State residents should support Davis Cup event

Published 2:06 pm Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wednesday’s news that the United States Tennis Association had chosen Birmingham to host the 2009 first-round Davis Cup matches between the United States and Switzerland was as welcome as it was unexpected.

I mean, internationally relevant tennis and Birmingham aren’t usually thought of together, and this tennis will be relevant. The U.S. team will likely include ranked players Andy Roddick and James Blake in singles competition and brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, the No. 2 team in the world, playing doubles. The Swiss group will probably be led by Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest player the sport has ever seen. As if Federer’s 13 Grand Slam singles championships weren’t enough to convince state residents that they have the opportunity to witness something truly special, Federer has not participated in the Davis Cup since 2004 (his Web site indicates he plans to participate).

Granted, tennis isn’t exactly the most popular sport in this state. But here’s hoping many people realize the event’s significance and show the USTA – and the governing bodies of other professional sports – that Birmingham and the state of Alabama can and will support sports other than college football.

There might be more tennis interest here than I’m giving credit for, however. Gene Hallman, Alabama Sports Foundation executive director, said on the Paul Finebaum Radio Network that there are more members of the USTA in the state than members of the U.S. Golf Association. Hallman led the effort to get the match to Birmingham, which beat out cities such as Las Vegas, San Antonio and Greenville, S.C.

If the presence of an athlete the caliber of Federer or pride in country or state isn’t enough to get people to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena on March 6-8, 2009, then maybe the sport played there will be. Call me biased because I was on my high school’s first tennis team, but the guys coming our way will be some of the best athletes in the world.

Team sports are great, and require a different set of attributes for one to be successful, but individual sports are mentally much more difficult. When Roddick begins having difficulty getting his 150-mph serve in, there will be no coach to tell him what’s going wrong. When Blake’s backhand sails wide, there will be no teammate to pick up the slack. And when arguably the greatest player ever is bothered by the home-court advantage provided by Alabamans, he’ll have to deal with it all by himself.