Even with a record turnout a few years ago in Birmingham, Alabama for the Davis Cup tie between the U.S and Switzerland and complete coverage by the Tennis Channel of this week’s tie between Serbia and the U.S., I can guarantee you that, aside from real die-hard fans, few in the U.S. will pay attention to the scores. And I’m one of them.
Why is that?
When I recently interviewed International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Owen Davidson, himself a member of five winning Australian Davis Cup teams, he expressed something which I’ve felt for a long time after I asked him what he thought about Davis Cup today.
“Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like Davis Cup is as important in the United States as it is in other parts of the world which is a shame. I don’t know exactly why. I think Davis Cup is one of the most important parts of world tennis. And they may want to look at the format but I think it would be a shame for some of the smaller countries that take such prestige in playing to have to play once every two or three years instead of every year. I would hate to see it go away just because there isn’t as much interest in the United States.”
The last time I vaguely cared about Davis Cup was when John McEnroe led the U.S. team against Sweden way back in the early 80’s. Since then, even with top U.S. stars like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and James Blake playing, my interest waned. It’s not that I don’t respect the prestige and history of the event, but it all just seems like not that much is at stake whether the U.S. wins or loses.
Perhaps it has to do with the U.S., aside from the Olympics, being not really interested in other countries and their sports teams. That’s changed in the last ten years with the growth in the popularity of soccer and its World Cup. But still soccer hasn’t taken over America like expected. Or maybe it has to do with the tradition of naming our sports teams “world champions” when they win the Super Bowl or World Series in baseball even though the only teams that play in those “world” events are U.S. teams.
Or is it something else? Is it due to the mainstream U.S. sports media not hyping Davis Cup enough? Even ESPN, which used to cover Davis Cup when no one else would, has given it over to Tennis Channel when ratings dropped after the glory days of McEnroe. Even if the young U.S. Davis Cup team, now led by John Isner and Sam Querrey were to win the whole thing, it would barely show up on most sports news sites.
I think the USTA and Davis Cup, which recently gained HP as a new sponsor, do a tremendous job of promoting the ties. But something has to change. But what? Would having it every other year, like golf’s Ryder Cup, do it? And even if the format or timing is changed, is it fair to other countries and their fans that really do care?
Whatever the case, the U.S. team deserves to be commended for taking the time and effort to play Davis Cup even when, for the most part, many in their country don’t even care.
Let me know what you think!