Join us now for a weekend recap of the Fed Cup, a well-meaning event that has no sense of time. Grab some Tang, or perhaps that bottle of Rheingold you've been saving. Bring tools: a calculator, maybe an abacus, and above all, some common sense. It's really in short supply around here.
I can't remember watching more than a handful of Fed Cup matches in my life -- mostly because nobody ever seemed to care -- but there was a lot at stake in Birmingham, Ala., with the U.S. team facing Russia. Against all odds, I found myself emotionally involved in a match between
So what year is that, 2011? You can never be sure with this event. In a development so lame as to be inconceivable, the Fed Cup semifinals were overshadowed by preliminary Fed Cup action around the world -- specifically, four sets of "playoffs" to see who qualifies for the World Group
This will always be a problem as long as the Fed Cup, along with the men's Davis Cup, insist on staging their events over months on end. The tour schedules are suffocatingly crowded as it is, with no sense of structure or continuity, so you can understand why the women's tour jumped on an open weekend to stage a global Fed Cup festival.
Make no mistake, though: Those "playoffs" stole every bit of relevance from the semifinals, on many fronts:
• In the Belgium-Estonia tie,
• The chilly relationship between two of the world's most glamorous players,
Jankovic had been disappointed by Ivanovic's desultory performances in prior Fed Cup play, so you can imagine her reaction when Ivanovic bailed out of this one altogether, saying, "After all that has happened lately, it's not the right time for me to be part of the team." Maybe not, but if she played anywhere near form, Ivanovic could have helped Serbia stay in the World Group. As it was, Jankovic defeated
ESPN didn't give a damn about any of this, charting out a 90-minute Sunday
Everyone knows that Venus and Serena march to the whimsy of their personal fairies, and that's fine; they own a bunch of major titles, they have wonderful lifestyles, they haven't burned out, and they're still a huge threat (particularly Serena) at every Grand Slam event.
It's just that the Fed Cup deserves more than their cavalier approach. Serena upset a lot of people when she skipped last year's final against Italy, claiming fatigue, and Venus waited until Wednesday of last week before ruling herself out (with a knee injury) against Russia. That put coach
"If Venus and Serena don't play, it's very tough for me to be supportive of their decision," said
Fernandez, ever cool and composed, held back any negative comments. A more incisive critique came from
I'd love to have seen some weekend footage of Jankovic, Hantuchova, Clijsters, Henin or Stosur on ESPN, but I can see why the network passed on U.S.-Russia. Three cheers for Mattek-Sands' great spirit, and it's a good thing Huber, a South African, became a U.S. citizen three years ago. But it's hardly an impressive win when Russia shows up with just three women, two of whom are Marakova, a first-timer in this realm, and
Even the Oudin-
So we press on now, waiting for the next Fed Cup and Davis Cup action with only a vague notion of how either process works. I would submit this choice to both:
(A) Adhere proudly to your wonderful tradition. Continue watching players abandon their national teams because the event carries so little significance. Rudely interrupt the clay-court season with hard-court demands, or vice versa. Thrill to such riveting terms as "tie" and "rubber." Keep the public utterly in the dark. Hear derisive laughter from the television networks. But, man, what tradition.
(B) Set aside the month of November for both. Nothing else on the tennis schedule, just a month-long, flag-waving festival of national pride. The timing couldn't be better, with the baseball postseason just completed and both the NFL and NBA in early-season stages. Invite the top 16 countries, based on individual rankings. Have the key players take most or all of October off, after the pulsating grind of the U.S. Open, to be totally fresh. All of a sudden, here comes
Clearly, in the eyes of the International Tennis Federation, the answer is (A). See you at Thanksgiving, and bring the Easter eggs.