US Tennis team Davis Cup
Slovakia Davis Cup Captain Miloslav Mecir, left, talks with Norbert Gombos, during a break in play of the first set of a Davis Cup World Group playoff match against John Isner, of the United States, Friday, Sept. 12, 2014, at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Let's start with the good news.
The U.S. Davis Cup team took a big step towards staying in the 16-country World Group for 2015 by winning its first two singles matches in a playoff tie Friday against Slovakia in Chicago.
Well, not actually in Chicago. In a suburb called Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
They played at the Sears Centre (do they really spell it that way?), 25 miles northwest of Chicago. It takes about 45 minutes when there's no traffic. When there's traffic – say, later on a Friday afternoon as people head out for the weekend, with a Davis Cup tie starting at 4 p.m., it's more like an hour and a half.
So the stands were pretty deserted at the start, when U.S. No. 1 John Isner took on the immortal Norbert Gombos in the first singles rubber. No problem; Isner won 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2.
You would have hoped that the stands would fill up a bit for the second match, as people finally arrived. And it did get a little better. But not much better.
In case you missed it, American No. 2 Sam Querrey defeated Slovak No. 1 Martin Klizan in nearly-identical fashion – 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3 – to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead, with the slam-dunk Bryan brothers set to take on the doubles Saturday.
While the muckety-mucks in the fancier seats behind the court did start arriving – they sort of have to; they know they'll be on TV and besides, the tickets are free – the situation was, on the whole, a little sad.
Without drawing any grand, overarching conclusions that the small crowd reflected the "current state of American mens' tennis" (insert your copyright icon here), it is the perfect storm of a number of things.
1) The U.S. Open is a huge event, a Grand Slam. And while it may not sell itself, it's still in New York City. And it's there every year at the same time. And regardless of how well U.S. men's tennis is doing, a Federer and a Nadal and a Djokovic will still be there most years.
The USTA, however, isn't all that great at marketing and promoting its Davis Cup ties. One of the reasons may be the unintended consequences of an overwhelmingly volunteer-based organization on steroids. Can you just see the volunteer U.S. Davis Cup committee handing off the job to the volunteer Midwest Davis Cup committee, who hands it down to the volunteer Chicago District Tennis Association with the mandate to get the word out to the grassroots and get everyone to come!
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