Lack of star quality stains Davis Cup

by Dave James, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 05 2013 11:23 AM | Updated as of Feb 05 2013 07:23 PM

PARIS - Wimbledon's Centre Court, Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros and the Taco Bell Arena, way out west in Boise, Idaho.

Only two of these are fabled tennis arenas and the Davis Cup, celebrating its 114th birthday, will be heading away from the sport's heartlands when the United States face Serbia in April's quarter-finals.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) will be hoping that Serbia's world number one Novak Djokovic won't mind adding the extra 2,830 miles (4,500 kilometres) to his travels.

That's the distance from Miami, where Djokovic will be playing in the ATP Masters the week before the April 5-7 quarter-final which has been sandwiched in between the end of the US hardcourt season and the start of Europe's claycourt swing.

Djokovic was one of only four of the world's top 10 who played in the Davis Cup World Group first round last weekend, helping his country beat Belgium.

World number two Roger Federer, who has slashed his schedule this year, skipped Switzerland's exhausting defeat to holders Czech Republic in Geneva.

Andy Murray, the world number three, was idle because Britain didn't have a fixture, but the US Open champion has already decided to miss April's zonal tussle with Russia.

David Ferrer, the world's fourth best player, opted out of Spain's tie in Vancouver against Canada where his team, three-time champions in the last five years, were beaten in the opening round for the first time in seven years.

Rafael Nadal, now at five in the rankings, also missed that tie through injury while world number seven Juan Martin del Potro sat out Argentina's 5-0 whitewash of Germany.

In a tight schedule, the Davis Cup is struggling to get the top players to commit on a regular basis -- even the patriotic Djokovic missed the entire 2012 campaign.

Fatigue and injuries are major concerns especially with the tournament still relying on the "advantage" final set rather than the sudden-death tiebreak.

At the weekend, the Czechs and Swiss played out a doubles match which lasted seven hours and one minute -- the longest clash in the tournament's history, decided by 24-22 in the final set.

Czech world number six Tomas Berdych, who played in that match, was on court for 13 hours, playing on all three days.

"You play tennis for moments like this," said Berdych, who is scheduled to be top seed at the ATP event in Montpellier this week.

His vanquished foe, Stanislas Wawrinka, also played three days.

"I care about this competition and love to play for my country," said Wawrinka.

But some in the sport, wary of burnout for the marquee names, insist the introduction of a final set tiebreak could entice the world's leading men to play more often.

The ITF insist they are open to dialogue on ways to preserve the competition's integrity.

"The historic doubles rubber in Geneva showcased all the unique qualities of a Davis Cup tie," ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti told AFP.

"However the ITF continues to look at ways in which the competition can evolve in discussion with the players and our member nations."

Their mood may not have been improved when the US Tennis Federation, keen to capitalise on home advantage, opted for the Taco Bell Arena at Boise State University to stage the US-Serbia quarter-final.

Murray hasn't played Davis Cup since 2011 and is sitting out the April date to concentrate on his claycourt campaign.

"It's a shame to miss out on the Davis Cup as I always enjoy playing," said the Scot.

"I will definitely be available to play the next Davis Cup tie later this year."

Ferrer, one of the fittest men on tour, preferred not to travel to Canada on the back of having played Doha, Auckland and then the Australian Open with his agent claiming that the 30-year-old only had five days vacation in 2012.

Del Potro also wants to concentrate on the Grand Slams and has opted out of the 2013 competition.

"The decision was not easy, but I have important goals on the circuit. I want to win more Grand Slam tournaments and be world number one. I can't keep everyone happy," he said.

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