Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Davis Cup 2005: A Final Reflection before the Finale

Once again it's Davis Cup final time and more on the finalists Slovakia and Croatia later and the significance of these two small and newly fomed nations making the final of the largest annual global team sporting event.

Personally, I am a huge fan of Davis Cup, that might me make to be "a dumb nationalist" to some, which is rich considering that my country hasn't made the World Group and I don't see tennis becoming a boom sport in Norway anytime soon. This is the point, that the Davis Cup brings tennis to many different places around the world and is not about the money, though this has been changing for the worse like Filippo Volandri wanting more money to compete for Italy in their play off tie against Spain, it shouldn't be about the cash, of course these players are professionals and they are looked after well enough when they play for their countries. While Pippo was being selfish, Andreas Seppi stepped up and beat Ferrero from two sets to love down in his first live Davis Cup match. As these matches are different from the regular circuit and the Slams it gives them an extra edge. Considering it's a team event, and they are not playing for themselves solely as they're no ranking points on offer, it's the team aspect that is brings out the best and worst in some players..

Thomas Muster articulates this feeling well. " It’s not about just the players, it’s about a nation. It brings the national emotions into it – a nation playing against another brings a lot of interesting emotions up." There are many examples of players playing above themselves in the Davis Cup environment, also others that struggle with the extra pressure and it's a great test to see how they handle the situation. The first round doubles in the Swiss vs the Netherlands tie, when Yves Allegro and George Bastl were down two sets to love and match point, they fought so hard and won this match. Paul Henri-Mathieu back into a live fifth match and managed to win against the Swedes, though old wounds were opened up later on in the tournament.

The quarter finals had some interesting results with Argentina going to Australia and beating them on grass. The Australians thought they had it all worked out that they were going to win, but fine performances from David Nalbandian and Mariano Puerta surprised the hosts to win 4-1. The Lleyton Hewitt and Guillermo Coria match was entertaining and had plenty of feeling, say what you want about these guys, but both of them love playing for their countries and it showed clearly in this match. Nalbandian does not have motivational problems when he is playing singles for Argentina, as he has been known to have on the tour. Paul-Henri Mathieu had the nightmares of playing Russia again in the deciding match, though unlike against Mikhail Youzhny, he had no chance and those demons which he thought were gone, came back to haunt him.

Argentina fell at the semi finals again, Coria wasn't able to handle Beck and Hrbaty on the fast indoor surface and the Slovaks marched to an easy victory. Argentina and Spain have the best overall depth on tour, but Argentina need to win some Davis Cup crowns soon, before this generation gets too old, nothing is guaranteed in professional sport.

Here comes the last part of this review, the comments from people bitching about Davis Cup. I mean cause the Americans don't care about it, doesn't mean the rest of the world thinks like that. The Davis Cup tradition is alive and well in Argentina, France, Spain, Australia, Sweden (Robin Söderling excepted) and especially in Croatia and Slovakia as well, it is a traditional event and fortunately an all-inclusive one, unlike previously when it was just amomg the elite. Thankfully most of the top players are making an effort to play it and yes Roger Federer, the excuse that there is a poor number 2 player isn't valid as Stanislas Wawrinka has improved a lot and with the right draw and improvement from Stani there could be a Davis Cup crown for the Swiss.

As for changes to it, the best thing would be only to have 14 teams in the World Group. This would mean the previous years finalists would have byes into the quarter finals, though all teams that lost in the first round and quarter finals would be made to fight for their place in the World Group. This won't happen as the ITF would lose money from this, which they would be not keen on and a lot of their revenue is generated through staging Davis Cup ties.

I will finish on a quote from Yannick Noah about Davis Cup in an interview.
You once said: "What I love about Davis Cup it is not about contracts, schedules and business. This tradition is much bigger than dollars. What you do in Davis Cup is sacrifice for others." Sampras and Agassi complain that the Davis Cup format is too demanding and that it should be played every other year is there anything you’d change?

Noah: No! I wouldn’t change anything. Every Davis Cup weekend, you have players playing for their lives, whether it’s in Zimbabwe or in Germany or in Korea or in Brazil – all the different geographical zones, all the different divisions. Davis Cup is the most beautiful event in tennis. Now you have two spoilt guys who want to change the whole thing because they are powerful. This is the most selfish thing. I’ve never heard them talk about the beautiful qualities of Davis Cup. Therefore, I hope these two guys are not going to break up the Davis Cup.

Thankfully they haven't been able to do that, but there always seems to be someone around that will try and change it and not for the right reasons.


Choupi said...

Well, I'm French and I'm particularly attached to Davis Cup. Can I be considered a "dumb nationalist" too? Maybe...Though I don't see why I should be dumber than some others. I mean, I support my country in DC but I'm not like those fanatics, booing the opponents and all that stuff. I've had the incredible chance to attend a DC tie this year, for the 1st time live. It was in Strasbourg, France vs Sweden. I was there only for the doubles but it was like a kid's dream come true. I mean, tennis isn't really very popular around here, compared to other sports such as football. And, unless being registered to cable or satellite, you hardly get coverage of tennis events. Until last year, I didn't get cable, so I know what I'm talking about. All I had was RG and DC. I have bathed in that culture of the players sacrificing for the team, for the country. It will sound silly to some, I know but my reply is simple. Go and attend a DC tie live, share the mood, that incredible unconditional support once in your life, and only then, call me stupid if you feel like. DC isn't a matter of individuals. It's the addition of all hopes, gathered together, players's as well as crowd's. The countries which haven't gotten that msg clear and sound can't win DC. DC has something magical in that it can bring a player to make things for his country he'd never would have dreamt of doing on the pro tour, only for himself. It can also lead to the other side of the coin. A player failing in DC, can easily pass from the status of national hero to the one of national traitor...PHM could tell more about it in details. And of course, this leaves wounds that are hard to erase.

To those who think that the DC lovers are dumb nationalists, unable to support another country than theirs, I'd say "stop kidding yourself". Sure that the support to your own fellows is important and undeniable, but if you're what I would call, a true DC lover, you can support every team you consider worthy winning the final. And that is precisely why I will cheer for Croatia in the upcoming final.

Marc said...

Excellent points there by Choupi and it seems that Davis Cup does have some particular image problem in certain nations.

It seems like the Americans as was said by GWH von Helvete are the ones who don't think it's interesting and there was the whole Sampras thing in 95 when he was the man and was the star of the team that won it last for them, then claim he didn't get any recognition because of it.

The extreme emotions are something that can't be replicated in a normal tournament, the 2002 final is an example of that. Paul-Henri Mathieu was so devastated understandably after this experience.