Davis Cup Identity Crisis and David Foster Wallace End Notes

The US Davis Cup team isn’t looking like itself this weekend and an appreciation of David Foster Wallace.


That image above is the Roger Federer CrazySmiles Nike Pro Figure, created by Michael Lau for Nike. I found Roger, along with his broken racket, at Undefeated, a sneaker shop in the Silverlake section of Los Angeles. I tried to buy it and take it home with me but the very nice young man working there said the figure was probably worth a few thousand dollars. I like Roger but not that much. That price is not right but it’s not far off. The figures are going for $800 on eBay. It is a crazy smile, by the way. Almost demonic.

Roger is playing Davis Cup this weekend as is Rafael Nadal and it’s Nadal’s tie I want to look at because his Spanish Davis Cup team is hosting the US team in Madrid. The winner of this tie will play in the Davis Cup final and I’m not about to put any money on the US. And it’s not just because the matches will be played on slow red clay.

If things weren’t already bad enough in the US – top financial institutions are dropping like flies and tropical storms are bashing the Gulf Coast, the US Davis Cup team is undergoing an identity crisis. Honest, half the players have changed and this is a team that is usually chiseled in cement: Andy Roddick and James Blake play singles and Bob and Mike Bryan play doubles. It’s like clockwork.

But Blake is too tired to travel to Madrid and slide around on clay for hours at a time and I guess it’s believable considering his performance at the US Open. He only made it as far as the third round where he lost to his buddy Mardy Fish. I did wonder whether choosing Sam Querrey to take his place was a quiet suggestion that Querrey was the better clay court player, but when I looked it up, Blake ain’t so bad on clay. He has an 8-5 record this year with a quarterfinal at the Rome Masters.

Querrey beat Richard Gasquet on his way to the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo but Gasquet’s clay court record is worse than Blake’s this year if you can believe it. When a journalist asked Querrey how he could put a scare into Nadal, Querrey suggested making faces at him. It’s worth a try because Querrey will play the first singles match and Nadal is his opponent.

Roddick’s first opponent is David Ferrer and while Roddick is actually 4-1 on clay this year – he reached the semifinals in Rome before he had to retire, and he is the gutsiest Davis Cup player on the planet, he’s unlikely to beat Ferrer and very unlikely to beat Nadal. Roddick pushed Nadal to two tiebreakers and took one set off him in the 2004 Davis Cup final but that was before Nadal was unbeatable on clay.

Bob Bryan is back home rehabbing his sore left shoulder. He is the lefty, right? In his place, Mardy Fish is madly practicing those complex poaching or not poaching signals with Mike Bryan. One thing’s for sure, you can’t impugn the patriotism of today’s players. This is not the Davis Cup era of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi who played when they felt like it. Fish is getting married on September 29th and here he is, off to Madrid to fill in for Bob Bryan at a moment’s notice.

There is one positive note. Madrid is at altitude and that means the ball will travel a bit faster because the air is thinner. That’ll help our big servers. But it probably won’t be enough.

David Foster Wallace End Notes

My favorite sports writing doesn’t come from sportswriters. David Halberstam won a Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam War journalism but he also wrote a book about the Portland Trailblazers NBA team titled Breaks of the Game. Once you’ve read that book, you’ll understand the economics of modern sport franchises as well as the psychology of a professional athlete. And his biography, I guess you’d call it, of Bill Bellichick, is about as close as you’ll get to knowing anything about the taciturn curmudgeon who coaches the New England Patriots in his cutoff hoodie most Sundays. When Halberstam was killed in an automobile accident last year, he was on his way to an interview with Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle.

Michael Lewis has written books about Wall Street and Silicon Valley but Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a masterful take on the New Idea. In this case, new ideas in baseball that dramatically changed the way fans watched the game and baseball teams evaluated players. I read that book three times to figure out what made Lewis such a great writer and I came up with plenty of reasons. The main one is storytelling and his book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, is a great story about a poor young black man named Michael Oher who is adopted by a rich white family in Tennessee. Oher is a freakishly talented football player who ends up playing college football for his adoptive family’s alma mater, and you’re left wondering how much that motivated the largesse of his new family.

My favorite tennis writer? That would be David Foster Wallace. We talked about his Federer piece in Play Magazine recently because some people thought Wallace made too much of Federer as the beautiful tennis player in contrast to Nadal as the workaday grinder. That’s quite possible but I loved the piece because Wallace is always over the top – the title of the piece is Federer as Religious Experience – and exceptional athletes are best celebrated by the grand writers of our time. Wallace was in the category.

But Wallace wrote about lesser athletes too and he was as over the top for the lower level tennis player as he was for every other subject he took on. Here’s the title of a piece he wrote for Esquire Magazine on Michael Joyce, former top 100 tennis player who is now Maria Sharapova’s coach: Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness. Never before, or since, has a tennis player toiling on the challenger circuit come to symbolize such heady existential issues.

I haven’t read it yet but Wallace also wrote a 25 page review of former tennis prodigy Tracy Austin’s memoir. No doubt Wallace’s review is ten times more fascinating than its subject. Wallace was a junior tennis player himself and the protagonist of his complex and hugely entertaining novel, Infinite Jest, was also a junior tennis player.

Wallace suffered from depression for many years and last Sunday he gave up the battle. He committed suicide. I can’t blame him. My dearest good friend William appears to be on the losing end of a similar battle and I have nothing but immense respect for both of them. I’m proud that they’ve led such productive lives under such difficult conditions. But I’m also, as a one memorial to Wallace suggested, infinitely sad.