Monday, February 20, 2012

Choosing individual success over honor for country

I enjoyed watching Federer spank the ass off off Del Potro this morning. My only regret was that he didn’t bagel him in the first set. I had a moment of panic when DelPo threatened to come back in the second. But when Federer kept sweetly arcing those short cross-court forehands, I let myself breathe again. Such divine tennis. It was grace vs. the sledgehammer. And grace won.

But I don’t think Federer has a chance in heck of winning many more tournaments like these had he also to fulfill Davis Cup obligations for the rest of this year. If Federer had managed to help Switzerland beat the US at Davis Cup, he would have found himself stuck with a schedule that practically guaranteed that he would have ended up like Djokovic did by the end of 2011 when he simply had no juice left. Certainly not in an Olympic year. Something had to give and what gave was Davis Cup. Switzerland lost every single match. Did anyone see that coming?

Well actually, my coach did. He predicted it. He didn’t predict the complete Switzerland shut-out, but he predicted that Federer would lose every single match he played. I was like “What you talking ‘bout Coachy?”, and he was like, “Just wait and see. There is no way Federer is adding Davis Cup to his schedule this year. Not when there’s a chance of him making it back to #1”.

I watched those Davis Cup matches closely. I still can’t figure out how Isner managed to beat Federer. I still don’t understand how Federer and Wawrinka -- a winning Olympics combination -- managed to lose to the freshly cobbled together team of a Bryan brother and Mardy Fish. The results were stunning. I could practically hear my coach shouting “I told you so!”

Of course I have no proof that he is right. And because he is an even bigger Federer apologist than I am, my coach had no problem with what he perceived as Roger’s decision to make his individual success more important than his country’s honor. As far as my coach was concerned, Federer more than did his part by making sure the host country earned some revenue during the event. He owed the sport or Switzerland nothing more.

For me, it is not so simple. I can’t make it a black or white issue. There are shades of gray here that need to be painted. Because it IS an honor to play for one’s country. It is an honor to become so great at your sport that you bring glory to your nation. And when said nation is called Serbia, with its sometimes inglorious past and murky history, well then the honor becomes even more important, even more meaningful.

Djokovic may currently live in the tax haven of Monaco, but there is no question that his heart and soul belong to Serbia. So when Serbian president, Boris Tadic, recently announced that Djokovic will be granted the Karadjordjeva Star Medal -- the highest honor in this Balkan country -- well only a hater would argue that Djokovic wasn’t deserving. Not only does he deserve it, he played his ass off for it during his years of Davis Cup support.

But because I am also at heart a cynical chick, part of me wondered if Tadic was up for re-election or something. Because you and I both know that this decision was also a political one. At heart politicians are a manipulative bunch. To this day I chose not to forgive Bill Clinton for his narcissistic decision to enter Roland Garros after Agassi’s match had started -- the better to make sure he was the absolute center of attention I suppose. Poor Agassi was blind-sided into failure. Sometimes the politician’s agenda is not always in the best interest of the tennis player.

And to be fair to Tadic whom I do not know and will never meet, this honor should be perceived as coming from the entire country, not from an individual politician. But I hope that Djokovic does not let this honor make him feel obligated to continue playing at every Davis Cup event. I also hope that he has learned some lessons from the way he closed out 2011, barely able to raise his racket at the year end championships, utterly depleted by the toll of prolonged success.

Certainly one of the lessons I hope Djokovic has learned is that he cannot remain #1 without making sacrifices. Among those sacrifices may be the decision not to play Davis Cup. Which is why I was fine with his absence from the contest last week. Besides, I’ve always felt that Davis Cup should be a competition for younger players, a chance for newbies to develop team spirit while honoring their countries. Leave Davis Cup for the Donald Youngs and the Juan Monacos, I say. Let the top players call in sick. Or lose deliberately. Whichever they can live with ethically.

Perhaps we’ve even arrived at the point when it’s become time to consider removing Davis Cup from the schedule altogether during an Olympics year. It’s only so many times players should be required to play for their countries in any given year. Who can blame them for feeling a tad burdened? Or maybe I just think that Djokovic has earned the right to be selfish. As has Federer.

1 comment:

Snoopdougiefreshprince said...

LIsten up, people. The eastern forehand and one-handed backhand make for grace and artistry. The western forehand and two-fisted backhand make for prosaic, numbing wars of attrition. I'll watch Federer or Gasquet or Kvitova anytime. They're artists. Most of the rest are dull, shrieking and posing notwithstanding.