Thursday, 20 February 2014

Facts? Who needs facts?

Over recent times in Jon Wertheim's mailbag he has broached the subject of Davis Cup and made some of the usual lazy arguments that you often see used by members of the tennis media to downplay the competition. This invariably entails picking select players and using their unique circumstances to reach the conclusion that the competition no longer has significance or importance. In the case of Wertheim there is usually a focus on how everything relates to the state of US tennis, due to his readership likely being predominantly from the US, rather than giving full acknowledgement to how the competition is viewed by players and fans alike in the rest of the world. The world is a pretty big place.

Why does it matter that Wertheim continues to make claims of this nature to his readership? Well, has a readership of more than 20 million unique visitors per month. If you don't believe me, that's what they say here. Given those numbers alone his opinion, no matter how misinformed and misguided, carries influence far beyond anything this post will be able to reach out to. However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't at least try and correct a few things.

Below is a screenshot of his latest response re: Davis Cup to a question posed by a reader. We will go through this, both the question and the answer, to balance out some of the inaccuracies and assumptions made.

The screenshot was taken from this piece if you would like to view the entire mailbag.

Let's begin with Ralph Jackson for a quick moment, a tennis fan who follows tennis "very well" in his estimation, but not so well that he hasn't understood that Davis Cup (and Fed Cup) are not in fact "never-ending tournaments with no declared winner". In the photo accompanying this post you will see a picture of the 2013 Davis Cup finalists - Serbia and Czech Republic - planted nicely on to the latest cover issue of Sports Illustrated. The Czechs would go on to win the final in Serbia, in case you're reading this, Ralph. Italy won the Fed Cup last year, it was far from "never-ending" rather it ended at the conclusion of the season. It was fairly entertaining given how depleted the Russian team ended up being for a variety of reasons, at least Flavia Pennetta made it so.

We're done with Ralph at this point and it's time to move on to Wertheim's response which we'll breakdown piece by piece.

  • Wertheim mentions he received quite a response to his last mailbag on the subject, both in the mailbag and on Twitter. The Overrule happened to be one of those who responded through Twitter. The Overrule questioned Wertheim's comment that Davis Cup is no longer relevant in the US and Western Europe. For the US this may be true as the team is not what it once was and the days of the US being a regular contender to win the Davis Cup are well and truly over for the foreseeable future. As for Western Europe his comment was completely inaccurate. You will know this by watching any home tie hosted by a Western European country, the stadium full (if not sold out at least well populated) and the atmosphere electric. His response was merely to reiterate his view that Davis Cup is no longer a "vital sports organism".

  • Wertheim posts a link which shows Davis Cup participation is respectable (it's more than respectable when you actually break it down) which countered his view that top players don't play often or a feeling to that effect. He does it as if it's somehow breaking news to anyone who might follow Davis Cup for even 5 minutes of the year. Davis Cup is important to many players, the best ones and the ones the tennis world doesn't consider the best. There are many reasons beyond willingness to play that determine participation levels of the top players, if we are to only focus on them for the sake of this post. For example scheduling, injury and politics. To ignore these elements discredits any view on the subject of participation. They would only be ignored by someone hoping a readership, that includes tennis fans who follow the sport "very well" but not well enough to realise how Davis Cup works or whether it ever ends, wouldn't know any better to question the merits of such a statement. It's factually incorrect to claim top players don't play Davis Cup often. This claim has been made many times by major tennis news outlets and it is never backed up with facts and figures or at the very least context. 

  • Wertheim writes "I still can't see how anyone claims that the Davis Cup is a healthy, vital sports organism." I could provide many examples of how such a claim can be made, such as the passion exhibited by the players when in Davis Cup action, in some cases clearly playing above themselves with their nation and teammates behind them. As well as the matched passion on show by a full crowd of supporters. If we asked Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or the recently retired David Nalbandian how much it means to them to represent their nation in Davis Cup, what do you suspect the honest answer would be? We all know (by "we" I mean tennis fans who follow the sport "very well" but actually watch and understand Davis Cup) what the answer would be and it would contradict Wertheim's entire viewpoint. 

  • Allow me to provide some viewing evidence to back the claim that the Davis Cup is in fact a healthy, vital sports organism. I could have provided many pieces of footage but I won't overload the post with the links, instead I'll just post two. Watch both videos of the closing stages of the 2011 Davis Cup final between Spain and Argentina played in Spain. This particular match involves Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro (more on both shortly). After you watch tell me that the players and fans don't think the Davis Cup is a "healthy, vital sports organism". Ask yourself where and when you've ever seen a tennis atmosphere like this before outside of Davis Cup? I could have chosen any final to post, I decided to go with just one, this one is no different to any other. I chose this one given the players involved and for purposes of the next point to be made. 

  • Wertheim then plays what I suspect he believes is his trump card in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro. Quite laughable I'm guessing you're thinking right now having just watched the two videos above? It gets better. He states that Federer hasn't missed a Grand Slam since the 1990s (not in the slightest bit relevant quite honestly) and yet only plays Davis Cup sporadically. Federer is a unique case in many respects. He made a decision to play less Davis Cup as to not interfere with his quite obvious and understandable number one priority which is to prepare himself as best he could for Grand Slams. During the time Federer made this choice Switzerland did not have a great team around him and he was often expected to win both singles rubbers and contribute more than his share to win the doubles. That's quite a task against some of the best teams in the world, ask Nalbandian who regularly had to take on such duties during his many years representing Argentina despite having top 20 players around him in the squad. For the record Federer has played in 23 ties since 1999 totaling 40 singles matches and 19 doubles matches. 2010 and 2013 were the only years where Federer didn't participate in Davis Cup since 1999. Is he a Davis Cup stalwart like a Nalbandian or a Lleyton Hewitt? No. However, his participation probably deserves more respect than to simply say "sporadic". And for context to be provided as to why he hadn't played as much as he possibly could have. 

  • Now let's see what Wertheim said about Nadal. According to him Nadal was "once a stalwart; more recently, he has lost his zeal". Let's take a closer look at "more recently". For arguments sake let's define "more recently" as the past three years, that seems fair? This year Nadal did not play the first round tie against Germany (which Spain lost) as he was injured following the Australian Open final. In 2013 Nadal did not play the first round tie against Canada as he was injured (during a period he was out of tennis for seven months). Later in 2013 when the playoff came to keep Spain in the World Group who showed up for Spain? Nadal. Not only did he win his singles rubber on the Friday he played the doubles on the Saturday to help kill off the tie. In 2012 Nadal had made it clear he would not play Davis Cup that year as it was an Olympics year and he wanted to prepare himself for London 2012. Unfortunately injury robbed Nadal of this chance to represent Spain at the Olympics and we were not to see him on tour for a further seven months. At this point are you noticing a trend? Far from "lack of zeal", injury/Olympics has been the predominant factor in Nadal's absences. In 2011 Spain won the Davis Cup and Nadal played the first round, semi-final and final (footage of which you've now seen). To conclude, 2011 he was an integral part of the team, 2012 he focused on Olympics and ended up being injured, 2013 he was injured but played the playoff when he returned and 2014 he was injured. Are we still going with "lost his zeal" or have we re-evaluated the true situation at this point, Jon?

  • Finally let us get on to del Potro, this assessment by Wertheim is perhaps the most frustrating of all. He states that del Potro is "uninterested" in playing Davis Cup and links a piece regarding the situation. To simply say "uninterested" misrepresents the scenario del Potro finds himself in, although at least by linking a piece that reflects that scenario Wertheim isn't 100% fudging the truth. Del Potro has long been in a dispute with the AAT that dates back to the end of the 2012 Davis Cup campaign. In 2013 he chose to remove himself from the pressures of fans and media to play Davis Cup by stating from the start of the season he would not play. His refusal to play has nothing to do with an unwillingness to represent Argentina and everything to do with internal politics. The Argentina team and internal politics have been used in the same sentence long before del Potro was even a professional, just ask Guillermo Coria and Gaston Gaudio. The fact Wertheim attempts to use del Potro to further back up his claims is weak to say the least. And far from help to back him up they just further discredit his opinion for the reasons stated. 

I've done what I can to counter some of his points and expose the truth behind the reality of Davis Cup and its participation and meaningfulness among players and fans alike. You can believe the facts or you can believe the guy with 20 million readers, it's up to you.

1 comment:

  1. Great points Overrule. Nobody is talking about Djokovic, Tsonga, Ferrer, Berdych even Stepanek, who at 35 is still playing Davis Cup. Many say that the gluten-free diet was what propelled Novak to number 1, but I think that his Davis Cup win the year before gave him the self-confidence that was missing.