Last weekend’s Davis Cup first-round encounters threw up the kind of brilliant, emotion-based tennis that has made the competition one of the best in the whole of sport for more than a century.
John Isner’s win over Roger Federer in Switzerland was the first by an American over the former world number one on clay since 1999 – a ridiculous statistic – and inspired the most unlikely, but well deserved 5-0 victories in the history of the World Group. But while Federer put himself out there, it was noticeable that the world’s top two, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and number four Andy Murray chose to sit it out, recharging their batteries and saving themselves for what they see as bigger tasks ahead.
Getting the top players to compete regularly in the Davis Cup has been a bone of contention in the competition for some years now, with many feeling that the event needs revamping, whether it be played every other year, with three-set matches instead of five or in a different format altogether.
To my mind, it’s a brilliant format. Playing for your country is an experience few people achieve and even fewer ever forget. Nadal and Djokovic have been excellent servants of the competition down the years and with the strength in depth their nations enjoy at the moment, they can afford to miss the odd match, or even a year.
Murray has also represented Britain on many occasions and has been carrying the team single-handedly for the past few years. He will no doubt have been hugely encouraged by their win over Slovakia at the weekend in his absence and is set to return at some stage later this year.
But while I don’t feel the competition needs changing – for the lesser countries, playing Davis Cup is a great source of money – one thing could perhaps be rectified. As pointed out by Richard Evans, the revered British journalist who has covered the tour for many decades, the top players are already given an incentive to play through the awarding of ATP ranking points.
But since they only apply in the World Group, it is hugely unfair on the lesser players. For someone like Isner, the Davis Cup could prove profitable this year, especially if the USA win it; for someone like Murray, or Marcos Baghdatis, they get nothing.
It’s arguable that Murray could help himself by getting Britain into the World Group and with a top doubles pair in their ranks now, perhaps he will. But it seems like maybe the International Tennis Federation, who run the Davis Cup, and the ATP, could be more even-handed and spread the wealth further down the tiers of the competition.
For those of you interested in how the points work for Davis Cup, click here
Talking of Isner, his victory over Federer on clay could be the beginning of a great year for the American. Just ask Novak Djokovic if you don’t think the Davis Cup can have an affect on a player’s season. The Serb’s Davis Cup triumph in 2010 was the catalyst for his stunning transformation in 2011 and while no one is suggesting Isner will do the same, he cannot help but be inspired by his achievements in Switzerland.
Clay could even be a good surface for him – remember last year’s French Open when he led Rafael Nadal by two sets to love in the first round, serving and volleying and charging the net when he had the chance? Expect him to enjoy a boost to his form over the coming months and for him to climb from his ranking of 14 into the top 10.