Saturday, April 7, 2007
Spain's Davis Cup team could have used the No. 2 player in the world
By John Delong
Mr. Rafael Nadal
Manacor, Mallorca, Spain
Greetings from Winston-Salem, N.C., where the United States won both singles rubbers yesterday to take a 2-0 lead over your Spanish Davis Cup teammates in the quarterfinal tie you decided to pull out of last week.
Just writing to say we all wish you were here.
Sorry you couldn't make it.
But thanks, anyway.
Really and sincerely, thank you so much. Thank you for being the No. 2 player in the world and helping sell the tickets and making it the largest crowd at a Davis Cup tie in the U.S. in the last 17 years. They announced a sellout of 14,453, and outside of some empty seats in the top few rows of one section in the upper deck, that was pretty close to accurate.
Thank you so much for going to the Wimbledon final last year and scaring the Americans into picking an indoor hardcourt and coming here instead of heading elsewhere to play on grass again, as they usually do in these situations. The only other time the U.S. has played a home tie against Spain on anything other than grass, Clark Graebner was playing Juan Gisbert in 1968.
Thanks for losing to James Blake in the past on various hardcourts so that the decision to come to Winston-Salem was even easier. Nobody would like Blake's odds against you on grass, but here at Joel Coliseum on an indoor hardcourt, a win was feasible.
Thank you for beating Andy Roddick so badly in Indian Wells that this tie got hyped as the biggest tie on American soil since, oh, maybe 1992 when the U.S. beat Switzerland to win the Davis Cup in Fort Worth. That's why fans from 48 states were here, according to ticket order forms, even when you weren't.
Thanks for giving everyone here several weeks of electric anticipation before you made it public that you weren't coming, regardless of when you knew you were going to rest up for the clay-court season. Shattered dreams are better than no dreams, at least here in Winston-Salem.
And those who want to see the U.S. win its first Davis Cup since 1995 pass along their thanks for not showing up, because this one is over and the U.S. is on to the semifinals as soon as the Bryan brothers take care of business in doubles this afternoon.
Make no mistake, Rafa, most of the people who bought up all the tickets within two weeks were hoping to see you come to Winston-Salem. Even the biggest diehard American tennis fans, including the Net Heads, wanted to see you up close and personal. You've got that rock-star icon aura, Rafa. The folks around here are used to seeing low-key, laid-back, no-charisma athletes like Tim Duncan, not you. On the court, you're still not Roger Federer, but off it you're John, Paul, George and Ringo all rolled into one, and you know it.
And make no mistake, most of the people here don't really hold it against you for not coming even if this foot injury stuff still sounds really dubious. They know the deal. They know you've got the clay-court season to get ready for, and they understand that if you were ever going to skip a Davis Cup tie, now's the time - in April, on an indoor hardcourt surface that the Americans doctored perfectly to their liking, in a year when the draw plays out so badly that Spain wouldn't have had that great a chance of winning the Davis Cup anyway.
They know that the Davis Cup format is drawing criticism from all over, and they understand that maybe it will be good for all in the long run if you and Federer and other top players eventually force the International Tennis Federation to come up with a feasible format alternative.
Hey, the weather turned really cold here yesterday, so a lot of folks in Winston-Salem would have rather been on a sunny beach on your beautiful island, too. Mallorca in the spring, with your sore feet propped up - truly, Rafa, nobody would begrudge you that if they really thought about it.
You did miss some pretty good stuff, though.
You missed Blake playing with great emotion and regaining his confidence and routing your teammate Tommy Robredo, who as you know has a terrible Davis Cup record and probably wouldn't have been here had you shown up.
You missed a passionate news conference afterward as Blake talked about his family and how he considered his teammates brothers and how strong the bond is among the U.S. team, how committed they are to winning the Davis Cup this year. Blake said some nice things about you, by the way. Wished you were here, but understood why you weren't.
You missed seeing Fernando Verdasco jump out to a 5-2 lead in the first set against Roddick, only to see Roddick roar back for an easy and emphatic straight-sets win.
And you missed having a good smoke with David Ferrer back near the loading dock. Ferrer didn't play yesterday, and he took at least two smoking breaks while Robredo and Verdasco were getting stomped inside by Americans with healthy feet.
Which leads to another thing you probably need to know in case you ever come to Winston-Salem some day.
Winston-Salem is an old tobacco town. Winston and Salem, smoke 'em if you got em. This is not the American town that is known for its witches. That's Salem, Mass. When your teammates got here they were under the mistaken impression that this place was haunted, and that apparently made them a little spooked.
We're not haunted.
We're just sad you're not here.
But we say thanks, anyway.
• John Delong can be reached at email@example.com