Swiss Fed Cup captain Jakob Hlasek has told swissinfo that he is "ashamed" to be leading a team of juniors into this weekend's tie with Australia, following the withdrawal of Switzerland's top five players.
World number one Martina Hingis and Patty Schnyder (WTA 33) are among those refusing to make the trip to Sydney, leaving three youngsters to carry Switzerland's responsibilities down under.
Aged 21 and with a world ranking of 401, Geneva's Aliénor Tricerri (picture centre) is the most senior member of the inexperienced Fed Cup team. Sisters Myriam (left)and Daniela Casanova complete the line-up. Aged 16 and 17 respectively, the Casanovas are currently ranked 497th and 536th in the world.
"I'm very disappointed, ashamed in fact to be going to Australia with these players," Hlasek told swissinfo shortly before leaving Switzerland. "There are a lot of great things in this country, but the value placed on sport is not one of them.
"If (Gustavo) Kuerten or (Patrick) Rafter decided not to play for Brazil or Australia, I think they'd probably find the borders closed to them," Hlasek added. "But in Switzerland it just seems to be accepted - like when Hingis didn't go to the Sydney Olympics and no-one said anything."
Hingis and Schnyder said they would not be travelling to Australia because of the distance involved and the need to concentrate on their individual careers. Shortly afterwards Emmanuelle Gagliardi (WTA 88), Miroslava Vavrinec (WTA 89) and Marie-Gaïané Mikaelian (WTA 168) pulled out, giving similar reasons.
"I understand their problem," Hlasek insisted, "but I disagree with their decision not to play. The Fed Cup doesn't always fit in the schedule, especially when you have to play in Australia, and tennis players do have to consider their own careers. But I don't think it's too much to ask a player to give one or two weeks back to their country."
Despite his disappointment at the high-profile withdrawals, Hlasek says he's looking forward to pitting his young team against Australia's finest. In contrast to their Swiss visitors, the home side is made up Australia's top four women, all of whom are ranked in the world's top 100.
"In a way, I'm very enthusiastic," Hlasek explained. "The two Casanovas are among the best junior players in the world and Aliénor is very excited to be part of the team. Hopefully this experience can help them in their future careers, in the same way Roger Federer has benefited from playing in the Davis Cup."
Patience wearing thin
Hlasek himself was of course in charge of that same Davis Cup team, until a recent falling out with Federer led to the early termination of his contract. Now facing similar problems with his Fed Cup selections, Hlasek warns that his patience can only wear so thin.
"I am ambitious and I want success, so my motivation for the future has certainly been brought down sharply (by the withdrawals)," Hlasek admitted. "I'm doing this job because I have a big interest in team competition. But there are limits, and if they are crossed I have plenty of other interests to consider."
by Mark Ledsom