Monday, December 3, 2007

One Last Shot

There were no epic matches in Portland, but the 107-year-old silver hardware will be in the states for at least a year. The U.S. posted wins this season over the Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden and Russia. Above the team poses with the cup Sunday afternoon, one night after the sure-to-be legendary team party. The Bryan brothers' blog Sunday night confirmed that Andy planned to "tie" one one and bail out on Sunday's match. Bob Bryan wrote, "It was about 6 o'clock last night when Andy told me that he wouldn't be ready to play today - he'd had a few too many at the victory celebrations."

The champs have only two months to enjoy the victory until the first round of the 2008 draw begins. The U.S. team will travel to Vienna, Austria to play indoors on slow, red clay Feb. 8-10.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

From Competition to Exhibition: “Dead Rubbers” Fulfill the Three-Day Pass

Imagine in the World Series after the winning team sweeps the series in game four and celebrates on the field and in the clubhouse, they returned to play games five, six and seven just for the hell of it.

That’s essentially what the Davis Cup does. Although the U.S. won the tie yesterday by winning the first three duels, two more meaningless singles matches will be played today. The USTA sold only three-day passes, so they have obligations to meet. The biggest event will be the U.S. team posing with the trophy, a colossal piece of hardware that must run up one hell of a shipping bill.

The matches played after the tie is decided are known by the highly questionable term “dead rubbers,” a phrase that could serve as excellent inspiration for many jokes that are unfit for a family friendly blog such as this one. Speaking of terminology, the description of the competition as a “tie” is peculiar and confusing to all but the most seasoned of Davis Cup fans. Can’t we let go of this semantic tradition and simply call it a team match like every other tennis team in leagues across the country do? A USTA official said that "tie" was chosen by the International Tennis Federation to distinguish the overall competitions from the individual matches, but there has to be a better name. (The term rubber comes from cricket, apparently.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Day 2: Bryan Brothers Bring It Back Home

Bob and Mike Bryan, the all-American doubles duplicates, buckled down Saturday and overcame a 1-3 deficit in the first set tiebreaker, winning the first set and never looking back until red, blue and silver banners streamed from the roof of the Portland Memorial Coliseum and the engraver began scratching American names onto the trophy.

"We've been working for this since we were two-years-old," said Bob, or maybe it was Mike. "All I can say is whew!"

The Bryans dominated the Russian pair of Davydenko and Andreev, singles stars whose strategy consisted of staying on the baseline and whaling at groundstrokes, a plan that was doomed on a hard fast court. The Bryans win that clinches the first Davis Cup for the U.S. since 1995 will be a career cornerstone for the number one doubles team in the world that is now 13-1 in Davis Cup play. Considering the anonymity in which doubles teams toil, it was a great moment to see the Bryans, who turn 30 next April, clinch the victory.

Other musings from my notepad: Day 2 started and ended with members of the Russian team and coaches playing soccer on one end of the court, with folding chairs set up for the goals. Andreev and Youzhny participated in the morning three-on-three soccer matchup before Davydenko came out and he and Andreev warmed up. After the Bryans won and the celebration began to wane after twenty minutes of photos and smiles, the Russians emerged from the locker room and swept away the streamers from one end of the court, this time with enough people for a five-on-five game, including yesterday's losers Youzhny and Tursonov, neither of whom seem too heartbroken, unless perhaps they were trying to distract themselves from the agony of defeat with the joy of kicking a ball...Although the Russians lost the tie, they won the contest of the coolest warmups, these red duds with this wild looking logo that looks like some sort of combination of a heart and vines, sprawling down the left side of the jackets...During the warmup, Andreev several times swiveled the racket sideways and smacked shots with the frame of the racket...The USTA honored Stan Smith before the match, member of seven Davis Cup championship teams, including the classic match against Ion Tiriac written about here earlier... After more flag presentations and ceremonial hooptedoodle (including a speech by Patrick McEnroe who maybe exaggerated just a little when he called the competition a worldwide peacemaking event), pyrotechnics exploded near the rafters...McEnroe's singing-actress wife sang the national anthem well--her new album will be out in the spring...Moving moments when a wheelchair champion tennis player from Portland tossed the coin, and later had his picture with the team who greeted him warmly...I'm not sure why the coaches both made speeches and the players exchange gifts before the matches on day two. Wonder what they got for each other?...There was little jingoistic anger between Russians and Americans, and no Americans taunted the alleged matchfixer Davydenko at all...Davis Cup matches might be the only time that tennis succumbs to the favorite American pastime of fawning for T-shirts tossed into the audience. For some reason, when free T-shirts are proffered, perfectly reasonable people turn into beasts not unlike ravenous monkeys who will kill for a banana or a fresh piece of fruit...My only beef with the Bryan brothers who seem like wonderfully fine fellows is that they both wear big shiny watches on the court. I know they are getting paid by someone to do this, and if I was a pro player only making doubles money (and sharing it with my brother, no less) I would probably agree to wear about anything for cold hard cash. But I'm sick of tennis players trying to sell me a watch. I've had the same watch I got free with a Sports Illustrated subscription six years ago and it serves me just fine. It tells the same damn time as if it was a Rolex....After the Bryan brothers won the first set, they got more aggressive and took over the net and dominated the final two sets. Kickass power American tennis! It was good to see...The only drawback to the day is that sitting directly behind us was a man there who did not stop talking about the match, sort of our own personal Mary Carillo talking in our ears. He constantly moderated the events on courts, repeated things the umpire said, embarrassingly tried to analyze the play, and then would occasionally ask his son, allegedly a junior player, questions like, "Which is the deuce side?" I showed great restraint in not trying to strangle him. I much preferred the Russians fans sitting in front of us...To escape the babbling dude's monologue, I took a break during the second set and stopped by the Wilson racket booth where I was disturbed to learn that they are phasing out the N-code rackets, which includes the Blade that I use, and switching them to K-factor. (Does any of Wilson's alphabetic nonsense mean anything to anybody? N-code, K-code, I don't understand, nor do I have time to learn the difference.) Anyway, one of the tennis stores with a booth there has models of my racket that he wanted to get rid of so I bought one for $70 that he is shipping to me. I plan to put it into action next spring for the Green Valley Tennis Club 4.5 team of Haddown Township, N.J., when we win the Southern Jersey division (yeah, I'm talking to you, Cherry Hill) and go onto nationals...I returned to my seat in time to see the Bryans take the second and third sets in style, dominating the net like you've got to do in doubles on fast courts...

And finally, the Bryans won the match, and the streamers fell down and the players hugged and then mugged for pictures, signed autographs, and a good time was had by all.

Twins Go For the Win

Identical twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan can bring home the silver reward that is the Davis Cup with a win today, ending a 12-year-trophyless streak for the U.S. team.

The only way to tell the 29-year-old brothers apart is that Bob is a lefty and Mike is a righty. Twenty percent of identical twins have such different hand preferences.