Saturday, December 15, 2007
Okay, so this is a bit late, but maybe that's indicative of the general apathy towards tennis in the United States these days.
I recently attended the Davis Cup finals in Portland, Oregon, where I live (so these pics are mine, and obviously not very professional!).
For those of you unaware, the United States was taking on Russia for the championship on American soil in hopes of winning for the first time in a dozen years. Former #1 Andy Roddick and up and coming top 10 player James Blake played in the two singles spots, with the world's best doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan filling that role for the U.S. The Russian team featured Nikolay Davydenko, a top 5 player in his own right and a few other young, rising stars. Davydenko, surprisingly, didn't play in one of the two singles spots on Friday, the first day of play. This could have been because of his alleged involvement with gambling and throwing of matches (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/tennis/6928635.stm).
Regardless, the matches were spirited and fun. If you haven't seen or been to a Davis Cup match, they are FAR more rowdy and loud than typical matches, even moreso than the U.S. Open in New York, which can be a lot of fun, too.
Andy Roddick started the string of victories for the U.S. with a big win over Tursenov in straight sets. One of Roddick's serves was clocked at over 150 miles an hour. He hit well over 20 aces in those three sets and it wasn't very close.
Next, James Blake took on Mikhail Youzhny. This match was much closer, and although Blake won the first two sets, he lost the third in a tie-breaker and had to dig deep to pull out the fourth in another tie-breaker. Blake is really fun to watch, because he slugs away from the baseline and loves to hit the ball hard. He doesn't have the huge serve like Roddick, so he has to rely on putting rallies away from the baseline and can do just that when he's on. Problem is, he can also be streaky, and when he's not on, things can go downhill quickly.
So, finishing up the first day of play with the U.S. up 2-0, the Bryan brothers had the opportunity to win this best of five match-up the next day, which they did.
After the win, you could really tell exactly how excited Roddick, Blake and the whole team were with this victory. Roddick said in an interview afterwards that it had been one of his lifelong dreams to win a Davis Cup and he envied the past winners like McEnroe, Connors, Agassi, Sampras and Todd Martin (had to get Martin in there -- I played tennis in high school with that kid!).
So, maybe this will start to increase support and visibility for tennis in the U.S. It certainly needs it. There has been a significant fall off in overall interest since Roger Federer has dominated the majors and the U.S. has failed to win any since Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003 and Agassi and Sampras were still around and playing. John McEnroe has been a great ambassador since his playing days ended, but without his personality and play actually on the court, his impact has been marginalized.
It's a great international sport and one worth watching and supporting. If you have the chance to attend a live event, definitely do it.