Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Fantasy Subsides, the Hope Crumbles

Twenty years ago if you told someone that Serbia would ever come into the United States as the heavy favorite for a Davis Cup tennis tie, you'd get a lot of strange looks. You'd get those strange looks mainly because Serbia didn't enter Davis Cup as an independent nation until 1995, but even if they had been a longtime member of the international tennis community back then, the idea of them coming over to the U.S. without one of their top two players and then being the overwhelming favorite to boot would have been totally preposterous at the time.

The U.S. had not yet become accustomed to being an also-ran in the men's game, and Serbia hadn't exploded into the tennis maven that it currently is, in 1993. 

But a lot has changed in twenty years, both politically and with regard to tennis. Nowadays, the American men are floundering. With only one currently ranked in the top 20--and that man (Sam Querrey) by only the hair of his chinny-chin-chin at that--this new, somewhat depressing era of American men is marked by players who are more than powerful enough but unfortunately too oversized to reach elite status in today's global game.

It's a subject that has been beaten into the ground of late, so I'm not going to get into it here, at least directly. What I will get into is the bitter, deflating irony of the Bryan Brothers loss to Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac in today's crucial doubles rubber.

It was particularly heartbreaking for American tennis fans because it appeared that the dark clouds were going to lift temporarily. With our best and brightest (the Bryan Brothers are our national tennis treasure on the men's side, and they fought valiantly today, as they always do) out there ready to give the Americans a 2-1 lead against Serbia, all the criticism and bad-mouthing of American men's tennis was about to grind to a halt for one beautiful weekend so that team U.S.A. could revisit its past glory by upsetting the Serbs.

Furthermore, with only the Canadians and Italians left in the American's half of the Davis Cup draw, it was starting to look not entirely impossible that the U.S. could reach the Davis Cup final this year for the first time since 2007. Think what that would do for the confidence of our two oversized Americans (maybe they are destined for greatness, after all?), for the overall sentiment surrounding our men, and for all the young American tennis players out there looking for a reason to believe.

With Mike and Bob Bryan looking like they were about to put the finishing touches on the Serbs in the fifth set of what had become an epic doubles encounter, all was finally looking good on the horizon for American men's tennis. It wasn't exactly a lock that John Isner would beat Viktor Troicki--far from it actually--on Sunday to clinch an American upset, but at the time, as the Bryans were holding serve for the 30th, 31st, 32nd and 33rd consecutive time on Saturday, everything seemed to be falling into place.

American tennis was looking good. Our Bryan Brothers were exhibiting their trademark grit and toughness, and hope was springing eternal.

Then the Serbs took a dagger to America's best laid plans.

20 years ago, this would have seemed like pure fantasy. 

But there it was in living color: the high and mighty Serbs pulling the rug out from under the American's feet.

There's a lot to be proud of, even in defeat for the Americans. And it isn't officially over until tomorrow.

But it's going to take a miracle for the Americans now.

Like the Roman Empire, the Dinosaurs, and the Dallas Cowboys, time does its damage and leaves what is left to sort itself out.

And the miracles don't grow on trees like they used to.

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