I can’t tell you how bad I feel that this is what I missed:
Yes, Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, the two best American women, representing the U.S. in Federation Cup play against Italy. You can see it clearly right there in the ad.
And it wasn’t just that, but also the whole national team season of Fed Cup and Davis Cup. I missed Switzerland against Serbia in Davis Cup, too. Imagine that: Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic.
I missed it all.
OK, so tennis fans already know what I actually missed:
It was just after the Australian Open, and Djokovic pulled out. He was criticized, all but called a traitor, so Serbia lost. Williams and Stephens pulled out, too, so the U.S. lost to Italy’s best. No, that isn’t right. A bunch of backup Americans lost to a bunch of the Italian backups’ backups.
And what did that prove exactly?
Meanwhile, fans had already bought tickets based on the marketing of Serena and Sloane. And fans can’t just pull out. Their money was locked in on a bait-and-switch. I’ve written before that tennis fans need a Bill of Rights, but I’ll get back to that some other time.
Here’s the thing: I don’t blame Williams, Stephens or Djokovic for pulling out. Why on earth would anyone play these things anymore?
The International Tennis Federation has rendered Davis Cup almost entirely irrelevant because it is so out of touch with the times. I’m sorry, but Bill Tilden vs. the Four Musketeers has come and gone.
Tennis is already an international head-to-head event every week all year long. The only thing the ITF has going as a carrot to lure top players to Davis Cup now is that it can guilt them into doing it.
This is just such an easy fix. Tennis can turn these things into two-week World Cup events. Bring all the countries together in one session in one place, play matches two out of three sets, and turn it into a tournament.
I’ve railed on this before, and an ITF official told me it wouldn’t work because there are countries whose entire tennis federation budget comes from low-level Davis Cup ties. Even Argentina, I was told, got its entire puny $2 million a year budget that way.
Fine. Then let the lower levels play things the way they are now in an attempt to qualify for the World Cup of Tennis. There has to be some way to make this interesting in a modern era. If you’re trying to grow the game, and add fans, you can’t do it with such a complicated event.
Who wants to follow a season that runs one week now, one week in a few months, one week a few months after that, with losers splintering off into multi-tiered loser brackets along the way?
No one has that kind of an attention span anymore.
But if you put the top countries together in a World Cup, then you can cut out two weeks from top players’ schedules. Twice that, actually, when you consider all the travel and practice time that would be saved.
Players are always complaining about the season being too long. And it is grueling. With a World Cup of Tennis, you shorten the season and more importantly:
You have an event that fans could really get behind. It would be seen as another major. Players could rest with the extra time off, and would have to give up only two weeks a year for Davis Cup. They’d do it. And general sports fans could understand it.
Which would make advertisers happy. Which would make TV happy.
Even better, tennis could actually use some of the time saved to add something it really needs.
A major in Asia.
But whatever. The ITF thinks it knows better. And that’s why we got matches such as Roger Federer vs. some guy named Ilija Bozoljac and Stan Wawrinka vs. Dusan Lajovic to determine whether Switzerland or Serbia is better at tennis.
Maybe Serena and Sloane will be back in April when the U.S. plays France in a World Group playoff – loser’s bracket — with the purpose only of being in the winner’s bracket in 2015?
Don’t count on it. I’m thinking Williams is more likely to be in Maui.