Well, the competition and scheduling at least. Because I just watched the deciding match of the Davis Cup 2011 Final in Seville, Spain where the host country's Rafael Nadal beat Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (0) and something about what happened after the match struck me.
After Rafa hits the down the line forehand winner and falls on his back, we see his teammates rush towards him in jubilation. And then we see Del Potro waiting at the net for the compulsory handshake but the Argentinian was obviously holding back tears and as soon as Rafa comes up to him, he just buries his face on his opponent's shoulder.
That much emotion made me realize just how much the Davis Cup tournament means to these players. While I've heard players say that winning even just one Grand Slam tournament validates their professional careers, I almost never see them choke up and cry when they lose. The only ones in the men's tour I've seen since I started watching five years ago are Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, and Rafa and they are all Grand Slam champions. Even Del Potro, already a US Open Champion, was a surprise.
Del Potro's breakdown was a very telling image because a victory by him would have given Argentina a chance to play for an all-or-nothing fifth match that would have seen his teammate David Nalbandian face Spain's David Ferrer. But as it happened, Argentina is now a four-time runner-up and will have to wait another year before they can win their first ever Davis Cup, a tournament that began in 1900.
Clearly, a lot was weighing down on Del Potro and the bagel he got from Rafa in the fourth-set tiebreaker probably made matters worse. It then made me think, would it be possible for the ATP to restructure its tournament schedule and add more Davis Cup- or Hopman Cup-type tournaments and cut down on the existing format that crowns at least one singles champion and one doubles champion.
The obvious answer is no, at least not in a few years because if anybody in the ATP tour does recommend this, it will take a long time of planning before it is implemented. But consider the positives that would come out of this:
- a team competition tournament will still see our favorite players in singles and doubles action but it will add more excitement and drama because every win becomes all the more important since they are playing for others (meaning teammates and country) and not just for themselves
- we the fans will root for them more and if given enough coverage, it should attract new fans who might just even be interested to fill up the seats at tournament venues (unless it's Rafa, Federer, Novak Djokovic, or even Murray playing, who would go pay for a day ticket to watch just one match?)
- countries not in the World Group will strive more to make it there so that they could at least get some air time
- and perhaps even more importantly, the players will no longer have reason to complain about the tiring schedule.
The only viable reason why I think Grand Slams and Masters Tournaments are given much emphasis is because of the ATP ranking points the players get from these.
As you can see, the points differential is quite wide considering everything. But what if by participating in the Davis Cup and playing for your country, you can likewise get the same points you'd get if you win even just a Masters Tournament? And this is the tournament where you get the loudest cheers from a crowd that's rooting for every point you win.
Del Potro cried for Argentina and I'm not saying that the players start crying after every loss for us fans to feel for them and see that a certain tournament means the world to them. But perhaps it is time for tennis, a sport that has gone through so many changes (from the racquets to the balls, the clothes, and the surfaces) to evolve once more for the world to see just what makes it the most challenging--physically, mentally, and emotionally--game to play.