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Tradition pulls a lot of weight in sports, and why not? Fans love to compare legends, numbers and stories that transcend eras. It gives context to modern feats and conversations.
But tradition should not enslave progress. For instance, the early-Open Era featured three of four Grand Slam venues (not the French Open) on grass. While many lament the near-extinction of grass courts, switching to hard courts has made utilitarian and economical sense. Tennis participants from around the world do not need to fork out hefty fees for exclusive country club participation.
But the Davis Cup is no longer a meaningful competition between the top players in the top countries, and it hasn't been this way on a consistent basis for about 30 years.
In the 1990s, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier understandably invested themselves in their quests to win Grand Slam titles and hold the No. 1 ranking. They were rivals first, and they often had the uncomfortable dilemma of playing the Davis Cup with only one foot in the water.
Roger Federer fought for Switzerland as a one-man gang in his early years, but he had to make more choices on his schedule once he became the No. 1 target in the world. His career priority was to win as many Grand Slam titles as possible, Swiss tennis notwithstanding.
The reality is that this is not a Federer issue. We rarely see teams choose to compete at full strength. Some of this has been due to injuries (See Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for most current examples), but it's usually a Machiavellian career move.
We were robbed of a possible Novak Djokovic vs. Federer showdown last week. Then again, if Djokovic played, would Federer have joined the fray?
Do watered-down paths to the Davis Cup really still matter? Tennis tradition is important, but the Davis Cup is worse than it once was. It deserves to choke on the Burnt Bagel award.