Friday, September 19, 2008
Updated: September 20, 2:03 PM ET
Don't dispute the pageantry of Davis Cup
The reason Davis Cup is such a great event, and why the basic format should be preserved at all cost, was in great evidence during Day 1 play. To fully understand why, ask yourself these questions:
• How would you like Andy Roddick's chances against David Ferrer on red clay -- in, say, a Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinal?
• Would you expect a U.S. Open match between Switzerland's Stanislaus Wawrinka (No. 9 in the world) and Belgium's Steve Darcis (No. 58) to be a barnburner?
• What would it take for Argentina's bon vivant David Nalbandian to play a match so focused that he'd give up just 11 games to clay dog Igor Andreev of Russia?
My own answers are, in order: "Not much", "absolutely not", and "a Davis Cup semifinal, in Buenos Aires." The first two of those answers have been proven wildly inaccurate because of the truth embedded in the third: Davis Cup is unlike tournament play in a variety of ways that benefits everyone. At the end of the first day of semifinal play (and World Group playoffs), the major takeaway is that Davis Cup is a volatile, exciting, beautifully balanced event, and that isn't a serial accident. It's due to the format, both of the competition and best-of-five-match ties.
This is a theme I've hammered away at forever, or at least since people began proposing that the event is "broken" and needs to be reformatted. The only place it's ever been damaged is in nations where the top players refused to play, but when they took part again, it seemed to get real fixed -- real quick.
Right now, with player commitment in the U.S. running so high, there's only one real problem with Davis Cup. The same sports editors and television execs who start drooling at the very mention of the words, "Ryder Cup" chronically and unforgivably lack the vision, guts, or understanding of tennis to give Davis Cup it's just due.
Ironically, a powerful U.S. presence in tennis has always helped the game itself, but sometimes it also threatened Davis Cup. When a Jimmy Connors or Pete Sampras would take a pass on a tie, it hurt Davis Cup in America. Suddenly, people began proposing all these hare-brained schemes to play the competition in one place, over a continuous period (two or three weeks). But with U.S. power and influence in the game waning, and American champions such as Andy Roddick passionate about the competition, the calls to fix what ain't broke have abated.
There's only one change I'd make in the Davis Cup format: give the defending champion a bye for its first-round match in the 16-nation World Group competition. Let the victors enjoy the spoils for longer than the present system allows (roughly two months.)
The competitive matches we're seeing, the towering importance that mere doubles matches will assume tomorrow in every tie, and the pageantry and color involved (the American squad is playing Spain in a freakin' bullring!) are all the evidence we need that Davis Cup is just fine.