Tuesday, November 25, 2008

DAVI(D')S CUP...ACCORDING TO BODO

Peter Bodo has been covering tennis for about 30 years, and for this I commend him…but as far as this post is concerned, that’s about the last good thing I have to say about him. I was absolutely gobsmacked by the following post at ESPN.com and here on Tennis World in which Bodo places the entire blame for Argentina’s loss in the Davis Cup final to Spain, on the shoulders of one person. 

That one person isn't Juan Martin del Potro who came into the tie with no energy, no plan B, and went out with barely a hint of struggle. It isn’t Chucho Acasuso, who again was unable to come up with the goods to win a "must win" match. It wasn’t any one of a number of Argentine professionals (Canas, Chela, Monaco, Calleri, etc.) that have been so weak as individuals that none of them was preferred to a half-injured or half-hearted options. And it wasn't Alberto Mancini, who did little more than hand out towels and nervy energy for 3 days. No the person he chose to condemn was David Nalbandian.

What?


The same David Nalbandian who has won 17 singles rubbers and 10 doubles rubbers for his country. The same David Nalbandian who has enthusiastically played for his country without hesitation for 6 years straight. And the same David Nalbandian that gave Argentina the perfect start to what should have been their coronation, by winning his opening singles rubber in straight sets against David Ferrer.


What?


Here we have a player who has never shied away from representing his country – who genuinely believes there is honor in the competition, and hopes to be appreciated for it. What a rare trait! Federer and Nadal have both flipped the bird to Davis Cup over the years, and we fall all over ourselves to congratulate them when they take the time out of their busy exhibition calendars and play for honor. But when Nalbandian gives his heart and soul to the cause, he’s accused of somehow turning a team competition into an exercise in personal vainglory. Somehow, now, it’s a bad thing that Nalbandian wants to win a Davis Cup for it?


What?


I also find it shockingly, and patently transparent, that Bodo has gone out of his way to heap accolades on Roddick for being a “team leader”, which is nothing more than an attempt to give him praise for something…anything…in the absence of winning a major for the last 5 years. I don’t criticize Roddick – he deserves his praise 
 but the insinuation that somehow Roddick’s commitment to the USA, trumps Nalbandian’s to Argentina is, as the English say, just bollocks. 

What exactly is this "team leader" non-sense anyway? An invented crown full of costume jewelry, worn only byr Roddick because, try as we may, there’s really nothing much else we can say about his game that’s been exceptional over the last 5 years. He was supposed to be the savior of American tennis and he’s failed miserably, and rather than accepting this like other countries do for their underachieving players, we concoct new and exciting ways of putting him right up there with the greats of the game that have...dare I say it...actually won majors. 


But this is absolute non-sense. 


Roddick has nothing to do with Blake or the Bryans winning or losing their matches. Try as we may to relate the two, Blake is as inconsistent in Davis Cup as he is in everything else. And the Bryans win all the time, not just when Roddick is cheering them on from the bench.


Speaking of whom, if anyone has turned Davis Cup into his own personal glorification, it’s Roddick.  But Bodo has nothing but kind words for him. I’m not suggesting Roddick should be criticized – I happen to admire his commitment to Davis Cup – but why then has Bodo chosen to criticize Nalbandian for the same virtue? Apparently he admits he has an axe to grind when it comes to Argentine players, but fails to mitigate this and proceeds to lambaste Nalbandian. The strange thing is Bodo should know better – he should know that all this talk of team spirit, and togetherness is bull – tennis, even when played in a team context, is still about one man trying to destroy the other. 


And at the end of the day, one man, and only that man can either will his way to win, or find a way to lose. That’s why it’s so important, in Davis Cup, that you have a team of real men who are fit enough, good enough and courageous enough to do like the Raiders and “just win, baby”. Spain did and Argentina didn't – how is this Nalbandian’s fault again?


Davis Cup is what it is, an imperfect test of the best tennis playing nation in the world. It’s a team competition and the team is the tennis playing nation, not 2 or 3 players, as the American's success in 2007 would have you believe. Frankly, I think the Americans were damn lucky they didn't have a similar situation – had Roddick come up lame before any of his Davis Cup matches, we’d all be lamenting that there were no others to hold aloft the mantle of “team leader”. But that didn't seem to bother the Spaniards, did it?


Here we have everyone and his brother bemoaning the misfortune of the Argentinians that their flavor of the month, del Potro, was injured and couldn't do the job on Friday. Excuse me, but has anyone ever heard of a player who was completely absent from the Spanish squad named Rafael Nadal? He was probably on a boat somewhere not contributing one iota, and if Spain had lost, we’d all be asking how different it would have been had he played. In fact they were without Nico Almagro and Tommy Robredo, two players ranked higher than Verdasco, but they still found a way to win. Instead, in hindsight, we've all got 20/20 vision, and now, going to Argentina without the best player in the world was somehow an advantage to Spain?


Oh, it gets stupider…


Then, there is this business of Nalbandian criticizing his teammates 
– dare I ask, so what if he did? After all, they deserved it  and if Acasuso had won on Sunday, you can bet someone, somewhere, would be giving the credit to Nalbandian for "motivating" his teammates.  And as if the soap opera weren't pathetic enough, he throws in this unconfirmed story of Nalbandian trying to "finagle" the location of the final to be somewhere close to Cordoba  which is apparently his home town.  But I ask you this:

What in the hell difference does it make where they play if you can’t keep the ball in between the lines? 

Did Nalbandian make Chucho aim for the fences (and often hit them) time and time again, giving away countless points to Verdasco, who gladly just kept the ball in play waiting for him to self-destruct? Did Nalbandian make Lopez play the match of his life? And if del Potro was not motivated, this is Nalbandian's fault? What's the source of Nalbandian's motivation? According to Bodo, he wants to make up for all his personal underachieving by making the Davis Cup "David's Cup". But this assumes he feels somehow he should be ashamed of his career. Maybe Bodo feels he's underachieved, but that has nothing to do with Nalbandian's self-perception, and thus, his cynical assumptions about Nalbandian's motivation (while ignoring the absence of del Potro's) is beyond absurd – it is in fact sinister. 

The fact of the matter is Argentina lost because they lacked depth 
 full stop. The Spaniards have a lot of options, even when the best player in the world is on vacation. The same could not be said for Argentina. Their best hope was to win 3 singles matches, even though they put in a hell of an effort in doubles, but fell short. Nalbandian did his part, but when he looked over his shoulder to see who else was going again into the breach, he saw a 19 year old kid with no plan B, and a guy who 2 years ago, looked like he was on the verge of depression after losing another deciding rubber  this one in Moscow.  Next to that, they had about 6 other players so out of form or shape, they didn't even bother to suit up.

And it is this lone warrior, who gave everything to the cause, that Bodo chooses to isolate for blame. 


Shame on you Peter Bodo – after all these years you really should know better.

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