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Saturday, February 1, 2014

NEWS: Teams-a-plenty in tennis both at home and abroad

The Davis Cup
Although tennis may be simply a seasonal sport to some, matches and tournaments take place in professional tennis almost non-stop all over the globe. After all, there is always nice outdoor weather in some location, on any day in the calendar, around the world. The only time of year that racquets have a chance to breathe a sigh of relief from those named Nadal, Federer, Murray and others is during the holiday season. The ATP World Tour Finals played in London ends around mid-November, and the ATP men’s tour picks up again with tournaments in Brisbane, Doha and Chennai at the end of December. But all these aforementioned events focus on the individual efforts of each player who essentially represent only themselves and perhaps their tight-knit group of coaches, physios, and trainers.

Then we reach the end of January and run into the premier international team event in men’s tennis called Davis Cup. For the uninitiated, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) runs this annual contest between teams from competing countries. Beginning in 1900 as a challenge between Great Britain and the United States, 2013 showed 130 nations in-the-running for this prestigious trophy. And you thought the Olympics were the only international venue for representing one’s country in competition?

Each elimination round known as a “tie” consists of 5 “rubbers” or matches. These are played in 3 days and usually on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday schedule. The winner of the tie is the nation which wins 3 or more of the 5 rubber. On the first day, the initial 2 rubbers are singles which are usually played by each nation's 2 best available singles players. On the second day, the doubles rubber is played. On the third day, the final 2 rubbers are typically reverse singles, in which the first-day contestants usually play again but swap opponents from the first day's singles rubbers.

Playing in sport for one’s country is an honor for the few players given the opportunity as the teams are as small as 4 players. Even though each brings their own element of talent and skill to the matches, it is still the team effort that prevails. This concept of individuals competing for the overall benefit for the team is not such a foreign concept in tennis as many might imagine. All across the country, high schools and colleges have tennis teams who train together, strategize together, celebrate together in victory and console each other in defeat. Tennis for these individuals is a team sport not much different than any other. The squads may be smaller, and the one-on-one or two-on-two format may not mirror the volume of kids on the soccer, baseball, or football fields. But at the end of the day, teams win or lose as a team with each member doing their best for the common goal. Even nationally we have the format known as World Team Tennis, a co-ed professional league played with a team format all across the United States. Our local team is the Philadelphia Freedoms for whom a song was written and performed by the Bernie Taupin-Elton John pairing as a favor for then tennis-star Billie Jean King who headlined the team in the 70s. Give yourself a high-five if you knew we had a tennis team to stand behind and pull for just like the Flyers, Eagles and Phillies.

As we look again internationally at the great first round matchups in Davis Cup competition with last year’s winner the Czech Republic vs. the Netherlands, Japan vs. Canada, Germany vs. Spain, France vs. Australia, Argentina vs. Italy, Kazakhstan vs. Belgium, Serbia vs. Switzerland, and our own USA vs. Great Britain, I hope that parents of young children remember that tennis can be both an individual and team sport when seeking an athletic activity in which to involve their children. It is the sport that can last them a lifetime. But perhaps even more relevant is the fact that parents and kids can play tennis together on public tennis courts needing very little equipment. It provides healthy, fun and inexpensive entertainment for the entire family who can perhaps even divide into teams. Just a word of advice to dads: moms team should always win.