Best of Three: Spain emerges as clear powerhouse tennis nation
Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer led Spain to its fifth Davis Cup title
Nadal's strong performance was encouraging after a poor fall swing
Davis Cup format needs fixing, U.S. captain Jim Courier has an idea how
1. All hail Spain, Davis Cup champs, yet again: The globalization in tennis has reached unprecedented levels in recent years. Just scan the rankings and note the variety of countries represented. Which makes Spain's recent excellence in Davis Cup play all the more impressive.
Rafa and the Nadalites won for the third time in four years (and fifth time overall, all since 2000), defeating a game Argentine squad in front of a spectacular crowd in Seville. Nadal did the heavy lifting (including winning the clincher against Juan Martin del Potro) and David Ferrer was his usual indefatigable self.
But throughout the year, this was a team effort, as other players contributed. There are no longer dominant tennis nations. But with a veritable dinette set worth of Cups and five representatives in the ATP's top 25, is there any doubt as to the identity of the current leading tennis nation?
2. Nadal's reappearing act: For his entire career, Nadal has been afflicted by a tennis strain of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Come early fall, he's a shard of the player he was during the first half of the year. (Consider: Not once has he won the year-end championships.) This year, the symptoms were particularly pronounced.
Nadal's typically desultory results after the U.S. Open included a loss to Florian Mayer and 0-6 sets in losses against both Andy Murray and Roger Federer. Between this fade and his year-long inability to solve Novak Djokovic, it was figuring to be a long offseason for Nadal -- emotionally if not temporally. Which is why his play last weekend was heartening.
Nice to see the old Nadal, in December, no less. True, winning two matches on clay, in Spain, does not offset all of the disappointment, nor does it answer all of the lingering questions about the state of Nadal's game and body. But it sure puts him in a better place heading into 2012. As Nadal himself put it Sunday, "Today is one of the most emotional days of my career. After such a difficult year, this was a spectacular finale to the season."
3. The age-old debate: I'd like to chug a Five Hour Energy, then discuss format changes and let my body fight it out. Would the jolt of energy be enough to overcome the most tired and tiresome topic?
The notion of rejiggering Davis Cup has been batted back and forth so much for so long, we've popped our polyester strings and need regripping. Still, nothing has changed. The folks at ITF (Intransigent Tennis Federation) will keep a straight face and tell you that the Davis Cup is just fine as it is. Presumably they also like their cable provider, health care system and tax code.
To the rest of the world, the Davis Cup is a tremendous international sporting event that is fading into irrelevance thanks to a structure that confuses even the most hard-core fan, is unfriendly to television and, above all, exasperates players. And the notion that this is just ugly, impatient Americans -- a favorite ITF defense -- was dealt a severe blow when, moments after hugging the trophy, Nadal announced he wasn't availing himself to Davis Cup in 2012.
Nadal not playing Davis Cup? If this doesn't catalyze change, nothing will. There are abundant ideas and proposals out there. Jim Courier -- a Davis Cup captain; i.e. someone whose job is wed to the event -- offered an exceedingly logical plan the other day.
A source told me that the ATP came very close to pulling off a coup and finding an Australian investor to back a rival competition -- to which all the top players had committed. It's a question of when, not if.
Bonus video: OK, here's a bonus set in honor of the sensational Nadal/Del Potro four-setter Sunday. Watch this video from a recent exhibition between Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova and consider:
A) Ran this by Serena Williams before the performance and received written clearance.
B) Has a winsome sense of humor but can sometimes misfire.
C) Pushes the envelope, much as she pushes the tennis ball.
D) Might want to invest in armor -- not Under Armour, armor like breastplates and helmets -- next time she faces Serena.