Skipper jumps to defence of under-fire Scud

ADELAIDE: Captain John Fitzgerald yesterday jumped to the defence of under-fire team member Mark Philippoussis as he was questioned over his furious row with Pat Cash in the wake of his dismal Australian Open exit last week. 

The Australian team had their first press conference here ahead of Friday's Davis Cup opening tie with Sweden, giving media their first opportunity to address questions to Philippoussis over his feud with ex-coach Cash. 

Cash and Philippoussis' Davis Cup teammate Todd Woodbridge were both critical after Philippoussis went out in straight sets to Morocco's Hicham Arazi in the fourth round of the year's first Grand Slam last Monday. 

Woodbridge said Philippoussis had always been content to give “70%” on the court, while Cash suggested Philippoussis's social activities had distracted him. 

Philippoussis, whose friendship with Australian singer Delta Goodrem sparked a publicity frenzy during the Open, angrily telephoned Cash after learning of the comments. 

But Fitzgerald interceded at the team conference when Philippoussis was asked about the controversy. 

“This team is a very solid unit, we're not interested in trying to develop a story that we don't think that there's anything in, it's been over-played absolutely to the point of the ridiculous,” Fitzgerald said, cutting in on a questioner. 

“I don't think we're interested in anything that borders on tabloid journalism, if Pat Cash says it, then we're not going to listen, if he said something like that. 

“I think this team is prepared, it hasn't affected us at all. We're a solid unit, we have a group of guys who enjoy each other's company, a group of guys who are trying to defend the Davis Cup.” 

Philippoussis, who had Woodbridge sitting alongside him at the conference, only arrived yesterday from Melbourne after fulfilling business commitments. 

“I had something I had to do in Melbourne, fulfil some contracts and I came over as soon as it was done,” Philippoussis said. 

He said he had been practising at home with teammates Lleyton Hewitt and Wayne Arthurs and he was getting ready to face the Swedes. 

Asked if he had anything to prove after his inglorious showing against the unseeded Arazi at the Open, Philippoussis said: “No, I don't think I have anything extra to prove, with this Davis Cup tie and every other one I go out to give 110% for myself, my team, my country.” 

The Australians realise they are on a hiding to nothing against the Swedes, whom they thrashed 5-0 in Malmo last year, and coming just a week after the Australian Open fortnight. 

“This is one of the toughest first-round encounters that you can have,” Hewitt said. 

“Even though we've come out on top of the last two times against Sweden, they have four really capable players so we have to be wary on the first couple of days. 

“Any time you play Davis Cup the motivation is there, (and) we've been fortunate enough to be playing on the Rebound Ace surface and also to be playing in Adelaide which isn't a huge flight. 

“It would be a lot harder to go away and play somewhere straight after the Australian Open. – AFP 

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