Monday, December 5, 2011

Sevilla Mi Corazon...

by Savannah

Midway through the second epic match of the 2011 World Group Davis Cup Final every fan in the stadium was on their feet singing the fight songs of their respective countries. For this viewer, and for the commentators on Davis Cup Television the sight raised goosebumps. It was such an electric moment I don't think I'll ever forget it even though I was watching on my laptop at some god awful hour on a Sunday morning. The electricity was palpable.

One of the comms said, and I quote "To change the event to two weeks and make it the fifth Grand Slam you've got to be kidding." Soon after that I either read or heard someone say that the United States has a problem with Davis Cup and that no one else does.

I had read about a conference call held by Mary Joe Fernandez and Jim Courier, the respective Fed Cup and Davis Cup captains for the United States but hadn't read it. I did some looking around and found a full transcript HERE
I will excerpt the following from what seems to have been a pretty decent call.

Q. Obviously we're coming into the finals weekend here. There's been a little bit of grumbling at the ATP World Tour Finals in London from Nadal and the likes about the format. Any new thoughts or insights on where that should go or where it could go at this point?
CAPTAIN COURIER: I'm sure we've had this discussion before. I'm pretty clear on the record as to what I think should take place. Do you want me to regurgitate that?
Q. Sure.
CAPTAIN COURIER: I think it's pretty clear that the Davis Cup format, which was built quite a while ago, is no longer as popular or as powerful as it could be. It certainly should be condensed into, in my opinion, a two-week format for at least the big boys. I think it should be combined with the Fed Cup, for that matter, so it becomes in effect the fifth Grand Slam, not only from an attention standpoint, but a player-attendance standpoint.
The system is broken, clearly, from my standpoint. It's not broken from the ITF's standpoint, because they still make money. What I would contend is they could make a lot more money than they currently do and that would allow them to help spread the growth of the game with the extra funds they would receive.
Let's be clear. Compared to what the Grand Slams make, taking two weeks out of the calendar each year individually, that dwarfs clearly what the ITF would make on the Davis Cup.
So it's simple economics from that standpoint. If you want to grow the game, you need money. You get more money if you have a powerful event. It's better for the sport if it gets more attention.
Give you a clear example. I don't care one bit about women's soccer. Never watched a women's soccer game outside of the Olympics and the World Cup. When the World Cup took place last year, I actually tuned in because it was building over a couple-week period. That's what the Davis Cup and Fed Cup can do if they're put in that scenario. They can build interest outside of the core base. No one in America is going to be aware that great tennis players are playing in Spain this week, outside of us on the phone. That's a shame. It should be building into something.When we played in March in the first round, now we're in December, two ties in between, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that that doesn't make sense as far as building interest.
It's nothing new. I've been taking about it for years. I'm not the only one. I don't have ownership of the idea. It's clear they're leaving a lot of money and interest on the table and that Davis Cup and Fed Cup are two of the most under-valued assets in the sport. 
When I first started doing this blog I would post Davis Cup and Fed Cup results from countries outside of the axis to show that Davis Cup and Fed Cup are not events that Australia, England, The United States and France play. Countries from Haiti to El Salvador to Iran field teams and the results are followed closely there. The bitching about the Davis Cup schedule seemed to grow louder in the US once there was no denying that the age of axis domination was over. It seems to have grown louder in the last couple of years.


When I saw the fans in that stadium singing chanting and waving flags I realized part of the problem here in the States. We don't have a soccer tradition. Football is played all over the world from Asia to Africa to South America and we are johnny come late-lies to real international competition. Only the NBA has a truly world wide following and that is becoming more and more evident in the make up of NBA teams. Don't get me wrong we know how to raise a ruckus here but nothing equals what I saw Sunday in Sevilla.

And the tennis. There was some glorious tennis played on that semi indoor court. Some tended to dismiss the first rubber between Rafael Nadal and Juan Monaco. The final score was one sided but for those of us who saw it Monaco didn't play badly at all. He played to win. It was just that Rafa was not going to lose. David Ferrer, who played the second singles rubber against Juan Martin del Potro came out of the gates with the same fire his countryman showed in the first match and after the first set it looked as if Argentina would have to worry more about winning the doubles match the next day instead of the second singles match.

Instead, four hours and forty something minutes later David Ferrer stood triumphantly on the court while Del Potro wiped away tears of frustration.
The match went down to the wire and Ferrer was fresh enough at the end to take advantage of a physically depleted Del Potro.

The next day Argentina fielded the team of David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank. Schwank is a newcomer to Davis Cup final play but you would never have known it watching him work with Nalbandian. The two played well together and a casual fan would never have known that that was the first time the two had played together.

That same casual fan would've wondered if Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco had ever seen each other before taking the court. They were like strangers with each other and with Nalbandian directing traffic across the net they were dispensed with in a very efficient three set match by the Argentines.

That meant that both reverse singles matches could mean something. I have to say I was amused by all the calls for the Argentine Captain Tito Vasquez to play Nalbandian against Nadal. Nalbandian, while rested and fit for Nalbandian, was in no way ready to go four hours in a singles match. No matter what Vasquez may have wanted or wished to do Del Potro was going to be the player across the net from Nadal. After seeing the way he played on Day 1 I'm sure Nalbandian, who has never been concerned with fitness, wanted no part of the Spanish star.

He may have had second thoughts when Rafa proceeded to lose seven of the first eight games and looked as lost on court as he ever has. As Rafa proceeded to get back into the match one shot, one point, one game at a time I thought about what Emilio Sanchez Vicario calls the Four C's of Spanish tennis - head (cabeza), conditioning (condicion). the heart (corazon) and the balls (cojones). You saw those principles in action in David Ferrer's gritty match. They were on display in both of Nadal's matches. Neither man thought he would lose and played that way. This is what is missing in the approach of many tennis federations. Potentially great players are treated like demigods and fail to make the cut when they hit the pro ranks. The world is supposed to bow down before them. Instead someone they never heard of is hitting balls past them with reckless abandon.


Argentina wanted this win badly but it was fitness, or lack thereof that assisted in their defeat. David Nalbandian and David Ferrer are the same age. Ferrer reportedly smokes. Yet he outlasted a very well, maybe too well rested Del Potro. Rafa, playing injury free and fairly well rested, had no issues with his fitness either.

After the Final Feliciano, David Ferrer and Rafa all announced that they will not be playing Davis Cup next year. Keeping in mind that 2012 is an Olympic year many of the top players probably won't be playing Davis Cup leaving the door open for others to claim the huge cup. But right now there is no denying that Spain, where competition and camaraderie work side by side, has become the dominant force in tennis.

End Notes:

As I type this I'm not aware of who will comprise Spain's Davis Cup team next year. Someone mentioned in passing that Costa may not be back. I have seen some rumors/wishful thinking but nothing from reputable sources.

Courier was on a roll at the above mentioned conference call. He not only wants to scrap DC format but he questioned a top player's commitment to DC by putting the wife of said player's agent on the spot. I for one think it's about time her conflict of interest was given the attention it's due.

TIM CURRY: We'll take some comments from Jim about his first year as captain and the road trip to Switzerland.(...)I don't have any information for anyone yet as to who will be on the team. That will be determined as we get a little bit closer to the tie. We'll see who is going to be healthy and playing the best as we get closer to it.
The Swiss team, they have Stanislas Wawrinka, who is a great player, very solid in singles and doubles. They have one other guy, I keep forgetting who it is...Federer, that's who it is, a very talented player in his own right. If he chooses to make himself available, which I expect he will, and I'm expecting Mary Joe Fernandez, whose husband manages him, to tell us whether or not he.
As of now, MJ, I'm operating under the assumption with Roger Federer playing the week after in Rotterdam, he'll be available for Davis Cup. Any light there?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Not 100% sure. But I know he loves Davis Cup and went all the way to Australia after the US Open.
CAPTAIN COURIER: I'm not sure I could concede he loves Davis Cup. Based on the fact he hasn't attended a first round since 2004, I think that's a question.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: He loves it. I think he's attended every year, if I'm correct.
Anyway, he does love it and I'm assuming he will be there, but you have to call the hubby for that one. 

Caroline Wozniacki announced that her new coach will be Jelena Jankovic's old coach Ricardo Sanchez. Good luck with that Sunshine.

No decision has been reached about the new ATP CEO. It is known that Richard Krajicek is favored by some and that Roger Federer would prefer someone with more CEO experience.

With the Exhibition Season about to get underway there could still be some interesting tennis news. We'll see.

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