On Wednesday, Rafael Nadal will make his long awaited return, entering an ATP world tour 250 event in Chile. Tennis Channel will carry the match live at 4 PM. The major networks are leading their Tennis pages with the Nadal story. Undoubtedly, it’s big news. The sport needs Nadal on the court, not on the sidelines.
But why is he garnering the headlines today? The timing is curious considering a scintillating weekend of Davis Cup tennis just concluded. Led by Milos Raonic, Canada will make their first foray into the second round after beating powerhouse Spain in Vancouver. Sam Querrey battled back from a set down in the final rubber to send the States past underdog Brazil. The Czech Republic and Switzerland contested the second longest match of all time. Emergency replacement Fabio Fognini led Italy over Croatia, setting up a match-up with the Canadians on April 5th.
In brief, the Davis Cup creates story lines the tour cannot. Frank Dancevic is not going to beat Andy Murray at Wimbledon. That didn’t matter on Friday night, when the 151st ranked player in the world gave Canada a 2-0 lead. Nicolás Almagro and Radek Štepánek don’t play in Grand Slam finals. It’s a different story when their country is involved. The 2012 Davis Cup final was an epic, lasting four sets. Stepanek emerged in the end, and the Czech Republic captured their second Davis Cup title. Watching the ensuing celebration at the O2 Arena in Prague was pretty damn cool.
Unfortunately, the Cup is on the verge of irrelevancy. A wonky schedule and the absence of stars have combined to make it a non-event in the eyes of casual tennis fans and more frighteningly, the players themselves.