By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
Davis Cup is one of the most exciting tournaments in the tennis world. However, it is also one of the most enigmatic and frustrating. It does not even come close to the Slams in terms of importance of prestige. But for some fans, a Davis Cup match can be so much more meaningful than any Grand Slam match.
First of all, Davis Cup actually allows the fans to get involved. All of those fan-kept “rules” about etiquette and niceties go out the window in Davis Cup. You are the fans of the home team, and that means you do whatever you can to help your team win. An opponent makes an error, you cheer loudly. The opponent double-faults, you can clap. The opponent begins to argue with the umpire, you never allow him to live it down. It might be a competition of countries, but the basis of this tournament really is the fans.
And that, above all else, is why this tournament can be so incredibly frustrating for the fans. Often, the matches mean more to the fans than to the players themselves. We often don’t see the top players compete, whether due to fatigue (since Davis Cup always follows shortly after a big tournament) or due to an unwillingness to risk injury. Sometimes it just isn’t feasible for these top guys to play Davis Cup on top of the rest of their schedules.
This creates a curious case where Davis Cup doesn’t really represent the best countries in the world. We’ll leave aside, for now, the fact that one player can essentially win an entire tie by himself (by winning two singles matches and carrying his doubles team, as Bjorn Borg was famous for doing). But often, we just don’t get the best of a country actually being represented.
Take, for example, the first-round match of Spain vs. Canada from this year. On paper, this match is a blowout. Canada has three players in the top 100. Spain has 4 in the top 25 (3 if you don’t count a recovering Nadal). Now, this match could have been interesting anyway. Canada was the home country and chose a fast indoor court that suited their players much more than the Spanish. Milos Raonic’s massive serve can make any match close. Canada was the upstart country looking to pull off a massive upset against world power Spain. There were plenty of storylines and a good amount of intrigue to go with this match. Unfortunately, none of that is what we got.
Most of the top Spanish players in the world just couldn’t be troubled to play this tie. Spain brought in 3 singles players for this tie. They were, respectively, the #5, #8, and #11 ranked Spaniards at the moment. None of Spain’s current or former top 10 players (Nadal, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, and Fernando Verdasco) could show up. I’m sure they all had good reasons and won’t go into individual ones here. That’s not the point. The point is that this is indicative of the lack of importance many top players give Davis Cup.
We were supposed to have a blowout here with some upset potential for Canada. Instead, what we got was a blowout by Canada. In the three live singles rubbers, the Spaniards won exactly one set—Albert Ramos took the first set off Raonic in a tiebreak. After that, it was all Canada. Frank Dancevic slaughtered Marcel Granollers, the top Spanish player competing, to the tune of only losing 5 games. And Raonic finished things off in the first rubber on Sunday, beating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets as well.
Most of what comes out of this tie is the great story of an up-and-coming tennis country using home soil to beat the #1 seeded country. But let’s be fair and clear. The Spanish team that competed this past weekend was not the same team that earned that #1 ranking. And that, above all, is the enigma of Davis Cup. It means so much to the fans, but circumstances keep the players from being able to give it their all. Would better Spanish players have shown up had the tie been in Spain? Almost definitely. But now the Spanish fans won’t get to see their team in later rounds. Davis Cup is an incredible opportunity for the fans, but can only remain that way if the players have enough incentive to actually compete.