While most of the sports world was focused on the final of the World Cup and rightly so, many tennis fans still might have kept one eye on the results of the quarterfinal round of Davis Cup which saw a historic win for France over Spain along with wins by Argentina, Czech Republic and Serbia which entered its first ever Davis Cup semifinal. But while I watched the sold out crowd at the Zenith Grande Halle d’Auvergne in Clermont-Ferrand cheer on their French team to victory, I wondered if tennis should look to football’s biggest event as a way to gain back some of its former glory that’s been lost over the last few years.
It’s not like the sports halls this weekend that held the Davis Cup ties were empty and that fans inside didn’t show off their passionate (and in the Serbia/Croatia tie perhaps borderline militant) support. But despite still being a great opportunity for many countries and their players to gain international experience playing other nations, Davis Cup still faces the issue of top players bowing out of competing due to key ties taking place right before or after Grand Slam events. And although the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick have played for their countries in the past, their inconsistent play doesn’t exactly help build interest for upcoming ties, especially in the United States where Davis Cup, aside from diehard fans, has really lost its appeal. Why that is can be attributed to a number of things (lack of consistent coverage by regular sports media and mediocre results by the U.S. team in the last few years), but Davis Cup for many here in the States feels more like a exhibition event rather than a worldwide competition for international honor.
This past January, the ATP Players’ Council, led by Novak Djokovic, floated the idea of reformating Davis Cup to resemble the World Cup in terms having all of the matches take place in a fixed time period rather than strung out during the year along with shortening the actual matches. Although many in the established tennis media poo-poohed the idea, I think Djokovic and the others were on to something. Having Davis Cup every year does seem to negate the importance of it whereas having it every two years would allow interest to build and increase the value and hype of the wins that take place.
For example, look at the tremendous effort put in by Argentina’s David Nalbandian this weekend in his victories over world No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko and world No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny who both played for Russia. Nalbandian, now ranked out of the top 100, showed tremendous form in his wins that, had they happened in a regular ATP tournament, would have generated substantial press. Instead, because he did it during Davis Cup, it only merits mild interest and won’t get the attention it deserves had the wins taken place in an event that had a “World Cup” feel about them.
But getting back to the timing issue, perhaps the final rounds of the World Group zone could happen around October or November at the end of the year when players won’t be thinking about keeping themselves healthy for the Grand Slams while qualifying rounds could take place in the previous “off year”? These aren’t necessarily the best or only ideas, but clearly Davis Cup needs to tinker a bit with its format and schedule in some way or it will continue to face its current issues for some time.
Davis Cup will never be like the World Cup or the Olympics for that matter in terms of bringing huge amounts of worldwide sports fans together to watch and cheer on their nations. But it still has the potential to expose more people to the sport of tennis simply because it’s the one event where players aren’t on court for themselves, but for the name of the country written on the back of their shirts. Let’s hope those in charge of Davis Cup find a way to increase that potential so that the great victories and matches these ties produce get more attention than just inside the sports halls they’re played in.