Some time ago I started a series on some of the changes I would like to see in tennis. Some would say that my ideas were fueled more by idealism than by practicality. And even I have to admit that today’s suggestion certainly falls more within the realm of dreamland. In a nutshell, the seventh change that I would like to see in tennis is for there to be a better distinction between the Olympics, and Fed Cup/Davis Cup, with the latter being reserved strictly for amateurs. Let me explain.
To me, the Olympics should be exclusively for the crème de la crème. It is a chance for a country’s best to compete on a level playing field in that the event is hosted by one country, but that fact ought not to give the host country an advantage. Tennis, for example, is typically played on a DecoTurf surface, a type of cushioned hard court similar to that used at the US Open. This is true regardless of which country is hosting the games.
For Fed Cup and Davis Cup, the host country is allowed to determine the surface on which contending matches are played. I have no quarrel with this. And so in the era of Gustavo Kuerten for example, Brazil usually selected clay courts when hosting the Davis Cup, not just because this gave Guga an advantage, but also because their opponents – say Australia – were assumed to then be at a distinct disadvantage. This plan famously backfired in 2001 when the Aussies spanked Brazil on clay in Guga’s hometown of Florianopolis.
Other than being able to select the surface on which matches are contended, there are a few other elements that separate the Olympics from Fed/Davis Cup. For a start, while players earn distinguished medals at the Olympics, there is no direct financial gain attached to winning. Of course some countries reward their medalists handsomely, and some endorsement deals can pay out big bucks for wins, but no financial reward is doled out by the Olympics committee. This to me is as it should be.
But the celebration of a country’s win at Davis or Fed Cup suggests that the honor may be perceived as almost equal to an Olympic medal. In addition, Fed Cup and Davis Cup yield handsome remunerations that are divided among players and coaches.
But if it were up to me, there would be much more separating the Olympics from Fed Cup and Davis Cup. For a start, only professional players should be allowed to compete at Olympic events. After all, the Olympics should always feature a country’s best. But Fed Cup and Davis Cup I believe should not. These events should be reserved strictly for amateurs.
I have always felt that Fed Cup and Davis Cup should only feature a country’s up-and-coming players, its lesser-ranked. Furthermore, all players should be required to play Davis or Fed Cup as a rite of passage, a chance to cut their teeth as it were against other players who are similarly ranked. Fed Cup and Davis Cup would become the tennis equivalent of some countries’ mandatory military duty. You pay your dues to your country early in your career, and then graduate to making the big bucks among the other pros. And some day, if you’re lucky, you might even aspire to winning an Olympic medal.
Of course this is easy to recommend when you are from a country that boasts tremendous tennis resources in terms of players from whom to choose. But since this is true for all of those at the top, it is an easy recommendation to implement at the level of the World Group. I recognize that it would not be as simple when you start looking down the hierarchy. And by the time you get to countries like Syria and Barbados, the 99th and 100th in the world rankings in Fed Cup, it might be downright impossible.
But if I had my way, countries like the USA and Italy (for Fed Cup), and Spain and France (for Davis Cup), would not be permitted to send the likes of Venus and Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal and Jo Wilfred Tsonga to compete against each other. Fed Cup would indeed feature the team which Mary Jo Fernandez has currently to tackle the Russians in addition to the unexpected winds of Alabama – Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Sloane Stephens as a practice partner. This is excellent exposure for younger players. It gives them a chance to compete on a world stage, and to learn, with guidance, what it really takes to win.