 100. Evans, ranked 252, lost a fifth rubber to Laurynas Grigelis, ranked 52 -- a match he almost certainly would not have been playing had Jamie Baker, the best of Lloyd's squad, not twisted his ankle in training. "He was all fired up," Lloyd said wistfully. "He was going to be playing singles for sure." Lady Luck was not riding in Lloyd's saddle.
But the fact that Britain were scraping around playing zonal ties in Lithuania speaks more of decades of failure to bring through promising teenagers than it does of any captaincy problems.
The LTA tried to sweeten the pill by putting out a statement saying Lloyd was "blameless" for the defeat in Lithuania. But that begs several questions. Why, then, did they let him go and, if he is not to blame, who is? They have promised an internal review, but since when did anyone vote to fire themselves?
Annacone, who coached Pete Sampras in the final years of his career, has been working with the LTA and was Lloyd's assistant on the Davis Cup squad. But he, too, has been relieved of his Davis Cup duties and will now work for a specified number of weeks each year at the LTA's headquarters in Roehampton as head of men's tennis.
Meanwhile, Lloyd who, like his brother, David Lloyd, has never been slow to speak his mind, will have plenty to say at some future date. Unless there is a radical shake-up at the LTA, his words are likely to be direct, blunt and not very palatable.