Nadal-less Spain was well worthy of Davis Cup conquest over U.S.
You could hardly imagine a greater contrast in venues as two American sports teams contested high-profile events over the weekend. The women's soccer team was in Germany, playing against Marta, her talented Brazilian teammates and, at times, the World Cup referee. The Davis Cup team was literally in Andy Roddick's backyard of Austin, Texas, playing before thousands of frenzied supporters against a Spanish team lacking Rafael Nadal.
One thing you could say about both events: The right team won.
As much as captain Jim Courier and the fans refused to acknowledge it, David Ferrer is a better tennis player than Andy Roddick or Mardy Fish -- on any surface. He's a tireless mover, a veritable backstop on defense, an aggressive warrior when it matters, and ready to play best-of-nine, if necessary. Credit both Americans for putting up a tremendous fight against Ferrer, but there was nothing at all surprising about the outcome of those matches. The only thing that could have pulled the U.S. through was the crowd -- always a huge factor in the fabulous Davis Cup atmosphere -- and it didn't happen.
Credit Feliciano Lopez, too, for setting the tone of Spain's victory with his opening-match conquest of Fish, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 8-6. Lopez doesn't get a lot of respect in the American tennis community. Many feel he's a guy always on the verge of choking in the clutch, and it was amusing to see him confront Justin Gimelstob for Tennis Channel's on-court interview after the match. Lopez was furious at Gimelstob, and told him so via Twitter, after Gimelstob suggested at Wimbledon that Lopez "spends too much time looking in the mirror" at the cost of his game. (For the record, Gimelstob apologized profusely, and the interview went without a hitch.)
The fact is that Lopez is on a bit of a roll, having reached the quarterfinals (including a win over Roddick) at Wimbledon, and he didn't at all mind the Indoor Hard Premiere court chosen by the American team. The Spaniards raised a big ruckus about this at first, but their complaints carried no weight; the home country can choose whatever surface it prefers (within ITF guidelines), and this marked a refreshingly radical departure from the last U.S.-Spain meeting in the Davis Cup, played on clay in Madrid.
Roddick will spend a good part of the summer regretting his 7-6 (9), 7-5, 6-3 loss to Ferrer, as he had three set points on his serve in the first set. Then there was that late, clever challenge by Spain's captain, Albert Costa, ruining Roddick's momentum and lending hints of the disaster to come.
Roddick was walking off the court, with a 7-5 tiebreaker victory in hand, when Costa asked for a challenge on a Ferrer forehand that had apparently sailed long. The replay showed that the ball was in, the tiebreaker resumed, and Roddick wasn't able to recover.
"I was almost to the chair when the call got challenged," he said. "They didn't do anything wrong; they were well within their rights. I just wish there was some sort of time rule on it. There isn't, and Costa was heads-up and it ended up winning them the first set. It was the smart thing to do."
Roddick wasted a 3-0 lead in the second set, and as the final set slipped away from him, he ended the match on a double-fault. Not exactly what he had in mind as he imagined how the weekend would play out. Wisely, Roddick gave all credit to Ferrer, saying, "The guy doesn't get enough respect. He's been a top-10 player for eight years now. He's beaten Rafa, he's beaten everybody. The guy can play."
It took all of Ferrer's storied energy and endurance to outlast Fish, who took two tough losses but fought hard, gaining admiration from everyone involved. "The worst part of it," Fish said after the team fell 0-2 down after the first day, "is having to go back in the locker room and see everyone, you know, feeling like you let them down."
After the fateful defeat on Sunday, Fish could think only of Roddick, who so badly wanted to be the charming, triumphant host of the Austin party. "Knowing how much Andy wanted it to be here, to not deliver and let him take that last match, in front of his home fans," Fish said, "that's the hardest part for me."
One can only imagine how Roddick felt. As "roughly the mayor of the town," as Courier joked, he was on intimate terms with the crowd. His wife, Brooklyn Decker, was all decked out in red and blue. And he never even got the chance to play a deciding fifth rubber on Sunday -- his specialty, thanks to a 12-0 lifetime record in Davis Cup-clinching matches.
It's good to know that next year's schedule won't allow for the preposterous juxtaposition of Wimbledon and Davis Cup within a few days' time -- but the news isn't that great. The quarterfinals will fit comfortably into the second week of April, but the semifinals and World Group playoffs will be held Sept. 14-16 -- right after the U.S. Open, with the finals (Nov. 16-18) right after the ATP World Tour Championships.
What can be done? Not much. The tennis calendar is overcrowded with money-making events in exotic locations full of bigwig corporate types who can't wait to lavish tremendous perks upon the sport. It was good to see Nadal take some shots at the ITF for its Davis Cup scheduling, and he's already on record for claiming the tour is much too long and demanding. But there won't be any significant adjustments; no chance. It's the sport that never really goes away.
• So when it comes to American tennis, in the wake of such a discouraging couple of weeks, we're left with John Isner winning a grass-court tournament (Newport) the week
• From London to Austin, from grass- to hardcourts, from respectful silence to bedlam. The only continuity between Wimbledon and Davis Cup was the best-of-five singles format.
• ESPN's takeover of the Wimbledon coverage means constant live coverage, a welcome relief from NBC's tape-delay philosophy. But this development is another blow to those who enjoy the most entertaining and informative three-person booth in tennis: Ted Robinson, John McEnroe and Mary Carillo. McEnroe has the power to jump networks at will, so he'll be working the U.S. Open for ESPN and CBS. But ESPN has shown no interest in Robinson, and Carillo probably burned that bridge when she walked out on the network during last year's Open. Not that she's interested in returning; Carillo was disgusted with ESPN's overly fawning coverage and had problems with some of the network's stuffy higher-ups. It says here that if you've got issues with Carillo, you're on the wrong side of the fence.
• Discouraging news regarding Milos Raonic, who slipped on the grass during Wimbledon and injured his hip so badly, he required surgery. His timetable says he'll be ready for the U.S. Open, but you have to wonder.
• Former British Davis Cup captain David Lloyd was absolutely right when he said Andy Murray should do something about that awful facial hair and try shaving before a big match -- if for no other reason than to look professional. Murray's reply: "It doesn't make a difference. It's whoever works the hardest, plays the best. He's entitled to his opinion, but I think he should stick to what he does best, and that's building leisure clubs."