Yes, America, Davis Cup still matters

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The Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals will take place this weekend, with the U.S. already out of the competition thanks to that shocking first-round loss to Great Britain back February.

Of course, that won’t stop American fans from spending the weekend floating their cockamaimie plans for altering Davis Cup -- for making it more “relevant,” for making it more “promotable,” for making it what it hasn’t really been in the U.S. since the dawn of Open tennis: a premium event attracting the interest of the general sporting public and media.

But while so many fans in the U.S. are criticizing the Davis Cup for being the vestige of a bygone era and small beer compared to the Grand Slams, the rest of the world is thinking, “Who cares what the Americans think? They stink at tennis anyway.”

It’s astonishing that American tennis has come to this juncture. Remember how much stock Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith put in Davis Cup? Remember how John McEnroe always made room for Davis Cup on his schedule? Remember how often Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick answered the Davis Cup call?

I’m not saying the American men’s game wouldn’t be in its present state of decay if Davis Cup were more highly valued. What I am saying, though, is that anti-Davis Cup sentiments are a pretty good indicator of just how out of touch so many Americans are with the global tennis community.

Guess what? Most of the world loves Davis Cup, and takes particular pleasure in watching players from what once were “have-not” countries compete for glory in the most legitimate -- and storied -- annual international team competition in sports. Much of the world also enjoys watching some upstart nation take the once-mighty USA down a peg or two, although the pegs are admittedly running out. How much worse can we get?

Granted, not all of the top international stars play Davis Cup all the time - the four-week commitment required of a squad that has a realistic shot at winning (see: “S” for Switzerland this year) is significant. It’s also true that because the event is owned and staged by the International Tennis Federation and its member nations/federations, Davis Cup suffers from a fair amount of fuddy-duddyism.

The federations are run by well-meaning amateurs whose demands on the players are more onerous than those of the typical tournament promoter, who’s just happy the players showed up to vie for and carry off the prize money. Davis Cup ties aren’t big money-makers. The players generally compete out of a desire to represent their respective nations, and to give a little back.

We also know the problems associated with the long interval between Davis Cup weeks, as well as how the unique rules governing where any tie is played (the teams take turns hosting) makes long-range planning and promotion difficult.

Yes, in many ways Davis Cup is a drag for the players. Yet the competition flourishes almost everywhere else in the world because players still are willing to make sacrifices in order to represent their country -- to play for the glory of the nation, rather than self.

Back in the day, it seemed that the baffling indifference of the U.S. audience to Davis Cup held back the competition. That indifference no longer matters. The world has passed us by.

While we sit here talking about playing Davis Cup every two years, or eliminating the things that make Davis Cup great (like the alternating host rule) and settling the whole thing in some giant two-week festival at a single site, the rest of the world is wrapping its arms around Davis Cup just the way it is.

On the whole, our national attitude toward Davis Cup is not a symptom not of the Davis Cup’s irrelevance, but ours.