AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS: It’s the kind of thing that isn’t supposed to exist in professional sports: a competitive match without losers. But here it was in Amsterdam this weekend.
Dutch captain Jan Siemerink – the losing captain – was smiling at the press conference after Roger Federer clinched the tie for the Swiss with a straight sets victory over Robin Haase. And Haase mentioned more than once that he was content with his performance. Meanwhile, Swiss captain Severin Luthi and Federer – the winners of the tie – could barely muster a smile. Such was the strange nature of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie between Netherlands and Switzerland.
Of course, it all had to do with Roger Federer’s presence. For all intents and purposes, the tie was probably decided before the first tennis ball was hit in anger. The Dutch had chosen to play the tie on outdoor clay, not so much to blunt Federer’s sword as it was supposed to discourage him from coming to Amsterdam at all, Siemerink admitted. But as soon as it transpired that Federer would play, the stakes of the tie changed: it was less about who was going to win – that seemed clear – and more about whether there was going to be a live rubber on Sunday.
In the end, there was one live rubber, even if it wasn’t very lively. After 97 minutes of Federer versus Haase, the scoreboard told a one sided story: 61 64 64. Nonetheless, it meant that all parties involved could return home satisfied, not least of all the fans, who got to see the greatest player of all-time play three matches in three days. In the dead fifth rubber, Dutch No. 2 Thiemo de Bakker defeated Marco Chiudinelli – playing in lieu of Stan Wawrinka – 62 76(4).
Afterwards attention invariably turned to the question whether Federer would make the Davis Cup a priority for 2013. He couldn’t yet say, even if he did ruminate about how beautiful it’d be if his country got another shot at the title after reaching the Final in 1992. Federer obviously likes playing in Davis Cup, as he gets to hang out and have fun with his teammates, who are also his best friends. But the uncertainty of his own tennis calendar and his off-court activities – “I have a lot of things going on in my life”, is the phrase Federer often uses – means that he doesn’t commit to the ties beforehand.
Certainly he has given himself the option of going for it, and with Wawrinka as No. 2 Switzerland have the potential to go all the way. Perhaps a favourable home draw next Wednesday might help matters. But don’t count on Federer deciding about playing or not before the end of the year.
As for Netherlands, a draw in the Europa/Africa Zone Group I awaits. Whether Jan Siemerink will be Dutch captain in next season’s Davis Cup is unclear, as he’s on a one-year rolling contract and besides might move up a notch in the Dutch Federation’s hierarchy to become its director of tennis. Whatever the case, Siemerink was confident the Dutch team has the required talent to qualify for the World Group in a year’s time. In Haase, de Bakker and Thomas Schoorel they have three contenders for two singles’ berths and in Jean-Julien Rojer a genuine doubles specialist.