Three Inconvenient Truths About the U.S. Loss to Spain in Davis Cup

Spain celebrates Davis Cup victory over the U.S.

Three stone-cold truths about the U.S. loss to Spain in the Davis Cup quarterfinals this weekend:

1)    Andy Roddick, and the U.S. team, should have insisted on playing that last match out of respect for the fans.

2)    The Davis Cup is not nearly as big a deal as it could be.

3)    U.S. tennis is even worse than I thought.

Let’s start at the top.

1) Roddick. The whole event was tailored for him, to thank him. It was sort of a tribute. The home country chooses the site. Roddick, who lives in Austin, Texas, asked for it to be in Austin. So it was put there.

“I appreciate the USTA for even considering Austin,’’ Roddick said after the U.S. had beaten Chile in the previous round. “I think it’s been no secret that I have wanted it for a long time. It would be a dream come true to play at home.’’

Then on Sunday, with the U.S. mathematically out, but with one match left to be played, Roddick apparently forgot his dream.

“I think Andy has a history of not liking to play those matches,’’ U.S. team captain Jim Courier said.

Well, maybe the fans, hometown fans who paid to see Roddick, would have liked to have seen him. Instead, after Spain clinched the win with David Ferrer’s victory over Mardy Fish, the last match never happened.

Boo. The crowd was justifiably upset. Roddick had played on Friday, but should have played Sunday, too. Under the rules, they don’t play a meaningless fifth match unless both coaches agree. Well, both coaches should have agreed, and Roddick should have insisted.

Tennis is in serious need of a Fans Bill of Rights. Players drop out of tournaments when they are tired or just don’t feel like it. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic did that just before Wimbledon. Federer’s name was on a poster used to sell tickets. People purchased tickets hoping to see him. Then, he was a no-show, worn out from overscheduling. Serena Williams has done the same thing in the past, or has shown up where rules required her to, and then lost on purpose to get out quickly.

What a ripoff to fans. Now, fans used their limited discretionary funds in an awful economy to see a Davis Cup tie built around Roddick. And the Sunday match never happened?

How about giving half the money back for putting on only one of two matches?

“If you ask most players, the dead rubber (meaningless match) is a little outdated for professional tennis,’’ Courier said Sunday. “It’s there really more, I think, for a 3-0 situation when fans have bought tickets and they deserve to see plenty of tennis.’’

Yes, 3-0 would make the entire final day meaningless. But fans were still deserving after Sunday’s one match.

“Today, they saw one of the best four-set matches (Ferrer over Fish) you could ever see, plenty of theatrics, plenty of intensity,’’ Courier said. “I think it would be a huge letdown if two guys went out there to play after that for an exhibition.’’

Exhibition?

That brings me Truth No. 2: What does Courier think the Davis Cup is, anyway? It’s fun; it’s a great atmosphere. Those are two things tennis needs. But it’s a glorified exhibition. Rafael Nadal didn’t play because he was tired and beaten down from Wimbledon. Time and again, top players skip Davis Cup because, well, it doesn’t fit their schedule. Would Nadal’s foot have hurt too much if Davis Cup mattered?

I’m not blaming the players. A couple years ago, they were all-but boycotting Davis Cup, angry about the demands of the schedule. They tried to get it changed. The International Tennis Federation wouldn’t budge.

Now, players have decided to play if it suits them. They are pressured into it, made to look as if their national loyalty depends on it. The truth is, they are representing their countries all year long on an international tour.

Whatever. The Davis Cup takes too long, and is too hard to follow. An event cannot last an entire year in several week-long stops at several places. It would just be so much better if they did the final 16 teams in one two-week tennis World Cup. It would save time off the players’ schedule, make things easy to follow, and give the event the feel of a major. The lower-level stuff can still be played in each country, bringing in revenues for smaller countries with smaller tennis federations.

You do it that way, and Nadal shows up, which takes us to Truth No. 3): The U.S. no longer has one player as good as Feliciano Lopez. That is amazing. Without Nadal, Spain turned to Lopez, a career choker/head case who has been getting better lately. He beat Roddick at Wimbledon, Fish in Davis Cup. How fortunate for Lopez that American tennis is there to help him find his confidence.

The U.S got to choose the site and the surface. It picked a super fast surface because Spain is used to the slow clay and the U.S. is not. Yet, the two best American players on their favored surface with their home fans got crushed by the second- and fourth-best Spaniards.

Everyone knew the U.S. was behind Spain. But who know it was this far back?

I mean, Fish is making the most of himself late in his career, but hitting his head on his ceiling. Roddick can’t carry American tennis much longer.

So it ended 3-1 this weekend, with the Bryan brothers winning in doubles. Of course, it could have been 3-2, but Roddick’s “history of not liking to play those matches’’ beat out his “dream come true.’’

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About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

9 responses to “Three Inconvenient Truths About the U.S. Loss to Spain in Davis Cup

  • Kate

    Greg, let me make this simple for you.

    You
    Sound
    So
    Pressed

    You sound just like a little kid who doesn’t get his way then proceeds to pout and act like he doesn’t care about it after all. For someone who doesn’t care about Davis Cup, you sure spent a lot of time writing an article about how much you don’t care about Davis Cup.

  • Kate

    To leave a more expanded comment:

    It’s funny that you say Davis Cup doesn’t matter to the players. Maybe it doesn’t matter to the top four guys who make deep runs in the slams and probably can’t play anyway, but it sure as hell matters to the other players. It sure as hell mattered to Djokovic and the rest of the Serbian team and he said numerous times that winning Davis Cup was the thing that inspired him most for his great run this year. Verdasco likewise said that his win in Davis Cup in 2008 gave him the confidence to play better in 2009. Nalbandian has made no secret that he’d rather win Davis Cup than win a slam. So you see, it DOES matter. If it didn’t, then none of the players would play. No one is forcing them to play Davis Cup–they do it because they like to be able to represent their country for once. It also creates heroes out of lesser know players. You do have guys like Ferrer, who are in the shadow of the top players in their countries, who can lead the team to victory. You have guys like Ferrero who was called up twice in 2009 because Nadal and Verdasco were too tired/injured to play, and he and Ferrer became the heroes of Spain’s win that year.

    Tennis isn’t just top players and if Federer or Nadal or Djokovic or Murray decide they don’t want to play, that’s their loss. But don’t degrade the tournament because of it. Davis Cup is no harder to find for American fans than most of the masters tournaments, but plenty of other countries have no problem airing it on their main sports networks. Any tennis fan in the US who wants to see Davis Cup knows exactly where to look, the exact same places they have to look for the other tour events, since Tennis Channel is far more useless than you seem to find Davis Cup.

    Also, where would you propose this 2-week, 16-team event be held? The tennis calendar is packed as it is, when would they do this? If the ITF isn’t going to change the dates of the slams, then it’ll be hard to place it anywhere in the season. After the World Tour Finals? Good luck getting top players to play then either. Nadal bitches about having to play a bunch of clay tournaments (two of which aren’t even mandatory, and last year he withdrew from Barcelona a day before the tournament, which you seem to have conveniently forgotten in your effort to trash Djokovic and Federer) so I doubt he would want to participate in a two week long Davis Cup, especially if it was kept as best of 5 sets. And that format has clearly not worked for the Fed Cup; granted women’s tennis is not as popular as men’s tennis, but Fed Cup is essentially a joke these days, played in smaller stadiums. Every stadium this weekend for the four Davis Cup ties was packed full of fans. Not only that, but it gives fans a chance to see man of their top players playing in their own countries–other than the Djokovic Open, when would Serbians get a chance to see their own players play live? What about the Czech fans? Even Croatia, Germany and Argentina which have tour tournaments, fill stadiums to watch their players.

    Why not just come out and say that what you really mean is that Americans don’t care about Davis Cup now that they can’t even win at home on their favoured surface. It’s about time the rest of American tennis fans realize that we’re no longer the dominant country and we can’t waltz in on reputation alone and act like we’re going to win. Maybe once we start investing in our young players the way other countries do, we can start dominating again. Until then, don’t blame Davis Cup for our the failing state of our country’s tennis.

  • Yolita

    “Tennis isn’t just top players and if Federer or Nadal or Djokovic or Murray decide they don’t want to play, that’s their loss.”

    Please Kate, don’t write Djokovic’s name in this context. It’s completely unfair. Of the top 4 players he’s the one who never fails to play Davis Cup. He thinks very highly of it. Davis Cup made him the player he is today. Last year he flew from New York to Belgrade on Wednesday, after playing the USO finals on Monday, arrived on Thursday and showed up with jet-lag and a virus on Friday. This time the team decided to let Janko and Viktor play the singles, so he played doubles and practiced volleys, and Janko and Viktor earned points which helped them move up the rankings from 29 to 23 and from 16 to 13. They still won their tie easily. Everybody wins.

    Murray and Federer are probably playing this year in order to be eligible for the Olympics. Djokovic isn’t like that.

    I agree with the rest of your post, if not its tone. :P

  • Brent Abel - WebTennis

    Hi Greg. You sound good & ticked just like I am.

    I’m so concerned about what American juniors must have thought after watching Roddick & Fish. I’m betting that golf looks like a whole lot more fun to them when they woke up yesterday morning.

    I posted a rant this morning over at – http://bit.ly/p8dCLp

    Brent

  • shannon

    It’s an embarrassment that Roddick didn’t play that fifth match. Maybe he was worried about getting beaten again. Still it was disrespectful to the fans in his own hometown.

    Also, it would be nice if journalists would stop being so shocked that Spain won this with such relative ease. Ferrer is a slam semifinalist, and at the US Open. Lopez,while not a consistent player, is nonetheless a very good one. After that first day I saw so much utter shock that it was actually funny. Matt Cronin expressed shock that the US was down 2-0 to two players who never won a slam. As if that is the nly marker of quality. He also mentioned the slam credentials of the coaches, as if that has anything to do with anything at all. Fact is, Mardy Fish had one decent year and Andy Roddick is declining. And they are all we’ve got in singles. The women’s side is even more dire. I’m shocked at the surprise and overconfidence (Brad Gilbert predicted the US would win comfortably).

    US tennis is in big trouble and will continue to be until we teach our young players something beyond ‘serve big and hit it as hard as you can.’.

  • Brian

    Epic weekend of tennis, complete with three top-ten players and a thrilling five-set match, marred by the lack of a fifth rubber. Typically one to defend Roddick – I still think he can win another major – I thought it was petty and disrespectful for him to not play the fifth rubber. Even a one-set exhibition would have been hugely appreciated by all in attendance.

  • From Spain

    And how about some respect for David Ferrer for a change? The guy has beaten everyone on the tour and has been top-10 for more than 5 years now, winning tournaments on all surfaces and reaching the latter stages of GS tournaments in spite of his obvious limitations. Right now, and even if you Americans don’t like it, he’s definitely a better player than Roddick or Fish, and the US was clearly the underdog in Austin.

    Pity he is not even respected here in Spain, as he stays in the shadow of Nadal (understandably to some extent).

    Oh, and the Davis Cup might not be a great deal in the US, but it is in countries that actually care about tennis.

  • David

    I really don’t see how the Americans got “crushed.” There were a bunch of super close matches. Probably the only match in which one side was clearly superior was the doubles. If Roddick had won that crazy first set against Ferrer, he probably would’ve won the match. Obviously Fish just barely lost to Lopez, so it could’ve been a 3-0 sweep for the U.S. There had to be an outcome and everything fell Spain’s way. If they were to play the tie again this weekend, the U.S. would probably win 3-1.

  • michelle lilting

    Couch, just attacking U.S. players will not make them better. The Philadelphia Eagles fans are “experts” at doing that to “their” OWN team, too, and where has THAT gotten them. Have they EVER won a National Championship? You can express disappointment without a personal attack on a player. Just because we’re upset with you about your sometimes ridiculously dishonest and negative articles about Serena Williams, that doesn’t mean wew want you to START doing that to Andy. What we want is support and FAIR reporting for ALL our U.S. players. If there is to be criticism — UNLIKE what was done for Pete Sampras and Agassi when THEY were playing (but then there were no blacks at the top — like the Williams sisters – then) — it shouldn’t fall over into personal invective.

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