The first part of this article is interesting, about the DC in general:
Unwieldy cup format makes it tough for patriotic players
February 8, 2006
The Davis Cup runneth over with defections.
Roger Federer, the world's No. 1 tennis player, has bailed out of Switzerland's first-round match against Australia, citing the need to “listen to my body.”
Rafael Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt, the highest-ranking players of Spain and Australia, have listened to their bodies and heard ankles pleading for mercy. Both players have begged out of this week's Davis Cup competition, purportedly to nurse their injuries. Both, however, have agreed to compete next week.
The world's most unwieldy sporting event starts Friday at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club and seven other international sites, but it won't end until Dec. 3 in Parts Unknown. Small wonder, then, that so many leading players get into it looking for a way out.
Competing for one's country is an honor, a privilege and, generally speaking, a great career move. But for the itinerant millionaires of international tennis, the Davis Cup can be daunting. It is an annual event that involves a huge, open-ended commitment. It's like jury duty with line judges.
“The problem is really the schedule is overcrowded,” U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe said yesterday. “I don't think it's a Davis Cup problem, per se. It's a tennis problem.”
A growing tennis problem, it would seem.
Last year, the world's top 15 players all participated in Davis Cup matches. This week, only nine of the top 15 are involved, and just five of the top 11.
Of the last 10 men to win Grand Slam singles titles, only American Andy Roddick will be playing for national pride this weekend. Some of the Davis Cup absences are attributable to legitimate ailments – Argentina's Gaston Gaudio was recently replaced because of a shoulder injury – and Pete Sampras rates a dispensation for being retired. Still, the big picture is problematical.
McEnroe says the problem is the product of a “relentless” schedule, particularly for the top players. Unlike most other sports, the tennis calendar does not conform to a specific season. The Grand Slam events start in January and stretch into September, and even after the U.S. Open there are 17 more events on the ATP calendar.
Hewitt's manager, Rob Aivatoglou, justified his client's withdrawal with simple math. He said each Davis Cup round requires three weeks of preparation and playing and could therefore tie up 12 weeks of a player's time.
“Unfortunately, we're in a position where we're playing pretty close to 11 months of the year,” Roddick said during a media conference yesterday afternoon in La Jolla. “Something's got to give, but I haven't figured out what yet. I want to try to do it all.
“Davis Cup is definitely on the top of my list of priorities, though. We haven't won it (since 1995). That's something that's a huge, huge goal for me personally and for us as a team. It would be tough, not having accomplished that goal, to sit out and not commit to it. I've told the captain that I'm committed to this cause as long as he wants me here. That stands true.”
Roddick's commitment is commendable. At 23, the world's third-ranked player will be competing on his sixth U.S. Davis Cup team this weekend against Romania, and he served previously as a practice partner. Roddick is 17-6 in Davis Cup competition, and he also claims an assist for the 1992 American victory over Switzerland. He was, at the time, 10 years old.
While attending the finals in Fort Worth, Texas, Roddick remembers being struck by the noise the Swiss fans generated by clanging cow bells and resolved to restore America's home-court advantage. With an older brother as an accessory, he scoured the city for ear-splitting equipment, finally settling on a pair of bicycle air horns.
The Roddick brothers stationed themselves on opposite sides of the Tarrant County Center in an effort to counteract the cow bells.
“I asked Jim Courier a couple of years ago if he actually remembered it,” Roddick said. “He goes, 'That was you? God, those things were annoying.' ”
Andy Roddick has never lost the enthusiasm that experience engendered, and that's admirable. Yet it would be unfair and simplistic to expect every top player to be so overtly patriotic in setting his schedule.
Athletes have always valued the chance to compete for their country, but it should not be seen as a never-ending obligation. Just as no one should think less of a soldier who declines to re-enlist, no one should expect a tennis player to play Davis Cup indefinitely.
Great Britain's Tim Henman played 50 Davis Cup matches over 11 years before retiring from the competition last month. A man can only stretch himself so thin for so long.
“How can you blame (him)?” Patrick McEnroe asked. “He finally gets to be in his 30s and says, 'You know, something has to give because the system has not changed. If the system isn't going to change, I've got to protect myself.' ”
If the Davis Cup is to remain relevant, it had better become more user-friendly.
Tim Sullivan: (619) 293-1033; firstname.lastname@example.org