Friday, October 17, 2014

23 takeaways from #DavisCupChicago

It's been nearly a month.  I have been remiss. But I have not forgotten! I said I would post about my #DavisCupChicago experience and hereby are my 23 takeaways. Takeaway from them what you will.

1. Hoffman Estates is farrrrrrr away. I suppose I knew that intellectually, but the reality of driving from the Chicago's lakefront, past the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, past the Ikea in Shaumburg ... I mean, I am pretty sure we even passed the Applebee's in Mason.  Point is: far.

2. And traffic on a Friday afternoon.  Falling Down-level-rage inducing.

3. As soon as we arrived close to the 4:00 p.m. start time and saw the parking lot was nearly empty, I knew we were in for a rough time, crowd-size-wise. And they wanted to charge us $15 to park there, in addition to the $200 we had already paid for the tickets. And it's not like public transportation is an easy option to Sears Centre. Fortunately for us, we had only $12 in cash, so we left the parking lot and found FREE parking within a short walk of the Sears Centre.  So that was a tiny victory.

But yeah, the Sears Centre felt somewhat cavernous. As we made our way up to the cheap seats, the friendly usher notified us that for a mere $5 donation to the USTA development program we could move to the lower tier.  However, I had already worked myself into a lather about what I saw as the many failings of the USTA in communicating about this tie that I started into a rant about the "sternly worded blog post" I would write about the whole ordeal (which I am finally finishing now, a month later).  It's true that my dander has gone down a bit in the intervening weeks. BUT STILL!  Here are some things I think USTA could and should have done better. Please note, these are from my perspective only.

  1. More and better email communication. Surely the USTA knew weeks in advance that they were nowhere close to capacity. And yet I got a total of TWO (2) emails in the two months leading up to Davis Cup Chicago from USTA reminding me about this tremendous opportunity.  Just no urgency or excitement.
  2. More and better social media engagement. I suppose I'm talking about Twitter, which is where I spent most of my summer, but 3 tweets from @USDavisCupTeam in the entire month of August? @USTAMidwest was better, but most of the tweets were just variations on "send us your selfie to win 2 tickets" or "USTA members get 20% off tickets." It just didn't feel that ... engaging.
  3. More promotion just around town.  Who knows how much the casual sports fan in the area would have cared about the tie?  But I saw no bus advertising, saw no social media advertising. I can't really comment on the extent to which local media was contacts, as I don't really consume much local media, but I do know this was not treated as an "event" for the average Chicagoan.  Most of them had no idea it was going on, I'm certain.
  4. More engagement with community groups.  I am a member of a tennis group and I approached our group's president about getting a group rate for tickets.  The idea being: a group of people who knew each other, and sat together, would both fill seats and be more likely to be boisterous.  He asked but didn't get an initial response; after several weeks of me prodding, he finally heard the answer: no go. Now, I don't know the specifics of the communication nor do I know whether other groups tried and failed to get a group deal.  I did see a bus outside after Day 1 and in retrospect could and should have asked who they were with, but I didn't.  I also saw at least one group of fans who seemed to bring the vivacity a bit more than the rest of the crowd, and wore some matching get-ups.  I would be very interested in hearing from USTA what their strategy was vis a vis community groups, because as far as I could tell, there was non. 
  5. CHANTS!!!  I whined about the lack of chants before, during, and after Fed Cup in St. Louis in April; and before, during, and now after Davis Cup Chicago.  I know America isn't a chant-based culture, and other than the eternally grating "USA!" chant, we may never be one.  But it's hard to argue against the idea that chants bring energy to a crowd, help them feel a sense of impacting an event, create camaraderie, and sound better on the TV. I URGED the USTA and US Davis Cup Team twitter feeds to come up with SOME chants, and figure out how to encourage at least SOME people to chant them.  But I got nothing.  I should've contacted the Seattle soccer team, I guess...
  6. Was there any concerted effort to get people from outside Chicagoland to come? I don't know.
  7. @ARhyneMoment had a great idea for future Davis Cup/Fed Cup ties in the US: GET COLLEGE KIDS THERE! They know how to be rowdy.
  8. All that said, I think it's telling that the photo I tweeted of a pretty sparsely populated Sears Centre got more shares than anything I've ever posted *positive* about US tennis. The degree of cynicism about US tennis in this country is astounding, and I don't know precisely what it's rooted in. I spend a lot of time thinking about this, and right now I think it's kind of a form of cultural elitism rooted in the class and racial divides in this country, with a dash of gender politics and just natural cynicism that comes with any decline in fortunes. But that's an explanation, not an excuse. I once again implore tennis fans in the USA to consider becoming unabashed supporters of US tennis. It doesn't mean you have to stop adoring or admiring your other faves, or appreciating the skills of up and comers you might not have previously heard of, and it doesn't mean giving US players a pass for shitty behavior or horrid results. I just am so, so tired of attending or watching a tournament in these United States and honestly not being able to tell by the cheering when one of the competitors is, say, Jarmere Jenkins and the other is Ruben Bemelmans. Or John Isner/Philipp Kohlschreiber. It doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. I don't understand why, and don't like that it happens here. 
4. Gombos was fun to watch. Glad I got a chance. Flashy, good mover, I can see why he does well on clay.

5. Glad we didn't choose clay.

6. But boy did Gombos not fare well in doubles. I think I counted 43,887,263 volley errors against the Bryan Brothers. Honestly, though, I lost count so it could be higher.

7. The Bryans, on the other hand, did fare well. I've never seen a better display, in person or on TV, than I did on that Saturday.  They gave up 4 games in 3 sets and it wasn't even that close.

9. I apologized on Twitter, and will do so again here, for advocating against the Bryans being on the team. I got a lot of crap for it and likely lost a lot of credibility for it. Immediately after my post they went on a tear, winning Cincinnati, the US Open, and their Davis Cup rubber back-to-back-to-back. Then they lost a match in Japan and won their first Shanghai. 

10. They sure showed me.

11. And they were AMAZING with the crowd. Stayed afterward for longer than the match was on. Hit at least 100 signed balls into the crowd. (Though none to me. I think they recognized me from the blog post.) Signed innumerable autographs, took lots of photos. Played doubles against a couple of kids.  Amazing.

12. All that said, I do think Johnson/Querrey or Sock/anybody could have beaten Gombos/Lacko that day. 

13. Back to singles, I really was getting worried in the first set of Isner/Gombos. Funny to look back on that now, after the US lost only one set in the entire tie, and that the penultimate set of the second dead rubber. But Isner had no spark, while Gombos had all the sparks. Perhaps it was the ghost of Davis Cups past but all of a sudden a nightmare scenario was unfolding.

14. And then Isner went down 2-4 in the first set tiebreak.

15. But then Isner won the tiebreak and the rest was a foregone conclusion.

16. Then came Sam.

17. Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam.

18. I will not rehash what went down earlier this year in San Diego. But the loss to Ward threatened to cast a pall over not just Sam's year, but his career. That loss led many of us to question Sam's basic character. His ensuing three tournaments resulted in just one win, a three-setter over the great-in-name-only Tigre Hank. His clay season was forgettable, and even though things brightened up on grass - he got to the semis of Eastbourne - he still lost in the second round of Wimbledon, in a match that was seemingly all about character. The 14-12 fifth set against Tsonga that took two days to complete finally became a question of who would blink first. And Sam was the blinker. Then during the summer hardcourt season, he had three consecutive second-round losses including an inexplicable straight-set beat-down by Dudi Sela. He did have a nice run in Winston-Salem, with wins over Steve Johnson and Kevin Anderson. But in the semis, a three-set loss to Jerzy Janowicz made us wonder if perhaps the Pole was indeed the mentally stronger player.

19. Oh, and he got destroyed by Djokovic in the third round of the U.S. Open.

20. Klizan, meanwhile, is capable of astonishing tennis. We saw it in April in Munich, when he beat three top-20 players en route to the title. We saw it in Beijing when he dispatched with Rafael Nadal.

21. And when Klizan served for the first set at 5-4, it was, yet again, time to worry. But of all people, Sam Querrey did not worry. He not only broke back at love, he saved a set point in the tiebreak (with an ace) and from there was clearly the superior player. Klizan seemed tentative and Sam did not. It was kind of glorious. 

22. And hey look! Sam hasn't lost since then. He beat Gombos in the dead rubber, and sure he wasn't playing anyone in the Top 100 for the most part but he won three straight challengers in California and looks like a new man. He got the ghost of James Ward off his back. He's in the mix again.

23. Bottom line: I had a great and memorable time. I'm glad I didn't have to trudge out there on Day 3 but I certainly would have, down to the bitter end, if necessary. I'm happy for and proud of the entire team, including Captain Courier, for the sweep. And I'm already excited to see if we can't get a measure of revenge against the English, Scottish, and Welsh team, or whatever they're calling themselves these days.


  1. I've also been spending a lot of time in the last few months thinking about racial divides in the country - especially in the last 24 hours since I watched the Stewart-O'Reilly interview and Machuca, a Chilean movie about the racial unrest in Santiago in 1973. While the interview was one of the stupidest things I've seen lately, the movie was one of the best I have ever seen. However, what's the solution to this kind of division. I still don't know, but I've concluded that it can't be awareness. It must be something more than awareness because awareness alone can only create more division. I think there is definitely a connection between this issue and country pride and US tennis fandom

  2. Somehow my first comment didn't post. I just said that this was a really good article and your eighth sub point of takeaway No. 3 really has me thinking. Does the US lack country pride and patriotism? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? How does that affect the way we watch sports?

    1. Thanks for the comments, Jared. I think it's unique to tennis. I don't think you can look at how we view the Olympics, or World Cup, or Ryder Cup and say that the US isn't patriotic when it comes to sports. Perhaps it has something to do with having dominated so much at one point, so that we as a country can never see ourselves as "underdog" - which generally makes for a better motivating narrative. Or maybe it's because tennis is such a sport of personalities, and the USA just don't have any Connors or Agassis or even Roddicks anymore. Or maybe it's something about the class background (or class striving) of many US tennis fans - for whom crass nationalism simply isn't done.

      But no, I don't think there's a lack of country pride, either in sports or in everyday life. (Except perhaps from those people who keep threatening to secede, or who fly the Confederate flag.)