Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Davis Cup Is Missing the Point Yet Again

Call me crazy but I'm not completely enamored with the idea of watching James Blake and Mardy Fish flail around on red clay in Croatia this weekend (for the record, I love clay court tennis - it is Americans playing clay court tennis that I have issues with.)

Oh, don't get me wrong, watching is what I'll be doing, but I'm not sure if I'll be enjoying it, and more importantly, the chosen surface - soft and mushy red clay - makes the hair on the back of my neck curl up and go to sleep.

In fact, it's not just the thought of Fish, Blake, and Karlovic - all players who clearly excel on a different surface - playing on clay that makes me yawn. There are a bevy of other issues with this weeks Davis Cup quarterfinal ties that make me wonder what needs to be done to make this annual affair the bright and shining beacon of international tennis competition that it really does deserve to be.

Where should I start? And how critical should I be of a competition that in theory should be a wonderful promotional tool for the sport on a global scale?

I'll start at home, because the essence of Davis Cup is about using nationalism as a vehicle to heighten the public's understanding and respect for the sport of tennis. By generating interest at these local grass root levels, and perhaps getting people to watch the sport that normally would prefer watching the last Dodger game before the all-star break, the game of tennis gets a chance to win over the non-tennis fan.

So, Davis Cup, in all it's patriotic glory, is great news for the game, and for American tennis too, as it pursues its 33rd Davis Cup Championship, right?

Think again. This year's Davis Cup quarter final ties, for god knows what reason, are scheduled to begin just 5 days after the most grueling 2 months on the ATP tour have concluded. The worlds best players have been running themselves ragged over the last 8-12 weeks, training first on clay, then playing Roland Garros and Wimbledon for four of the last six weeks.

It's a heavy physical and emotional burden to carry for top players who in theory, if things went as planned, would have peaked last week, and who now would be very deserving (and in need) of a prolonged rest away from the pressure.

Take Andy Roddick for instance. America's best player (who by the way is getting better) just poured his heart out onto the Wimbledon grass. He's spent. Can he, or any other player that did the same, realistically be expected to pour their heart out in Davis Cup play just five days later? Is it fair for Davis Cup, even taking into account the small windows in scheduling that they are offered, to ask a player to do this? In Roddick's case, much to the chagrin of the U.S.A., either he has to play on one leg, or the fans, and the competition, must suffer.

Pick your sufferer seems to be the name of the game with Davis Cup, and until the schedulers can find a way (or provide the incentive) to involve the worlds best players, the patriotic celebration will be limited to a small segment of the population who lives and dies by the sport of tennis. The rest will be watching the Dodgers. Or Arena football. Anything but Americans not named Roddick, on clay no less.

Pick your sufferer was the name of the game when the U.S. Defeated Switzerland in the last round of the competition. I, for one, suffered, because Roger Federer was not involved. What kind of a Swiss tennis team does not have Roger Federer playing for it? What does that say about the competition that it can't get Federer to play?

As much as I love the idea of Davis Cup, and as much pride that I feel, as an American, that we've been able to bring that baby home 32 times, the facts are clear as day right now.

Something needs to be done.

Playing these ties just 5 days after the Wimbledon final isn't doing anybody any good. Not the players, not the fans, and least of all, the sport.

No comments: