The Davis Cup, after years in the doldrums, seems suddenly to have ignited into something a little special.
Now with the incentive of a few ranking points at stake, the top players in the world have been more willing than ever to stand up and be counted at the business end of their countries’ endeavours.
As a result, the home crowds have responded vociferously, the ties have won airtime on world television as well as growing column-inches in newspapers, and the players have been revealing the sort of patriotic passion normally reserved for the Olympics.
The hottest property in Davis Cup is Team Spain. Champions in 2000, 2004 and 2008—and on their way to possibly their fourth title of the century this December—the men of Spain, swathed in red and gold, are the most glamorous squad in the world.
But as the tennis world awaits the thrilling climax to this year’s competition, new excitement has been kindled in the calm and dignified environs of Geneva. Home of the Davis Cup sponsor BNP Paribas, this is where the draw for next year’s world ties was made. And it is where the truly, truly scrumptious prospect of a head-to-head between the greatest rivals in sport today was announced.
As a result, the spark of interest that this team-based competition used to generate once or twice a year now appears in danger of being fanned into a full-blown fire.
It’s a rivalry that has captured the imagination for almost five years. Nadal and Federer have, between them, held the top two spots in men’s tennis—barring an anomalous three weeks in August due to Nadal’s recent injury—for more than four of them.
They have met each other 20 times and all but four of those meetings were in finals. Seven of those finals were in Grand Slams.
It is one of the great pairings in sport. But these two players have never met in the Davis Cup.
If their head-to-heads have delivered some of the most thrilling matches in recent years, the added spice of playing for their countries and their team-mates is likely to inject yet more intensity into this rivalry.
Both wore their hearts on their sleeves in their recent winning ties. Who has escaped—via dozens of YouTube recordings— Federer’s adolescent, X-factor singing, post-triumph, in Italy? Who can forget Nadal’s exuberant smiles and team-hugs in Spain? These are both patriotic men who keep their main homes near their families and places of birth.
It is, of course, far too early to know whether they will take up the challenge for their countries when next March comes around. There may be injuries to overcome. There will be children to enjoy. There are Grand Slams to win. But these men are both competitive to their cores, and each must relish the prospect of taking on the other for their country.
If they do, Nadal will really fancy his chances of being the star of the show. Spain is to play at home and will, undoubtedly, choose clay for the tie.
Federer has beaten Nadal only twice on the red stuff and both occasions were in best-of-three formats. In every best-of-five-set match—and that means all four of their French Open encounters—Nadal has won.
He will have the home crowd at his back. It will be early in the season when his body is at its most fresh. Even the most devoted Federer fan must anticipate a Spanish victory.
But there is a lot at stake for the world No. 1.
The very fact that he has not beaten Nadal over five sets on clay will prick his pride. The very fact that his most joyous match of 2008 was his ‘team’ gold at the Olympics with fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka will lift his resolve. The very fact that the Davis Cup is missing from his gilded C.V. will feed his desire. Indeed, that desire may have grown still greater with the arrival of two Swiss daughters to impress when his career is over.
Even if Federer overcomes his bete noir, he will, like Hercules, have the many-headed hydra of the Spanish team to contend with. There his prospects are better.
Against Fernando Verdasco, he has a 3-0 record. Against both David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo, it’s 9-0, Feliciano Lopez 7-0, and so on.
What, then, of Federer’s associate in his Davis Cup mission? Wawrinka, like many others, has a 100 percent losing record to Nadal. Against Verdasco, Ferrero and Lopez, the odds are fairly even, but he has a losing record against Ferrer and Robredo. Nevertheless, Wawrinka could manage one of the singles rubbers.
Which means it could all come down to the doubles: and there are lot of people who would pay very good money to see that Federer and Wawrinka Olympic performance re-enacted in Spain.
So the Davis Cup may deliver—even in its earliest round—a feast of treats. Nadal against Federer? “You two are truly scrumptious, scrumptious as the breeze across the bay.” Federer against Verdasco? “Scrumptious as a cherry peach parfait.” Wawrinka against Ferrer? “Cinnamon and lemon tart.”
And if this magical, show-stopping, mouth-watering tie doesn’t whet the appetite, there are surely other tasty morsels that will.
There’s the prospect of Serbia and Novak Djokovic against the U.S.A and Andy Roddick—the latter with three 2009 wins in their head-to-head: “So delicious, so beguiling.”
Or in Sweden, will Robin Soderling take up the challenge and join his squad against Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro? “ Lollies in a lollypop jar.”
So fingers are crossed for the Davis Cup fire that has was ignited this year to burst into flames in 2010. I can smell the toasting caramel already!
With acknowledgement to the sugary lyrics of “Toot Sweets” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Any parallel between the Davis Cup competition and an old and battered vintage car that magically takes flight is purely coincidental…..