USA vs. Argentina at Mauna Lani Resort Racquet Club
Some of you probably remember the most recent 2020 Davis Cup Tie — USA vs. Uzbekistan, played on Oahu last year at the Blaisdell Center. Thankfully, it took place right before the pandemic! The tennis fans of Hawaii had the privilege of witnessing the Bryan brothers in action for the last time before their retirement.
But do you remember the first Davis Cup Tie ever played in Hawaii? If you were one of the lucky ones to attend that event 29 years ago at the Mauna Lani Racquet Club, you witnessed some of America’s finest players. I remember this historical Hawaii tennis event and how exciting it was to see them all in one place at one time, up close and personal!
Today, the site of this remarkable event is called the Mauna Lani Sports Club & Tennis Garden. The tennis garden is in partnership with Cliff Drysdale Tennis. A former tennis professional, Drysdale is well-known as a television announcer and commentator. He has many fond memories of the resort and its role as a Davis Cup site.
Davis Cup Back Story — Hawaii Tennis History
It started back in 1984, when Craig Pautler, Director of Tennis at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, received a letter from the USTA. They had placed the site on their “possible and desirable” list for future and further Davis Cup consideration as a host site.
Then again, in 1989, Pautler approached Gordon Jorgensen, past president of the USTA and the Davis Cup Committee, about bringing the Cup to Hawaii. That got the ball rolling, but it wasn’t an easy task.
Finally, in November of 1991, the USTA awarded the honor of hosting the first-round tie Davis Cup — USA vs. Argentina — to the Mauna Lani Racquet Club in Kona, Hawaii.
Mauna Lani Resort — Davis Cup Price Tag
Hosting such a monumental event came with a price tag. The resort had to pay a $140,000 site fee to compensate the USTA for the site’s comparatively few seats (the stadium court capacity was 500). Max Yuki, the president of the resort, estimated another $500,000 of expenses. Most of that expense involved erecting temporary structures to increase the stadium court’s seating capacity to 2500.
Yuki called this historical Hawaii tennis event “a tremendous project.” The payoff? Exposure for the resort and the island of Hawaii. Hosting an event of this magnitude would showcase the glory of tennis in paradise to the rest of the world!
With a little over two months to stage the event, Guy LaGuire, the Tournament Coordinator, and Pautler worked endless hours to prepare the site, staffing, and accommodations. Sometime during that period, I was asked to be the stringer for Argentina’s team.
“It was a dream come true for Hawaii’s tennis fans, promoters, and for an “only-in-your-dreams” resort in the middle of the Pacific called Mauna Lani on the Big Island.”1Jane Forester-Leong, “HPTA Article,” Tennis USTA, May 1992.
Team USA Fabulous Four vs. Team Argentina
Tom Gorman, the captain of Team USA, selected the four-player squad. He wanted the flexibility to create multiple combinations for singles and doubles.
- Pete Sampras, 20 – ranked #4
- Andre Agassi, 21 – ranked #11
- John McEnroe, 32 – ranked #22, formerly ranked #1 (’81-84)
- Rich Leach, 28 – ranked #6 in doubles, formerly ranked #1 (’90)
Francisco Mastelli, the captain of Team Argentina, spoke of his dismay having to play the USA in the first round. He felt his team should have been ranked instead. The Americans and McEnroe believed Argentina had a legitimate gripe. Not that it mattered. The decision had been made.
- Alberto Mancini, 23 – ranked #21
- Martin Jaite, 28 – ranked #44
- Javier Frana, 26 – ranked #65
- Christian Miniussi, 25 – ranked #78
The Davis Cup Tie was the 11th meeting of the two teams, with Team USA holding a 7-3 edge. The USA won the last four of seven matches, dating back to the 1977 quarterfinals.
Day 1 – Friday, January 31
Pete Sampras vs. Martin Jaite followed by Andre Agassi vs. Alberto Mancini
A sellout crowd of 2,500 packed the stands for this historical Hawaii tennis event. Their excitement electrified the site in anticipation of the first match! It was the first and only time I’ve seen that many people gathered in such an intimate setting around a tennis court!
A massive windstorm played havoc on the first day of the competition. The light poles and palm trees were shaking and swaying, with occasional wind gusts up to 30 mph.
Sampras defeated Jaite – 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4
“When Jaite argued a call, a trumpet player started in with ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina'”2Ann Miller, “Americans Swept Up in Optimism,” Honolulu Advertiser, February 1992.
Agassi defeated Mancini – 6-4, 6-4, 6-4
The difference in the match was three break points for Agassi and none for Mancini. Agassi said, “If you waited for the ball, the ball was going to beat you because it moved all over the place.”3Ann Miller, “U.S. Team Blows by Argentina,” Honolulu Advertiser, February 1992.
Day 2 – Saturday, February 1
John McEnroe/Rick Leach vs. Javier Frana/Christian Miniussi
The day started with the Opening Ceremony and another capacity crowd in attendance.
McEnroe/Leach defeated Frana/Miniussi – 6-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1
Team USA clinched the win over Argentina with two of the world’s finest doubles players. “Captain Tom Gorman knew McEnroe could play doubles as well as anyone in the world – particularly with Leach’s help.4Ann Miller, “Americans Swept Up in Optimism,” Honolulu Advertiser, February 1992.
Day 3 – Sunday, February 2
Pete Sampras vs. Alberto Mancini followed by Andre Agassi vs. Martin Jaite
Sampras defeated Mancini – 6-4, 6-1
Sampras had a lot riding on this match and felt his position was the least secure among the four-player squad. Sampras lost two matches against France in the finals the previous year. Sampras was motivated to play well in this Hawaii tennis event. He fired 15 aces past Mancini for the victory and improved his Davis Cup record at 2-2 in impressive fashion.
Agassi defeated Jaite – 7-5, 6-3
As the hot mid-day sun beat down on the sellout crowd, Agassi needed 91 minutes to beat Jaite. With that win, Agassi’s remarkable Davis Cup record improved to 14-4.
Lasting Impressions of this Historical Hawaii Tennis Event
It was awe-inspiring to see the sellout crowds packing stadium court for all three days! Something special for Hawaii tennis history! Although I never had a seat in the stadium to watch the matches, I could feel the excitement and electricity in the air.
It’s so beautiful, so nice. This is an unbelievable vacation. It’s like a paid vacation, and the payoff is winning the Davis Cup.5Ann Miller, “Americans Swept Up in Optimism,” Honolulu Advertiser, February 1992.John McEnroe
It’s the closest thing to paradise I’ve ever seen.6Ann Miller, “Americans Swept Up in Optimism,” Honolulu Advertiser, February 1992.Andre Agassi
Hawaii owes a debt of gratitude to the people who brought the Davis Cup to the islands.7Jane Forester-Leong, “HPTA Article,” Tennis USTA, May 1992.
It was a lot of work but, it was worth it because it was so successful.8Jane Forester-Leong, “HPTA Article,” Tennis USTA, May 1992.Guy Laguire
It truly is a dream come true. I’m indebted to the people of Hawaii for supporting the event.9Jane Forester-Leong, “HPTA Article,” Tennis USTA, May 1992Craig Pautler
Perhaps the Davis Cup will be a recurring dream come true for Hawaii tennis.10Jane Forester-Leong, “HPTA Article,” Tennis USTA, May 1992.
 Jane Forester-Leong, “HPTA Article,” Tennis USTA, May 1992.
 Ann Miller, “Americans Swept Up in Optimism,” Honolulu Advertiser, February 1992.
 Ann Miller, “U.S. Team Blows by Argentina,” Honolulu Advertiser, February 1992.
 Miller, “Americans Swept Up in Optimism.”
 Forester-Leong, “HPTA Article.”
Thank you to Arthur Murata for providing some of the photos for this article!
More Hawaii Tennis History
- A Trip Down Memory Lane — Video Walk-through of Hawaii Tennis History Memorabilia
- Avis Challenge Cup — A Trip Down Memory Lane in Hawaii Tennis History
- Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic 1978 Lucky Loser — Tale of the Maui Miracle
- 1985 USTA Women’s Circuit of Hawaii Tournament at Waialae Iki 5 — Hosted by The Gentry Companies