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Orlando Sentinel

Puerto Rico's Davis Cup Team Rises Up

By Joe Williams | El Sentinel

April 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

As the No. 1 singles player on Puerto Rico's Davis Cup tennis team for the past five years, Gabriel Montilla has personally watched the team improve.

With the amount of experience on this year's Davis Cup team, which also includes Luis Haddock, Gilberto Alvarez and Jan Polhamus, Montilla expected, and rightly so, that improvement would continue.

That improvement came last week with the team playing in the American Zone Group III Davis Cup competition at Trinidad and Tobago. Puerto Rico finished second in the tournament and has been promoted to Group II level competition for 2004.

"There are a lot of young kids playing in Puerto Rico and there are some juniors doing really well right now," said Montilla, 24, a pro who currently is ranked 740th in the world and has a 19-1 record in singles play during his five years on the Davis Cup team. "It [tennis] is not the biggest sport in Puerto Rico, but it is growing a little bit by a little bit."

Puerto Rico's Davis Cup team still has a long way to go before it is ready to compete on the World Group level with national tennis powers such as France, Australia, Sweden, Croatia and the United States.

"Our goal was to play hard and move up to Group II," Montilla said. "Everyone has played well and fought hard. The players who are playing are all experienced in Davis Cup play."

Montilla, from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, played collegiately at Indiana University and is the most experienced player on the team. Haddock, 21, is a junior at Notre Dame, where he is the Irish's No. 1 player and is a three-time member of Puerto Rico's Davis Cup team. Alvarez, 21, is in his second year on the Davis Cup team and is a former top-ranked junior player in Puerto Rico and played at Georgia Perimeter College where he was ranked No. 2 nationally in singles on the junior college level. Polhamus, 17, is the top-ranked junior in Puerto Rico.

Before heading to the competition at Trinidad and Tobago, the Puerto Rican team spent about a week training at LGE Performance Systems in Orlando. The team received on-court training there as well as working with Garth Weiss, Ph.D, on the mental aspect of the game, with strength and conditioning coach Michael Florence and with high performance nutrition specialist Raquel Crocker.

"The competition [in Davis Cup] is pretty tough," said Kelvin Rivera, the co-captain of the team and the head pro at LGE, who has been working with Montilla for the past two years. "We had a great week of training here. I think the players were pretty well prepared."

Puerto Rico opened the Davis Cup tournament with a 3-0 victory over hosts Trinidad and Tobago and then won its second round match over El Salvador by the same 3-0 score before beating Bolivia in the semifinal 2-1. That placed Puerto Rico in the final against Jamaica, a match that Jamaica won 2-1.

Montilla, who also has a Davis Cup record in doubles of 12-2, went into this tennis season with two goals.

The first was to help the Davis Cup team move up to Group II, a mission that already is accomplished. The other is an individual goal to improve his pro ranking from his current standing of 740.

"I want to move up the rankings a lot," said Montilla, who has been playing on smaller satellite tour events in Central America, Jamaica, Barbados and Italy. "I want to be in the top 300 or 400 and just improve . . . " In that belief, Montilla's goal is much the same for himself as it was for the Davis Cup team -- work hard and keep improving.

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