Why Davis Cup Must Be Changed

Why Davis Cup Must Be Changed

The opening round of the 2007 Davis Cup this past weekend was intriguing across the board. Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers led the U.S. past the Czech Republic and the imposing Tomas Berdych on clay, which was no mean feat. Russia held back Chile. Germany toppled Croatia. France and Sweden advanced. It was fun to follow it all on the Davis Cup web site as the results unfolded.

Davis Cup 2007, Photo by ThomasG86

But there was one major clash between nations that did not live up to expectations, and did not even come close to what many anticipated. That, of course, was the battle between Spain and Switzerland. When those two countries were drawn to play each other, everyone relished the thought of a Sunday afternoon collision featuring the game’s two best players. What could possibly surpass Roger Federer facing Rafael Nadal in the opening round of the Davis Cup?

It was not to be. Federer chose not to represent his nation and Nadal was injured and did not compete. Spain stopped Switzerland 3-2. And now the critics will blame Federer for not making the journey to Palexpo, Switzerland. They will say he should have been there for his country. They will contend that he owed it to Switzerland to give them the benefit of his talent and big match temperament. They will claim that it is up to every leading player to make himself available any time his nation calls.

I will not join the critics. Federer had every right to not play Davis Cup. Why? Because the scheduling of the event is ludicrous. How can you ask the world No. 1 to be ready to perform at peak level less than two weeks after capturing the season’s first Grand Slam event in Melbourne? Federer has a serious chance this year at the height of his powers to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the Grand Slam. The key to his 2006 campaign— when he made it to all four major finals and won three of the premier prizes— was pacing himself superbly.

In 2006, he played 17 tournaments and won 12 of them. He played 97 matches, which is an awful lot of tennis in one year. But whenever he sensed he might be overtaxing himself, he wisely stepped aside. After losing a marathon five set final to Nadal at the Italian Open that lasted over five hours, he did not fulfill his commitment to the next Masters Series event in Hamburg. He had no other choice. Later in the year— after winning back to back tournaments indoors in Madrid and Basel— he pulled out of the Paris Masters Series tournament to avoid playing three weeks in a row.

I am sure his thinking was much the same this time around with Davis Cup. He has a demanding year ahead of him and needs to make certain to be fresh and fit for all of the Grand Slam events. To play Davis Cup so soon after Australia would have been foolish. Like all top players, Federer has to pick and choose his commitments very carefully. He made the best possible decision when he elected not to represent Switzerland this time around. Had there been an extra week or two to recover from the campaign “Down Under”, Federer might well have been there for his nation.

In the 1990’s, when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were at and near the top of the rankings, there were times when they played Davis Cup. But in other cases, they chose not to do it. I felt then— and still do— that they were fully justified not to play. They were looking after themselves. Federer is doing the same thing now. This is, after all, an individual sport. The players enjoy the team spirit that develops when they join forces in Davis Cup competition, but the year is too crowded for them to do everything that is asked of them. That is an impossible task.

So don’t blame Roger Federer; blame the schedule. It is time for the powers that be to rethink the whole concept of Davis Cup. The tradition of home and away ties has tremendous appeal, but to spread four World Group rounds out over the course of a year is not a good game plan. The time has come once and for all to play the Davis Cup at one site every year over a two to three week period. The public would have a much easier time following it. The players would get much more excited about performing. Everyone would benefit.

If the Davis Cup was held at one location every year, the television exposure worldwide would inevitably rise dramatically. Roger Federer and all other leading players should not be put in the position of choosing between their nation and themselves. That doesn’t make any sense. The International Tennis Federation should address this paramount issue and find a way to make Davis Cup as important as it could be. They should find out whether or not the top nations would be open to a true Davis Cup season rather than spreading out the dates across winter, spring, summer and fall. Otherwise, it will not ever fully capture the imagination of the sports public, or the game’s greatest players.

In the meantime, don’t criticize Roger Federer. He did what he needed to do and protected himself for the rest of 2007. He was demonstrating once more what a remarkable professional he is.

The above article was taken from Steve’s BLOG, posted Monday, February 12, 2007