A Blast on the Sousaphone

Davis Cup, First Round

It has been a long week, and it isn’t over yet.

The Australian Open concluded last Sunday, as ever seen out with considerable pomp by a 200-piece brass band performing a vexatious medley of tunes by John Philip Sousa, arranged by Erik Satie. On Wednesday I released The Next Point’s 2012 Annual to considerably less fanfare: a lone hobo with a decrepit sousaphone attempting the Baby Elephant Walk. Having resolved to take an extended break from writing, watching and thinking about tennis, my reaction upon realising that the Davis Cup first round would begin in only two days was thus mixed. Photo: CP/Darryl DyckI was dismayed to learn that drinking heavily only made the time go faster. Still, it helped. If by Friday my mood hadn’t quite lightened into ecstasy, at least my resignation had shed its bitter weight.

The singles began on Friday, but precisely what this meant within a global context was unclear. At no time is the transcontinental nature of tennis more evident than in the first round of the Davis Cup, when ties are spread across nearly every continent on Earth, besides Antarctica, whose bid to host South Africa’s home tie at McMurdo Station fell through at the last moment. For determined tennis fans camped on the prime meridian, Friday began at about ten o’clock the night before, when New Zealand and Lebanon kicked off their tie in Auckland. Friday finished as Canada and Spain completed an intriguing day’s play Vancouver at about three o’clock Saturday morning.

The first day of play, in other words, went on without a break for about twenty-nine hours, and by the time it ended the second day’s play was already under way across the date line. By the time Frank Dancevic had engaged fully with the task of thrashing Marcel Granollers, New Zealand’s doubles pair were already well on their way towards securing the home tie. It turns it’s possible to watch David Cup almost continuously over its first weekend, assuming you have an internet connection capable of simultaneous streams, a ready supply of amphetamines, and no loved ones to talk you out of it.

I won’t pretend I have any intention of doing that. I fear I lack the means and the fortitude. As a rule I don’t sleep much, but that only causes me to covet the little I do get. For the Australian tennis fan, the sadness that accompanies the conclusion of the Australian Open is heightened by the awareness that following the sport and adequate rest will be mutually exclusive until at least October, during the tour’s brief return to Asia. Most of the results that truly matter occur in the middle of my night. So do the results that don’t matter much at all, such as Novak Djokovic’s bold (and not-at-all fearful) romp over Oliver Rochus in the first match of the Belgium-Serbia tie. By the time the plucky David Goffin had established a two set lead over Viktor Troicki, I felt at once enervated and energised. I had never felt so alive; if the dead do yearn, it isn’t for their beds. Nothing much matters when you feel like that. Or like Jurgen Melzer, who’d just lost to Evgeny Korolev.

I rose in time to see Granollers collapse to an inspired Dancevic, thereby frog-marching the Spanish squad to the edge of elimination. The last time Spain contested a Davis Cup tie without Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Nicholas Almagro or Fernando Verdasco was long before any of those men had attained the top ten or even world fame, back when Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya were national heroes, as opposed to national treasures. Alex Corretja probably would’ve preferred to bring either or both of those guys back. We marvel endlessly at Spain’s depth – and I suppose there are of nations competing this weekend who would struggle to field a team at all without their top five players – but it isn’t infinite, and they’re one lost rubber away from a first round exit.

Meanwhile France’s best pair was available for the tie in Rouen, where they had little difficulty in seeing off Israel’s best pair. Amir Weintraub is something of a Davis Cup warrior, but he’d yet to face anyone of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s quality. He acquitted himself very well in taking a set, and seemed like the better player for passages in the fourth, with the difference being the Frenchman’s superior serve. It ended badly for the Israeli, in a flurry of silly errors. I hope that isn’t the part of his performance that stays with him, although it was clearly the part he was dwelling on in the immediate aftermath. It was the last thing I saw before sleep pulled me under.

My dreams were troubled, but at least they were dreams. Alas, they were too brief, and featured a terrifying hobo with a sousaphone.

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