Monday September 19th, 2011

1. No rest for the weary: We barely finished the U.S. Open trophy presentation and, voila, it's on to Davis Cup play! So it goes in tennis, where the schedule resembles those calendars in black-and-white movies, the pages flying off at breakneck speed. Unfortunately, the playing demands -- coupled with travel -- exacts a price on the athletes' bodies and, by extension, the quality of tennis. In Belgrade, the Serbians were unable to defend their title, as the visiting Argentines scored an "upset grande," helped by the fatigue of the hosts.

With Argentina leading 2-1, Serbia called Novak Djokovic off the bench. Djokovic was than a week removed from his U.S. Open title and had hoped to avoid duty. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Unfortunately there were no heroics. After a taut first set against Juan Martin del Potro, Djokovic retired with a lower back injury. In as much as it counts, this marked only his third "defeat" of 2011. In a sadly ironic way, by making himself available, he may have undercut his claims to the "best ever" season.

2. Spain routs France: In Cordoba, the Spanish team didn't merely win, but absolutely trounced France, 4-1. True, the result of this tie was likely decided as soon as the hosts laid down an outdoor clay court. But note these scorelines:

Rafael Nadal (ESP) d. Richard Gasquet (FRA) 6-3, 6-0, 6-1. David Ferrer (ESP) d. Gilles Simon (FRA) 6-1, 6-4, 6-1. Michael Llodra/Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) d. Feliciano Lopez/Fernando Verdasco (ESP) 6-1, 6-2, 6-0. Rafael Nadal (ESP) d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) 6-0, 6-2, 6-4. Fernando Verdasco (ESP) d. Richard Gasquet (FRA) 6-2, 6-1.

Note, too, that, less than a week from a grueling U.S. Open final weekend, Nadal had hoped Spain's 2-0 lead after Friday's opening singles rubbers would allow him to rest come Sunday. But when Llodra and Tsonga romped past Lopez and Verdasco in Saturday's doubles, it was back to work for the world No. 2 on Sunday.

What little drama there was came when Nadal -- moving into the position of ATP labor leader -- complained about the schedule, made veiled references to a potential work stoppage and suggested that the talk that surfaced during the U.S. Open was not simply empty rhetoric.

Stay tuned here.

3. Champions Series: Not for nothing do they call tennis the sport of a lifetime. They may be in their 40s and 50s -- in some cases, two full decades removed from their playing primes -- but six faces on American tennis' equivalent of Mt. Rushmore (Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Michael Chang and Pete Sampras), kick off the Champions Series this week. A cross between a tennis league and concert tour, the series will wend its way its way across the U.S. these next few weeks.

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