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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Oct 1, 2008

10/1/2008 1:50:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page

Oct 1, 2008

As Simone Bolelli smarts from a lifetime ban from Davis Cup and Olympics participation by the Italian Tennis Federation for skipping their recent DC tie against Latvia and Argentina battles that other ITF over the 2008 Davis Cup final venue, I can't help but feel peppered with fleas by the whole darn thing.

Let me get the PR portion of the program out of the way first. Davis Cup is AWESOME. See how I capitalized it? That's emphasis. Ditto Fed Cup. The fact is, in a sport so fabulously selfish and individualistic, putting the 'I' in team puts all our favorites together in a way we never see. Where else would Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez hoist Rafael Nadal onto their shoulders without even thinking about 'accidentally' dropping him on his multi-million dollar trasero?

Where else would we see the alternate personalities of players like David Nalbandian, Anna Chakvetadze, Francesca Schiavone and Marat Safin, who all famously burst forth with (some might say psychotic) frenzy when playing for their countries?

Where else are you going to see showcased so fantastically how international the sport of tennis really is? Dig deeper than the World Group to find random countries facing off (Pakistan v. Oman, 2009 Davis Cup Asia/Oceana Zone Group II first round y'all!). What great events these are for smaller countries that don't have their own major tournaments. And what a great way to discover there's a place called Oman!

Where else will you see Nadal being carried?
Lastly, where else are you going to find fans painting themselves en masse and demonstrating with flags and Banger Styx (yes, they have a name) that we too are insanely nationalistic and (most might say) psychotic?

But let's face facts. Something is rotten in Denmark (2008 Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I Nation y'all!). The Cups are an imperfect couple of events that share the same fundamental, gnawing, flea-biting flaws:

1. For the average fan, ties leap out of nowhere like ninjas or Jay Mohr sitcoms and vanish into thin air just as fast. Even for the most hardcore of us, because ties are spread out over a year, it has the same effect of spreading out of all fourteen installments of the final Pirates of the Caribbean movie. They're independently enjoyable but you can't remember any of the connective tissue (that's what we call it in The Biz). Remember in the DC quarters when Czech Tomas Berdych handed Russia the tie by retiring against Nikolay Davydenko in the deciding fifth rubber? And how that wouldn't have been possible had Novak Djokovic not handed Russia the tie in the first round by retiring against Nikolay Davydenko? (Davydenko practices witchcraft!) And how Philipp Kohlschreiber's blown match point against David Ferrer put Spain into the semifinals? That last one was a lie but you were so quick to believe because, like me, you have absolutely no long-term memory.

To that end I'm not alone when I say smush both events into a single week (or two, whatever blows your skirt up) and make it an Event (capital E, see earlier note re: emphasis.) The argument is lost tradition, lost revenue. To this I offer Fed Cup in La Jolla, California, in which my family could've filled the stands. Admittedly we're a big family and we are talking about La Jolla, California, and not, well, seemingly anywhere else on this tennis-loving earth. But still. Compressing the festivities makes The Cups as promotable as a Dancing With the Stars contestant (and some of them can't even walk! Oh Cloris Leachman...).

2. Players play when they feel like it, either ruining the fun when they don't show up (Richard Gasquet) or when they do: Next year, the U.S. drew Switzerland first round. So basically if Fed plays, we lose. If Fed skips, we win. This is a country competition? Not to mention, it just honks me off that the Williams Sisters or Maria Sharapova or insert heavy hitter here can just decide on a whim if or when they want to show up. It's embarrassing either way. They're bullies coming to Israel to beat up on poor defenseless Shahar Peer or they're throwing the lower ranked players left to pick up the slack under the bus.

I say set your team at the beginning of the year and require them to, if not play, then at least show up. If Fed decides to play in March (in what would be his first first round DC appearance since 2004), HE SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO ATTEND EVERY TIE THEREAFTER. Oops, I hit the caps lock key. I'm really not on the pulpit with that one. If they make up some bogus excuse for not making the trek, then void their results to that point. Oh yeah, I'm cracking down. All that said, if they just adopt my last suggestion and hold both Cups over a week or two, this problem fixes itself and no one gets hurt.

3. Last but not least, I'm over the surface crap. Argentina, with the right to choose the surface of the final, is putting up their dukes over their desire to use an indoor carpeted venue to "favor sporting advantage," aka use whatever means necessary to diffuse the force of nature that is Rafael Nadal. Why should anyone have that advantage? Making surface selection part of the tactical decision takes away from the pure tennis of it all. What pleasure is derived from watching Ahsha Rolle take on Svetlana Kuznetsova on clay? It's like the outcome is decided before the matches even start, and that doesn't exactly add to the entertainment value on the day.

Mix it up. Have the surface randomly assigned by a computer. Let the truly strong country survive.

Will Davis Cup and Fed Cup survive without changing a thing? Of course. Will Jay Mohr get yet another sitcom? Yes. But be warned, I've got a remote and I'm not afraid to use it. And I can't emphasize that enough.