Monday, September 21, 2009

With Fed in Action, Davis Cup is More Relevant


It's a mad world indeed when you have a guy that can serve 78 aces and still lose a match. It was a mad world even before the Croatia-Czech Republic tie got underway this weekend, but now that it's done, it seems even madder to me.

Radek Stepanek's sticktuitiveness opened the door for the Czech's and Tomas Berdych's perseverance cracked it open wide enough for the whole country to walk through. At least the tennis fans in the country. The rest came through when the doubles match was decided by an overworked but not over fatigued doubles team of Berdych and Stepanek, in straight sets.

And our final is set for December. The big bad Spaniards, who after demolishing the upstart Israeli squad with their two best players out of the action while mending their U.S. Open battle scars, have casually advanced to their second straight Davis Cup final. It is also their 5th final of the decade - a decade that started without them ever having made it that far.

Kudos to Spanish tennis for giving the rest of the national programs something to emulate over these last few years.

Speaking of emulate, Mr. Roger Federer decided to take a page out of the Spanish "all for one and one for all" book this weekend, and travel to Italy to make a long awaited Davis Cup appearance.

Federer put an end to fears that the Swiss team might be eliminated from World Group competition by turning in two shining straight set victories (both in live rubbers) against Simone Bolelli and Potito Starace respectively.

It may not seem like the biggest of stories, but Federer's participation in this weeks Davis Cup ties says a lot, both about Federer's current selfless mind state, and about the relevance of an event that has suffered greatly from the absence of big names and a narrow scheduling window that usually coincides with the conclusion of the Slams (ask Roddick about this).

The fact that Federer was willing to pack up the family and valiantly come to the aid of his country bodes well for next years Davis Cup World Group ties as well.

Forget about this years final, unless you truly believe in miracles, because the Spaniards are a pretty safe bet to take the title in Spain, on their surface of choice, no matter how much torture Radek Stepanek is able to endure.

But next year, with Federer in tow, it means we may have another weekend (hopefully 4?) of Davis Cup play that will be every bit as good as the one we just witnessed - and that has to be the best news of all for Davis Cup tennis.

Federer's return to action with his compatriots seems to be a symbol of a subtle philosophical transformation occurring deep within the bowels of his psyche. Maybe the pressure that was eating at Federer after his Australian Open tear-jerker of a loss to Nadal and throughout his desperate yet graceful quest to reach the ultimate pinnacle of the sport is truly and definitively long-gone.

After his loss to Juan Martin Del Potro, Federer was so graceful in defeat, and so unfazed by the emergence of yet another threat to his dominance, that it was easy to see that he is clearly a man who is ready to shift his priorities to the side of the scale where Mirka and the twins are nestling together - they are looking to him not necessarily for victories or records, but for humanity and for an all-encompassing intuitiveness that will ultimately outshine any single match or title that Federer will ever again achieve.

Federer, it seems, judging from his actions of late, recognizes the importance of his choices not only as a tennis player going forward, but also as a husband and as a father. While he is no doubt hungry and ready to contend for more titles, I think his days of crying about whether or not he actually wins them are behind him now.

And so we find him in Italy, employing his usual symphonic genius to ensure that the Swiss are a part of next years World Group 16 when Davis Cup play begins. Many of us are now speculating that this is the one tennis trophy that Roger will truly set his sights on next year. It is a competition that can be placed on the scale with Mirka and his daughters, with his family, friends, coaches, and his history, both as a player and as a human being.

For a competition that has had to endure a lot of disappointing absences by its top players, Federer's desire to take part next year could put an extra shine on the cup that many of us have been waiting to see for a long time.

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