Wheaton fires volley at Gorman's US critics

AMERICAN Davis Cup player David Wheaton believes Tom Gorman is the right man to lead the United States in international team competition.

Gorman, who has been captain of the US Davis Cup team for eight years, is under pressure to hold on to the job after the States were beaten 4-1 in Australia last month.

Davis Cup veteran John McEnroe, who has made no secret of the fact he would like to become the team captain, was fiercely critical of Gorman last week, saying it would be ''a joke'' if he were allowed to continue.

But Wheaton, after winning through to the second round of the Salem Open in Hongkong yesterday, defended Gorman.

''Gorman is unpopular with John McEnroe but I do not think you can blame him one bit for the loss in Australia,'' said Wheaton, the 23-year-old world number 38 who made his Davis Cup debut for the States in Australia.

''He tried to take the best players but they chose not to go so he took the next best. I find him a very positive person and think he makes an excellent captain.'' Wheaton, who was ranked as high as 12th in the world in 1991, acknowledged that Gorman's position was in jeopardy after the defeat in Australia.

An under-strength US team was represented by Wheaton and Brad Gilbert in the singles and by Jim Grabb and Richey Reneberg in the doubles and Wheaton was their only winner, in the reverse singles on the final day.

Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Michael Chang and MaliVai Washington were injured, unavailable or over-looked for the grass-court tie.

This led to McEnroe's outburst last week in which he reportedly also criticised another candidate for the job of US Davis Cup team captain - Stan Smith.

Said Wheaton: ''I have a lot of respect for John McEnroe as a tennis player but I do not have much respect for someone who criticises a lot of people without it being instigated by them - if he did really say that.'' Asked if he thought Gorman's contract would be renewed at the end of this year, Wheaton said: ''I think Tom Gorman's job is on the line - but I do not think it should be.

''I kind of get the sense it is in the hands of the top players and that is not the best possible situation.

''If none of the players liked him and he was causing an embarrassment to his country, well that may be different. He may be disliked by a couple of players but I do not see any reason why he should not continue as Davis Cup captain.

''If he is not captain next year, it is the top powers at the United States Tennis Association weak-kneeing to a bunch of people trying to throw their weight around; and they cannot have a lot of backbone if they cannot stand up to people criticising captains or potential captains.'' On Victoria Park's centre court yesterday, Wheaton, the seventh seed, needed one hour and five minutes to beat China's Asian champion, Xia Jia-ping, 6-3, 6-1.

Xia, the 24-year-old Chinese number one from Shanghai, ranked 442nd in the world, trailed 4-0 in the first set but managed to break Wheaton's big serve with three blistering returns in the fifth game.

Xia, who gained a wild card into the tournament after winning the Asian Championship in Hongkong last November, said: ''I was quite satisfied to win four games because I rarely have the chance of playing against the world's top players.''