Saturday, December 5, 2009

Davis Cup Final 2009: Spain Again

So, Spain has won the Davis Cup once again. It's only fitting. Spain is, without question, the dominant nation in men's tennis in the current century. They've already won the Cup four times in the past ten years, including the past two. There are other countries that can field a formidable foursome on demand: USA, Russia, France and Argentina are all pretty reliable. But no one other than Spain could reasonably leave two such high-caliber players as Tommy Robredo and Juan Carlos Ferrero on the bench. Spain has won its last 18 home ties and its last 20 on clay. Home on clay? No contest.

Davis Cup is a far from perfect enterprise but of all the events on the tennis calendar, it does best by doubles. The doubles match is always on Day 2, meaning it is always a consequential match. If the two nations split the two singles matches on Day 1, whoever wins the doubles match has a huge advantage going into Day 3. If one nation sweeps the Day 1 matches, the doubles match becomes a matter of survival, as was the case today.

Relatively few of the doubles teams on the regular tour hail from the same nation but Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez (Left-Handed Spanish Cover Model #3) have played this role in Davis Cup enough to compete with anyone, especially since they can usually count on teammates like Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer to carry the load in singles. Even a well-tuned team like the Bryan brothers doesn't often see a team of two south paws with howitzer forehands. Today, they faced Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. The Spaniards' strategy was both obvious and sensible: attack Berdych, the less experienced doubles player of the pair. The Tennis Channel commentators criticized them for trying so many lobs over Berdych but it's tough to argue with a straight-sets win.

Davis Cup is kind of funky as far as scheduling is concerned. Despite its high entertainment value, it doesn't draw anywhere near as much interest as the Slams do. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated has suggested golf's Ryder Cup might be a good model to follow but I think international soccer's format offers much greater possibilities: a Tennis World Cup every four years with zonal competitions in off years and qualification rounds interspersed throughout. It would still be a neat trick figuring out how to fit it all into the calendar but the ATP already has a team competition in Dusseldorf just before the French Open so a model does exist.

The aptly named, yet marketing-insensitive dead rubbers will be played tomorrow. But otherwise, the tennis season is essentially over. The tour begins anew on January 3rd in Brisbane, Australia. Davis Cup resumes in March. The USA will travel to Serbia which means having to contend with Novak Djokovic in singles and Nenad Zimonjic in doubles, most likely on clay if the climate allows. In other words, they pretty much have to win the doubles match to have a shot. It shall be a tall order.

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