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Monday, April 27, 2009
Let's accord doubles the love it deserves

Some people hunger for world peace, but many die-hard tennis fans would settle for a world in which doubles really mattered.

Well, that world exists, in Davis and Fed Cup competitions. That is proven by the most recent matches, or ties, that the U.S. has played in either of those events. Now, if only the editors and television honchos would see the light and accord those two international events the exposure they deserve. …

Fed Cup gets even less respect than Davis Cup, and this is one of those times when you can't really blame the Lords of Tennis -- in this case, the International Tennis Federation. Although they haven't tampered with Davis Cup in any significant way, Fed Cup has been the ITF's lab rat for some time now. Back in the 1980s, the ITF tried holding the Fed Cup at one site, over one week (something Davis and Fed Cup critics have often clamored for), and it bombed.

Fed Cup then went back to the Davis Cup-type format (the rounds are staggered throughout the year, and the teams take turns hosting), but with one significant tweak: The ITF made Fed Cup essentially a "weekend" competition, with two singles matches on Saturday and a "reverse singles" on Sunday. And if the teams are tied at two wins apiece after the four singles matches, a doubles match decides the outcome.

Some people don't like the idea that a tie should be decided by doubles. But doubles is as riveting and intense as it's allowed to be, and that's where a team competition is so valuable: It allows doubles to shine.

In Team USA's last Davis Cup tie, doubles experts Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan blasted the U.S. out of a potentially embarrassing loss to a tiny Switzerland team that didn't even have the services of Roger Federer.

And in Sunday's Fed Cup semifinal, Liezel Huber and Bethanie Mattek-Sands propelled the U.S. into the final round with a doubles comeback for the ages: Team USA, visiting the Czech Republic, was down, 2-6, 2-5, 30-40 -- match point! -- but battled back, won the second-set tiebreaker and sailed home.

Do you think anyone in that stadium was checking e-mail on his Blackberry or sulking over the fact that the tie had come down to a doubles tie, once those women battled into a third set? Do you think the women on either side were less depressed or elated with the outcome after Mattek-Sands and Huber had applied the finishing touches? I don't think so: Kveta Peschke wept in her post-tie press conference, and the U.S. women were sky-high.

Even Alexa Glatch, the MVP of the U.S. club (she won both of her singles matches), was carried away by emotion, saying: "This is one of the few times in my life I'm playing on a team. It beats anything I've done in tennis before."

You think that was fun, Alexa? Just wait until you get a chance to play doubles!

It's funny, but the U.S. was written off in Fed Cup this year once it became known that neither Venus nor Serena Williams had committed to play. Now Team USA is in the final against another overperforming squad that rises to the Fed Cup call, Italy. That tie will be played in Italy in the fall, almost certainly on clay, and the big question is, Will U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Jo Fernandez try to convince either of the Williams sisters to play, or will she stick with the scrappy no-names who have brought the squad this far?