Davis Cup World Semifinal in milwaukee

The United States – Italy Davis Cup tennis World Semifinal was held on September 25-27, 1998 in the Milwaukee Arena. For three days the competition was carried worldwide on ESPN and Milwaukee was the center of international tennis competition! Forty percent of the people in Italy watched the competition!

For several decades, tennis enthusiasts worked to bring this 99th version of the Davis Cup to Milwaukee. This was the first and only time the Davis Cup would be in Milwaukee. How did it come to Milwaukee?

Communities submit bids to host one of the competitions (ties) to the Davis Cup Committee. The final four cities considered in the U.S. in 1998 were Richmond, VA; Detroit, MI; Milwaukee, WI and San Diego, CA.

Milwaukee Tennis Classic president, Chas Mulcahy, and, Wisconsin Center District president, (Milwaukee Arena and Auditorium), Dick Geyer co-chaired and organized the Milwaukee bid.

The primary sponsors were Robert Baird, M&I Bank and Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek. Facilities, organizational strength, national tennis tournament experience, anticipated community support and financial commitment were the key factors.

The 1998 Davis Cup World Group consisted of 16 nations. The countries rotate home and away with other nations to host the competition. Host countries pick the sites for the competition. Each round features three days of competition including four singles and one doubles match. Sweden won the 1997 Davis Cup and was heavily favored to repeat.

Tom Gullickson was captain of the U.S. team; and, in the round of 16 the US team faced Russia on April 4-6, 1998 in Stone Mountain Park, Atlanta, GA. The U.S. squeaked past Russia 3-2 with the deciding match won 6-4 in the fifth and final set by Jim Courier over Marat Safin.

In the quarterfinals, the U.S. faced Belgium on July 17-19, 1998 at the State Tennis Club, Indianapolis, IN. The U.S. dominated 4-1 with singles wins by Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Todd Martin. Courier and Martin also won the doubles.

During the July, 1998 quarterfinal, Wisconsin Center District President Geyer and Milwaukee Tennis Classic President Mulcahy, made the Milwaukee presentation during the Andre Agassi/ Christophe Van Garsse match at the State Tennis Club, Indianapolis, IN.

Negotiations took place in a private room with a glass wall overlooking the Agassi/Van Garsse match. Geyer promoted the indoor facilities in both the Milwaukee Arena and the Milwaukee Auditorium. Mulcahy explained the 23 years of MTC tournament experience and community support. Agassi won the match with Van Garsee and the following week. Milwaukee was selected to host the World Semifinal!

The 1998 World Semifinal featured the U.S. and Italy who crushed Zimbabwe 5-0 in the previous round. In the earlier round Zimbabwe, with Wayne and Byron Black, surprisingly defeated Australia, 3-2. Italy defeated India 4-1 before Zimbabwe.

As co-chairs for the event, Geyer and Mulcahy planned duplicate indoor courts for team practices in the Milwaukee Auditorium and Arena. The Milwaukee bid also included a $250,000 guarantee to US Davis Cup. Geyer and Mulcahy vigorously pursued sponsors for the event and arranged to have Kilbourn Avenue closed between 4th and 6th streets to create the Italian/American Festival including outdoor restaurants and retail shops to raise funds supporting the event. In addition, Milwaukee sold 6,000 tickets for each of the three days of competition.

Now the Americans and Italians were on center stage for the World Semifinal to be played indoors on September 25-27, 1998 in the Milwaukee Arena! The Italians historically prefer to play on slower surfaces with many of their matches played on clay. Italy played both India and Zimbabwe on clay. Hard courts were being constructed in Milwaukee. The process involves painting the final surface on the court. For whatever reason, the paint used to finalize the indoor court in the Arena had a slightly larger component of sand which ultimately slowed the surface. When the Italians warmed up on the court the first day they were shocked to note the slower surface.

In the opening match, Andrea Gaudenzi defeated American Jan-Michael Gambill 6-2, 0-6, 7-6 and 7-6. Then Davide Sanguinetti defeated American Todd Martin 7-6, 6-3 and 7-6. The Italians were on fire.

The Italian and American teams that evening participated in an exciting, international goodwill dinner arranged at the historic Milwaukee Grain Exchange.

The program included a diplomatic exchange of gifts and expressions of mutual respect. The Italians love and cherish the Davis Cup competition!

Starting the second day, down 0-2, the Americans were in a deep hole for the doubles competition. Mulcahy contacted his friend, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, to attend and provide added support for the doubles competition.

Thompson became a tennis fan for the day! The crowd was patriotic and loud, cheering “USA” and waving American flags. For two hours the tension in the Arena was at a peak level.

The doubles match went five sets with Italians Gaudenzi and Diego Nargiso winning 6-3 in final set for the decisive 3rd point and team victory. The following day Italian Gianiuca Pozzi defeated American Justin Gimelstob and American Jan-Michael Gambill defeated Davide Sanguinetti to close out the competition with a 4-1 Italian team win. Milwaukee lost the competition but gained international tennis credentials.

At the conclusion of the competition, Geyer and Mulcahy concluded that hosting the event was a once in a lifetime, worthwhile event which united the Milwaukee tennis community with a total of 18,000 attendees over three days; and, ultimately placed Milwaukee, for the first time, on the International tennis map.