Some top U.S. players are going to the Olympics and some are not. Some top U.S. players are playing Fed Cup and Davis Cup and some are not.

When I woke up this morning and looked out the window, I saw a huge funnel of smoke rising in the sky. It looked like the Capitol Records building was on fire but, luckily, it wasn’t. A night club in the neighborhood of Hollywood and Vine was burning away. I’m used to grabbing up my computer, birth certificate, passport, and naturalization papers, and preparing to evacuate because I live in the Hollywood Hills and fire is a natural part of clearing the underbrush.

I take those naturalization papers in case there’s any question about my citizenship. I don’t want to be shipped backed to England or arrested by the Homeland Security Department for, oh, I don’t know, growing sprouts. Four years ago, an artist named Steve Kurtz had the misfortune of calling 911 because his wife was dying of heart failure. The paramedics who came to his house noticed that he had a home laboratory and called the FBI.

Kurtz is a professor of art at SUNY Buffalo and he had harmless bacteria in his Petri dishes which he uses in his art projects. He was detained by the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Justice Department sought bioterrorism charges under the Patriot Act before settling on mail fraud charges related to purchasing the bacteria. Thankfully, all charges were dropped last week.

I bring this up because patriotism is a complex subject and that’s true in sports too as you can see with the Olympic torch protests. And U.S. tennis players have a complex, or could we say, sometimes convenient take on the subject themselves. I could summarize it like this:

  1. Some top men aren’t going to the this summer’s Olympics.
  2. The top women all want to go to the Olympics.
  3. Some top women didn’t play Fed Cup last week.
  4. The top men all play Davis Cup.

Andy Roddick and his good pal Mardy Fish announced that they will enter the ATP tournament in Washington instead of playing for the U.S. in Beijing this summer. Roddick wants to concentrate on winning the U.S. Open and I suppose he can be excused because he carries the Davis Cup team and I’m sure he sees this year as a golden opportunity (sorry for the reference) to try and take a slam considering his success so far and Federer’s vulnerability.

I don’t know what Fish’s excuse is but his withdrawal leaves the U.S. with the following team if it’s chosen by ranking: James Blake, Sam Querrey, Donald Young, and Bobby Reynolds. The Bryan Brothers will go as the doubles team so there’s a chance for a medal.

Serena and Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport all want to go to the Olympics but Venus is still out with an undisclosed and, possibly, undiagnosed problem, and Serena is often injured. Serena and Venus won both the singles and doubles gold medals in 2000 between them and that’s something the women have that the men don’t: a strong Olympic tradition.

While tennis was an original sport when the Olympics started again in the 1896, it was dropped in 1924 and didn’t come back until 1988, so that’s only five Olympic competitions in our short memory banks. Steffi Graf won the gold medal in singles in 1988 to complete the golden slam – an incredible feat that consists of winning all four slams and the gold medal – but the U.S. women won the doubles gold and they won every gold medal in 1992, 1996 and 2000. That helps explain the enthusiasm of the U.S. women. They have a tradition to uphold and regain.

The men won a gold medal in singles in 1996 (Andre Agassi) and a gold medal in doubles in 1988. If you’re like me, you may have forgotten that Brad Gilbert won a bronze medal in 1988. Not bad but not like the women and certainly not close to the tradition of U.S. men winning Davis Cups. The top men don’t skip Davis Cup. Not only that but the lower ranked players turn up too and happily serve as hitting partners. There was Fish at the Davis Cup match against France earlier this month even though he wasn’t on the team.

Serena and Lindsay, however, refused to travel to the Fed Cup match in Moscow last week. Lindsay refused to go because Serena didn’t go and Lindsay didn’t want to play two singles matches. That’s understandable. Anything Lindsay does is a bonus because the U.S. wasn’t expecting her back from retirement anyway and her child-raising plans probably never included Moscow.

The problem with Fed Cup isn’t tradition. The U.S. has won 17 Fed Cups, ten more than the next country – Australia. The problem is that the U.S. doesn’t have those top women players they had in the past. Lindsay will play until she fades into motherhood. Serena will play when she’s not injured. We don’t know about Venus and next up in the rankings is – I had to look this up – Meghann Shaughnessy. How many H’s can you have in one name? I’m being unkind but you see the problem.

I’m not that concerned about the Olympics. I don’t watch the Olympics to watch tennis. I’m concerned about the fractured nature of the U.S. team spirit because I’m a sucker for national competitions and it does my heart good to see U.S. tennis players dancing around together. That might have to wait until the U.S. restocks its talent base and though that could take a long time, I can always watch the replay of the Davis Cup win last year.

By the way, I put up that Andy Roddick video even though it’s not directly related and even though the audio is not good because it’s a performance you shouldn’t miss.

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