Melbourne, 20 October 2010 | Darren Saligari

Today John Fitzgerald walked away from Australia’s Davis Cup team, a group he has been directly associated with as a player or coach for 21 years.

“Davis Cup’s been my life, in so many ways. Tennis was my first love and I was fortunate enough to play Davis Cup for Australia for 11 years and to be in this role as Davis Cup captain for 10,” said Fitzgerald at a press conference earlier today in Canberra.

“It’s been a large part of my life. I don’t leave it with any regrets … and the time is right, it’s absolutely right, Pat’s ready to go, he’s the right person for the job now and I wish him well.

“And it’s not every day that you have a past Australian of the Year ready to take over the Davis Cup team.”

In 2001 Fitzy, as he’s known to everyone he comes in contact with, took over from the enigmatic John Newcombe – just the fourth man to take on the role since Harry Hopman’s 19-year reign began in 1950.  And in the affable captain’s first year he led a talented team to the final.

The scene was set for a victory that the tennis romantics would talk about for years to come – Pat Rafter was playing in his final Davis Cup tie, while Fitzgerald was hoping for a dream first year in the job.

But the fairytale send off and dream debut didn’t eventuate. The French snatched the title as the injured Rafter and Fitzgerald watched from the sidelines. Today Rafter becomes his final Davis Cup captain’s successor.

While the pain of 2001 would linger, the 2003 victory did much to wash it away.

The 4-1 win over Spain on grass at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena remains Fitzgerald’s highlight as coach. The win sits nicely alongside the two winning Davis Cup teams he played in during the 1980s.

Back then Fitzgerald was known for his work on the singles court as well as the doubles – he wouldn’t become the world’s premier doubles player until July 1991. Between 1981 and 1988 the right-hander from South Australia claimed six singles titles and was a finalist on a further five occasions.

As a doubles player he completed a career Grand Slam and in 1991 almost a calendar year Grand Slam, coming up short at the Australian Open.

As part of the 1983 and 1986 winning Australian Davis Cup teams, Fitzgerald played key roles. None more so than in the doubles tie during the 1986 final against Sweden.

With scores locked at one rubber apiece after the first day’s play, Fitzgerald teamed with Pat Cash to win what proved to be a pivotal doubles tie in Australia’s 3-2 win.

Fitzgerald leaves as captain with a 17-9 win-loss record, and the first seven of his 10 years in charge spent in the elite World Group.

During Fitzy’s last tie as captain versus Belgium in Cairns, he was joined on the sidelines by his soon-to-be successor, Pat Rafter. If Rafter was looking for an insight into what being Davis Cup captain would entail, he needed to look no further than the man sitting a few feet away from him on the sidelines.

Like a kid on a rollercoaster, Fitzgerald rode every bump as his players’ raced rapidly between the highs and lows of winning and losing. His dedication was such that the outcome of each match meant as much to Fitzgerald as it did to the players.

And it was with the team foremost in his mind that brought Fitzgerald to make one final call as captain – to hand the role on to Rafter who will be joined by Tony Roche as coach.

“With such a good pair ready to step in I felt the timing was perfect. It has been an absolute privilege to lead this team.”

“I think tennis in this country needs him [Rafter],” Fitzgerald said earlier today. “We want him, [and] he’s the best role model you could hope for to step into this position and I’m delighted he’s been able to fit it in to his busy life.

“He’s ready to do this job and I’m ready to leave this job.”

A master of the change-of-ends pep talk, Fitzgerald was always in his players’ corner, now it’s Rafter’s turn.

Rafter once said “I wish I had a Davis Cup to my name,” now’s his chance. Fitzgerald did his best to send him off with a win in 2001, now, 10 years on he hands a team over to Rafter who will hope that he can follow in his predecessor’s footsteps.