How Davis Cup became king
I realize that some people will immediately denounce this column as gender bashing, but they would be wrong. My analysis that Davis Cup in America is thriving and Fed Cup is dying is merely an objective look at the discrepancies and inequities of the two.
Case in point: earlier this month 10,000 people from all over the country dusted off their foghorns and 4th of July bests to root Team USA to an enthralling win over France in the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup in Winston-Salem, N.C. It was the second Davis Cup match in the venue in the past eight months and if you asked anyone in Winston-Salem, they'd tell you they'd want to have every home Davis Cup match there. I couldn't walk into a restaurant, coffee shop or through the hotel lobby without engaging in a conversation about the event.
It certainly helps that the American men are defending champions, have a star-studded team and their loyalty is so strong that they might as well bleed red, white and blue. Andy Roddick, James Blake, and the Bryan twins have played in Cup matches 10 straight times. This isn't a partnership of convenience. These guys play anywhere, anytime. They've played home, away, on clay, on grass, a week after Grand Slam successes and disappointments, and even six weeks after lifting the Championship Cup.
Their consistency is rewarded by a legion of fans, some of whom refer to themselves as NETHEADS, who travel to support the team no matter where and when they are playing. Easter Sunday? No problem. Friday afternoons? No sweat. Look up and there they are, dressed in red, white, and blue and screaming their heads off.
When Patrick McEnroe took over as captain in 2001, Team USA was struggling to get the consistent support of its top players. It showed in attendance: barely 4,000 to 5000 people in the seats.
Patrick and Arlen Kantarian, CEO of USTA Professional Tennis, decided to start from scratch and make a commitment to a new group of up and coming players. Their foresight has paid huge dividends. They are reaping the success on and off the courts, highlighting by the recent championship.
Up next, though, is a formidable challenge: playing Spain, in Spain, on slow red clay. But, yet again, you have to love the attitude of the American team. When asked after the win over France how he felt about the semifinal clash, Andy Roddick quipped, "the one thing you can count on with this team is we will be there and prepared to give our best efforts."
The Fed Cup, on the other hand, has always been a far cry from its counterpart, especially in the U.S. The Fed Cup has tried mightily to find a successful formula, and has changed its format repeatedly throughout the process. Fed Cup began as a weeklong event played at one venue, with matches decided by two singles and a deciding doubles. In 1995 it adopted a home/away best-of-five format in World Group play over three weekends and with eight competing teams. Recent versions have resulted in financial losses for the USTA.
Moreover, without the support of the top American women, Team USA has repeatedly been forced to resort to what often looks like a minor league team. Next week the USA will compete against Russia, in Russia, and the American team will not have a singles player in the top 100 in the world. Vania King, 112, Ahsha Rolle, 138, and Madison Brengle, 253, will join world No. 1 Liezel Huber, who just recently converted her citizenship from her native South Africa.
I appreciate and respect the efforts of these women and have no doubt they will compete admirably, but if this is the best the Fed Cup can produce, maybe it's time to re-evaluate the interest and solvency of Fed Cup in America and reallocate the USTA's funds.
Davis Cup is a very successful franchise that could still benefit from some tweaking, most notably a switch to an every-other-year format that mirrors the Ryder Cup. For the Fed Cup to be successful, it needs to find a formula that facilitates the best players playing consistently.