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“If you ask most players, the dead rubber (meaningless match) is a little outdated for professional tennis,’’ Courier said Sunday.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.’’
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.’’