A Davis Cup Fan’s Letter to the ITF Delegates
As the ITF delegates gather in Orlando to reform change Davis Cup into a World Cup I just wanted them to be aware of the views of a true Davis Cup fan. I had read the ITF board had met with players, nations and sponsors to discuss reforms but have never seen any reference to them asking fans for input.
Here I am preparing to attend my 50th Davis Cup tie in September, 24 foreign ties and 26 ties in the U.S. I have relished the interaction with fans of other countries: talking fun trash with Serbians in Boise, Idaho, teaching ball kids In Gijon Spain and students in Tashkent Uzbekistan the USA USA cheer. My favorite Davis Cup moment took place a mile from the arena in Moscow when our Nethead group brought smiles to stoic Russians as we walked through a park on a beautiful September day wearing our Nethead gear.
For those familiar with A Charlie Brown Christmas, I feel like Linus Van Pelt telling the ITF Charlie Brown that Davis Cup is not about the players, it’s not about the sponsors, it’s not about the nations, it’s not about the money; it’s about the fans. When commentators state “this feels like a Davis Cup atmosphere (replay Isner – Del Potro semi-final in Miami this year for example),” it’s not because players did something, or sponsors did something; it is because the fans are yelling and cheering for every point, going quiet while next point is played and then yelling and cheering again, becoming more intense as it gets deeper into the match. The juxtaposition of cheering and silence, there is nothing like it in any other sport. In Miami it was South American Del Potro fans and USA Isner fans supporting their players. Yes, ITF Charlie Brown, that is what Davis Cup is all about.
The question to the ITF is how will the current Davis Cup home and away final atmosphere be re-created in a stadium in Beijing or Dubai? With no home team, do they really think there will be enough true fans of the teams to create the Davis Cup atmosphere? Now I understand the ITF has been adding changes to the proposed reforms to indicate the new World Cup may be held in Europe or Indian Wells as well as Asia and Middle East. Does anyone think a Croatia-Belgium final held in Indian Wells or U.S.-Argentina final in Dubai will result in the cheering heard currently at a Davis Cup final? How many true fans of any of the countries will be there? Or will the stands be filled with local fans with no real stake in which nation wins, resulting in polite applause for the players? Yes, the players and ITF will receive more money, a country will still get possession of the Davis Cup and sponsors will get exposure they paid for but the fans will lose access to home matches and the players will never experience a true Davis Cup final. The students in Tashkent, the kids at 2004 finals in Seville, the little Brit boy yelling “Come on Tim” for Tim Henman in Birmingham in 1999, the Aussie crazies cheering in Melbourne and Brisbane – all will be silenced.
Let me tell you about importance of a Davis Cup tie in Harare Zimbabwe between Zimbabwe and U.S. in 2000. At the time, the economy of Zimbabwe was just starting its downward course, based on the policies of its dictator, Robert Mugabe. Amazingly, after day two, when U.S. lost doubles, Zimbabwe was leading 2-1, one win away from knocking off the mighty United States. That was the last good news for the country for the next 17 years. The next day the U.S. team, with Chris Woodruff winning 5th match, won 3-2. But for one day, there was hope and excitement in Zimbabwe because of Davis Cup. My personal aside: When Mugabe was finally removed last fall, I watched with tears in my eyes the joy on the faces of those amazing Zimbabweans, joy I last saw on the last day of the Davis Cup tie in 2000.
I have mixed emotions that the biggest Davis Cup fan of all-time, Bud Collins, is no longer with us during this reform discussion. I wish he was here to much more elegantly explain what Davis Cup is all about. I assume his status would have allowed him to directly address the delegates. If move to World Cup is approved, I am glad he is not here to see the end of the Davis Cup he knew and loved.
As you vote next week, as you hear the ITF board talk about the money and the sponsors, and the World Cup finals sites, please remember the folks who make Davis Cup the Davis Cup: the fans. And remember the legacy of Bud Collins, a person who was instrumental in tennis, and therefore ITF, reaching the heights it has.