Davis Cup drama in Boise; Serena the better Williams in Charleston
Why does Davis Cup and its format take such a beating in tennis? Because so many of us know this: it has the potential to be so much more than it is. Its particular overlay of the individual with the team is unique in sports. In a (necessarily) self-centered game, the chance to play for your country does something peculiar to players.
And because of this, Davis Cup can generate some of the most exciting matches and counterintuitive results of the year. As top-seeded Louisville and No. 9 Wichita State were competing in, what we were told was "a classic David and Goliath Final Four matchup" on Saturday, the U.S.-Serbia Davis Cup tie was playing out in Boise, Idaho.
Bob and Mike Bryan, the best doubles team of all time, faced the Serbian team of Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac. Never heard of Bozoljac? You're forgiven. He's ranked 335th in singles and 1,150th in doubles.
But -- this being Davis Cup -- for part of the match, Bozoljac played like Roger Federer, Rod Laver and Daniel Nestor all rolled into one. Drilling his returns, picking off volleys and holding serve in equal measure, Bozoljac enabled Serbia to score one of the bigger upsets in Davis Cup history. The Serbs beat the Bryan brothers, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 5-7, 4-6, 15-13 to take a 2-1 lead. And Novak Djokovic sealed the deal on Sunday, recovering from a mid-match ankle injury to beat Sam Querrey.
"We've seen a lot of people in this competition rise up," U.S. captain Jim Courier said. "You look at the numbers next to the guy's career, you see the performance today, something doesn't add up. You clearly see there was some inspiration, chemistry with Nenad on the court, and you say, 'Too good.'"
For all the Davis Cup results, go to DavisCup.com.
• The same week the "Venus and Serena" documentary made it onto iTunes, the sisters played each other for the 24th time on Saturday in Charleston. Fifteen years since their first encounter, Serena beat big sis again, this time handily 6-1, 6-2. Serena is the top player in the world; Venus soldiers on as a shadow of her old self.
"I mean she'll never admit it, ever, but I don't think she was 100 percent," Serena said. "But you will never get that out of her, and quite frankly, three matches for her is much tougher than three matches for me."
As always, the match had an uncomfortable feel. As always, it stood as a testament to what is -- for our drachmas, anyway -- the best story in sports. We'll discuss the Williams movie in the Wednesday mailbag, but the notion that two sisters, (regardless of backstory) would have sustained careers like this is something beyond remarkable. Serena then won the Charleston title, beating Jelena Jankovic in a testy three-set final on Sunday.
• Here's a storyline to follow for the next few weeks: Rafael Nadal is ranked No. 5 and is defending an unholy haul of points in the lead up to Paris. Of course he is; he is to clay what Lindbergh was to air. But this brings up an interesting situation. What do the French Open organizers do about the seeding? If they follow the rankings, as they have in the past, they will seed the defending champ -- and a player who has lost once at Roland Garros since 2005 -- at the fifth (or possibly sixth) slot, far below "market value." If they seed subjectively and make Nadal No. 1, they've set a precedent that they might regret. From everything I've heard, the organizers won't depart from the rankings. Which means that the greatest clay courter ever -- and the entrant playing the best tennis at the moment -- might meet a higher seed in the quarterfinals.
Five other quick hits:
• Djokovic's win in Davis Cup might have been a Pyrrhic victory. He rolled his ankle and then -- behold the power of anti-flammatories! -- still won the match. But it's reportedly a serious injury, likely to impact his clay season.
• Tommy Haas turned 35 last week. He's also ranked No. 14, higher than any American.
• The Woes of Woz continue. Caroline Wozniacki, the world's No. 1 not that long ago, failed to close out little-known Stephanie Voegele in Charleston, dropping the last five games of their match. We all have favorite players, but it's no fun to watch a star slump like this.
• Speaking of slumps, Sloane Stephens' struggles continue. The recent Serena-slayer and Aussie Open semfinalist won just two games in a loss to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in her opening match at the Family Circle Cup.
• Curious: when the last time they played a quarterfinal round of Davis Cup and none of the ties were held in Europe?
• Wow is it nice to have Jankovic, a first-team All-Eccentric, back in the mix.