If all goes as the International Federation (and the money men) plan it, this weekend’s Davis Cup semi-final ties will be the last ones in its 118-year history.
Teams will go straight from a first round in February to a multi-team final in November. Or will be it September? We’re still not sure.
So there’s a certain poignancy to it, not the least because France and Spain, both former champions, are playing each other in Lille in one semifinal.
That was where France ended its Davis Cup drought 10 months ago before a huge, jubilant and relieved crowd. It’s a fan case that may well not get the opportunity to cheer so emotionally again. Ever.
On the flip side of that coin, these two notoriously deep tennis nations are fielding squads that are missing many of the top-10 players who have represented them so often over the last decade.
That generation is aging. And so Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon and Gaël Monfils, among others, won’t be taking part.
A lot of irony as yes-voters compete
More irony: France voted FOR the Davis Cup reforms despite the protests of seemingly most of its federation membership.
So did Spain, whose representative reportedly caught a ride to the ITF’s annual general meeting in Orlando on moneyman Gerard Piqué’s private jet, before being flown right home again.
The US also voted for the changes – not a huge surprise given the event’s lack of penetration of the sporting consciousness in that country. Add to that, of course, the fact that the ITF president staking his sinecure on this, American David Haggerty, is the immediate past president of the USTA.
As well, the top player for the USA’s opponent, Marin Cilic of Croatia, publicly expressed his support for the reform.
More irony? France currently has 10 players in the top 100 in the rankings. The best-ranked of them, Lucas Pouille, has said he’ll boycott the new format. So this might be his last chance – and he has a shoulder injury. He’s in the lineup for Friday’s singles, but it’s unclear how fit he is for play.
No Nadal for Spain vs. France
Rafael Nadal had organized his schedule around giving it one last realistic shot at the Davis Cup. He took a pass on the second edition of the Laver Cup. But then, the chronic patella tendonitis in his right knee took him out of the US Open. And obviously out of this semifinal tie as well.
At No. 19, Pouille is the top-ranked player on both sides. So if there’s a lack of “superstar power”, so to speak, it seems like the most even and potentially compelling matchup – the opportunity for someone to emerge a national tennis hero.
Benoit Paire, at age 29 and ranked No. 54 (seventh in his country), will open the proceedings and make his Davis Cup debut against No. 21 Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain
Roberto Bautista-Agut, who missed Wimbledon in the wake of the sudden, unexpected death of his mother and lost in straight sets in the first round of the US Open, is playing No. 2 singles with Albert Ramos-Viñolas in reserve.
Americans face Croatia – and Ramos
Just a few days after the US Tennis Association threw veteran umpire Carlos Ramos under the bus in its eagerness to stand behind the greatest player in its history, its officials came face to face with Ramos again.
Ramos was scheduled a month ago to be one of two chair umpires for the US vs. Croatia tie. And after the ITF checked with Ramos to ensure he was good to go, confirmed that schedule even as it took two days to offer its official support to him during all the drama in New York.
US captain Jim Courier was a master politician when asked about this in the wake of the tie.
“It’s been polarized and in some ways politicized,. But we have no doubt that Carlos was just enforcing the rules as he sees them,” Courier told Associated Press on Thursday.
Let’s just say he reportedly was … rather more pro-Serena while commentating the match live with Great Britain’s Annabel Croft.
USTA president Katrina Adams was even more unabashedly Team Serena in the wake of Saturday’s events. To the point where she was offering up some rather … creative justifications of her old friend’s behaviour.
And then, in Zadar, Croatia, this happened.
— Andrew Dampf (AP) (@asdampf) September 13, 2018
Unfortunately, the USTA said Adams was “not speaking to the media” in Zadar – a polar opposite media strategy compared to her wide availability to support Williams over the weekend.
A late scratch for the U.S. was Jack Sock, replaced by Ryan Harrison. Sock was the highest-ranked American on the original roster (despite his huge singles slump this season). He also surely would have teamed up with the returning Mike Bryan, just a week after the pair won its second consecutive Grand Slam doubles title in New York.
Meaningless playoff ties
The switch to the new format has rendered nearly all of the World Group playoff ties meaningless. Which is a tougher event to sell even if the casual fans won’t really be aware of that.
But the first-round format in 2019 will likely still include most of the teams, assuming that even if they drop their ties this weekend, they still rank among the higher seeds in their respective zones.
Plus, if squads like Switzerland or Serbia don’t make it, they would clearly be in line to get discretionary wild cards from the organization for the finals.
So, it’s just a glorified exhibition with everyone wearing their country colours – and playing best-of-five set matches in Davis Cup for the last time.
Full squad for Canada
— Tennis Canada (@TennisCanada) September 13, 2018
The good news in Canada is that Milos Raonic has recovered from his US Open injury and will be playing No. 1 for his country for the first time in several years.
A nation that has Raonic and Denis Shapovalov in singles, with 18-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime ready in the wings and Davis Cup hero Vasek Pospisil also in his prime has all the ingredients to win a Davis Cup the old-fashioned away.
The notion that they now will likely never be able to do this at home, before their own fans, in a potential tie that could do a whole lot for the sport’s profile in the country, is one of those sad casualties of the quest for more money.
One of my biggest dream as a kid was to one day play a Davis Cup final in front of my home crowd. Sadly I’ll never have the chance to experience Davis cup like I grew up watching it😢 I still hoped tradition and history would win over money, but I guess that’s where we are now..
— Félix AugerAliassime (@felixtennis) August 16, 2018
World Group playoff ties
Netherlands at Canada (Missing: all hands on deck)
India at Serbia (Missing: Novak Djokovic, Filip Krajinovic)
Colombia at Argentina (Missing: Juan Martin del Potro, Cabal and Farah)
Uzbekistan at Great Britain (Missing: Andy Murray, Kyle Edmund)
Australia at Austria (Missing: Nick Kyrgios, top player Millman not in original lineup)
Sweden at Switzerland (Missing: Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Mikael Ymer, Elias Ymer)
Czech Republic at Hungary (Missing: Marton Fucsovics, Ivo Karlovic, Tomas Berdych)
Bosnia at Japan (Missing: Kei Nishikori, Damir Dzumhur)