By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
Davis Cup is one of the most exciting tournaments in the tennis world. However, it is also one of the most enigmatic and frustrating. It does not even come close to the Slams in terms of importance of prestige. But for some fans, a Davis Cup match can be so much more meaningful than any Grand Slam match.
First of all, Davis Cup actually allows the fans to get involved. All of those fan-kept “rules” about etiquette and niceties go out the window in Davis Cup. You are the fans of the home team, and that means you do whatever you can to help your team win. An opponent makes an error, you cheer loudly. The opponent double-faults, you can clap. The opponent begins to argue with the umpire, you never allow him to live it down. It might be a competition of countries, but the basis of this tournament really is the fans.
And that, above all else, is why this tournament can be so incredibly frustrating for the fans. Often, the matches mean more to the fans than to the players themselves. We often don’t see the top players compete, whether due to fatigue (since Davis Cup always follows shortly after a big tournament) or due to an unwillingness to risk injury. Sometimes it just isn’t feasible for these top guys to play Davis Cup on top of the rest of their schedules.
This creates a curious case where Davis Cup doesn’t really represent the best countries in the world. We’ll leave aside, for now, the fact that one player can essentially win an entire tie by himself (by winning two singles matches and carrying his doubles team, as Bjorn Borg was famous for doing). But often, we just don’t get the best of a country actually being represented.
Take, for example, the first-round match of Spain vs. Canada from this year. On paper, this match is a blowout. Canada has three players in the top 100. Spain has 4 in the top 25 (3 if you don’t count a recovering Nadal). Now, this match could have been interesting anyway. Canada was the home country and chose a fast indoor court that suited their players much more than the Spanish. Milos Raonic’s massive serve can make any match close. Canada was the upstart country looking to pull off a massive upset against world power Spain. There were plenty of storylines and a good amount of intrigue to go with this match. Unfortunately, none of that is what we got.
Most of the top Spanish players in the world just couldn’t be troubled to play this tie. Spain brought in 3 singles players for this tie. They were, respectively, the #5, #8, and #11 ranked Spaniards at the moment. None of Spain’s current or former top 10 players (Nadal, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, and Fernando Verdasco) could show up. I’m sure they all had good reasons and won’t go into individual ones here. That’s not the point. The point is that this is indicative of the lack of importance many top players give Davis Cup.
We were supposed to have a blowout here with some upset potential for Canada. Instead, what we got was a blowout by Canada. In the three live singles rubbers, the Spaniards won exactly one set—Albert Ramos took the first set off Raonic in a tiebreak. After that, it was all Canada. Frank Dancevic slaughtered Marcel Granollers, the top Spanish player competing, to the tune of only losing 5 games. And Raonic finished things off in the first rubber on Sunday, beating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets as well.
Most of what comes out of this tie is the great story of an up-and-coming tennis country using home soil to beat the #1 seeded country. But let’s be fair and clear. The Spanish team that competed this past weekend was not the same team that earned that #1 ranking. And that, above all, is the enigma of Davis Cup. It means so much to the fans, but circumstances keep the players from being able to give it their all. Would better Spanish players have shown up had the tie been in Spain? Almost definitely. But now the Spanish fans won’t get to see their team in later rounds. Davis Cup is an incredible opportunity for the fans, but can only remain that way if the players have enough incentive to actually compete.
By Maud Watson
No. 1 and Done
Novak Djokovic may have come into London with the No. 1 ranking all sewn up, but he proved he was truly deserving of the honor when he capped off his 2012 season by defeating Roger Federer in the championship match of the ATP World Tour Finals. It was both a workman-like and spectacular week for the Serb. He didn’t always play his best, frequently finding himself down early against the likes of Murray, del Potro, and Federer, but on each of those occasions, he lived up to his seeding, showing great grit and determination to find a way to secure the win and ultimately go undefeated in the British capital. Furthermore, with his victory in London, Djokovic has arguably presented the best case for being named the ATP’s Player of the Year. In addition to the ATP World Tour Finals, he claimed the Aussie Open, three Masters shields, and reached the finals of an additional two majors and three Masters. He was by far the most consistent performer beginning to end, so while his 2012 wasn’t near the knock-out punch of 2011, it’s quite impressive in its own right.
Roger Federer may have come up short at the ATP World Tour Finals, but his performance there should still be seen as a positive. In the semifinals, he managed to turn the tables and claim victory against Murray in a match where the Scott clearly outclassed him straight out of the gates. Unfortunately for the Swiss, he wasn’t quite able to pull off the upset against Djokovic, but it’s worth noting that it was Federer who got up the early break in both sets. The stats from that match also reveal that it was only a handful of points that determined the outcome. All in all, it was a good week for Federer, as was his 2012 season as a whole. What we saw in London, as we did throughout the course of the season, is that Federer is going to now have more peaks and valleys over the course of a match. He’s going to feel the pressure to red line his game more than he once did against this younger crop of rivals. But he also proved last week that he’s more than capable of holding his own. He’s still firmly rooted in the Big 4, and there’s no reason to think he can’t still win majors.
Double the Pleasure
What a week for the duo of Marc Lopez and Marcel Granollers, who became the first Spanish pair to ever win the season-ending championships. It was wonderful to finally see them have their moment to shine. Lopez has historically been better known as the hitting partner and sometimes-double partner of Rafael Nadal, while Granollers, who has continued to make strides in singles, was perhaps better known for partnering his more accomplished countryman Tommy Robredo. In the injury absences of both Nadal and Robredo, however, Lopez and Granollers began to partner up with greater frequency, and their partnership has paid dividends. They got a big win over the Bryans in round robin play in what was one of the best matches of the tournament, and they were equally as impressive against the Indian team of Bhupathi and Bopanna in the title match. Their accomplishments in London have earned them the chance to add 2012 Davis Cup champions to their résumé, as Captain Alex Correjta has opted to use the pair for doubles duty in Davis Cup this weekend. It’s an opportunity well deserved, and here’s to hoping they continue to ride the wave of momentum.
He’s self-deprecating, as shown by his comments that the semifinals consisted of “three big names and one big guy,” but his performance in London backs up the notion that Juan Martin del Potro is most certainly looking like he’s back. Just like he did in the championship match in Basel, Delpo handed Federer another three-set defeat in Round Robin play to earn a spot in the semis. Even if one entertains the possibility that Federer, who was already assured of a spot in the WTF semifinals, didn’t go all out in his match against del Potro, you need look no further than the Argentine’s performance against Djokovic to suggest that he’s essentially ready to challenge for majors once again. The big man was up a set and a break on Djokovic, and though he lost it in three, his willingness to mix it up and recognize that he could mix it up and hang with the game’s elite are a positive sign of things to come. He’s without a doubt the guy most likely to break up the Big 4, which is why even though the odds are still stacked against him, it shouldn’t come as a shock either if he should win a major in 2013.
Davis Cup Drama
As Davis Cup is set to get underway, already one Spaniard is not a happy camper. Feliciano Lopez made known that while he respects Captain Corretja’s decision, he was upset at being left off the Spanish Davis Cup Team that’s taking on the Czech Republic in the Czech’s home country this weekend. Feli Lopez found himself odd man out when Correjta opted to field the doubles duo of M. Lopez/Granollers and Alamgro as the second singles player alongside Ferrer. It’s understandable his frustration, especially since he historically plays best on faster courts and possesses the better record against Czech No. 1 Tomas Berdych. That said, with M. Lopez and Granollers having the momentum, it would have been wrong to cut them, and at No. 11 vs. F. Lopez’s No. 40 ranking, you have to feel that Almagro has also earned his spot as well. Hopefully the drama won’t impact the team, as they will have their hands full enough taking on an inspired Czech squad.