Commentary

The unlikely run of the Americans

Updated: April 10, 2012, 3:34 PM ET
By Sandra Harwitt | Special to ESPN.com

ROQUEBRUNE CAP MARTIN, France -- The Davis Cup quarterfinal weekend has concluded, so it's time to offer some deliberations from the Davis Cup tie between the United States and France. One would be hard-pressed to find a tennis venue anywhere in this world with more magic than the Monte Carlo Country Club.

Surface of choice?

It's no secret the American players prefer hard courts, indoor courts and grass to playing on clay. But this year's two Davis Cup outings prove that choosing to play the Yanks on clay doesn't guarantee a win for the opposing team. Just ask Switzerland, which even with Roger Federer was trounced 5-0 by the U.S. on an indoor clay court in February's first round. Now you can ask the French as well after they went down to the U.S. 3-2 in the quarterfinal.

[+] EnlargeJim Courier
Sebastien Nogier/Getty ImagesWho would have thought the U.S. would be where it is right now? Not Jim Courier.

Ironically, the U.S. selected a slick, indoor, hard-court surface to play Spain in Austin, Texas, last July, and the Americans got their butts kicked.

"When you think about American tennis in general, I think you would be right to say that, by and large, clay is our least favorite surface," captain Jim Courier said. "But I think if you look at these guys [Bob and Mike Bryan] to my left, their record on clay, they're comfortable on the surface (10-0 in away ties and all were played on clay). Then you look at the players we have to choose from today, we have players that like the surface. I think we're pretty capable on all surfaces."

Courier, however, went on to add, "But I don't think the French or the Swiss or the Chileans or Colombians have made bad choices to play us how they've played us. But we come ready to play, we come ready to fight, and we win or we lose, but we're ready."

The American squad, despite all its success, could finally run out of clay-court luck in September's semifinal in Spain. Even if Rafael Nadal ends up not playing -- expect him there if he's healthy -- the Spanish have others to rely on: fifth-ranked David Ferrer, 12th-ranked Nicolas Almagro, 15th-ranked Feliciano Lopez, 19th-ranked Fernando Verdasco and there's even 26th-ranked Marcel Granollers.

Davis Cup meetings between the U.S. and Spain stand at 5-5, but Spain holds a 4-1 advantage on Spanish clay. Spain beat the U.S. in the 2008 semifinals in Madrid (4-1), the 2004 finals in Seville (3-2), the 2000 semifinal in Santander (5-0) and the 1965 first round in Barcelona (4-1). The only American victory came on the 1972 Barcelona clay in the first round (3-2).

John on the job

John Isner is a guy who's growing, which could be a scary notion if it were referencing his 6-foot-9 frame. But Isner's game is flourishing in the first few months of 2012. There was his semifinal victory over No. 1 Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells, as well as his reliability for the Davis Cup team. Without Isner winning his four singles matches in two ties, starting off with a four-set win over Federer, the U.S. wouldn't be in the semifinals.

"We've had the worst draw that you can possibly imagine so far," he said. "I'm shocked that we're still in the Davis Cup this year. Honestly, at the beginning of the year it was my hope that we would be able to stay in the World Group. I mean, Switzerland away you would think we'd probably lose that match, and when we got past Switzerland we thought maybe we'd have a chance, but thought we'd lose this one as well."

The level Isner played at this weekend to beat Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was incredible. Even French captain Guy Forget was blown away.

"It was funny watching John Isner playing and I was telling myself, 'God, that guy is unbelievable,'" Forget said. "I was looking at him and I was jealous because I was enjoying the way he was playing. It was just so wonderful to see someone that big, that size, play with such inspiration and finesse."

Isner cautioned, however, not to begin calling him "The Closer" just yet, reminding the media that this is the first Davis Cup tie he's clinched.

"I think for now that title still belongs to Andy Roddick (clinched 12 ties)," Isner said. "He's done this so many times. If I can do it five, six, seven more times, maybe you can call me that. But for sure that's not my title."

Don't forget Guy Forget

France's loss to the U.S. marked the last time we'll see Forget on the bench. He's moving on to become the tournament director of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, the men's final tour stop of the year before the year-enders.

Forget, 47, was honored on stadium court after the U.S. sealed the victory with an insurmountable 3-1 lead. The French team, as well as former French players who came to honor Forget, stood on court arm in arm, listening to Forget's speech. More than one of the players was seen wiping away tears.

Courier, who is predominantly fluent in French, was moved by Forget's speech.

"I thought it was beautiful," Courier said. "Those are moments you always remember. Gives you chills. It's special."

Forget's had an impressive 13 years as the French captain, winning the title in 2001 and reaching three other finals. As a player, Forget was part of two winning Davis Cup teams (1991 and 1996).

Is Davis Cup really broken?

We have forever disparaged the current Davis Cup format. The most prevalent thought on overhauling the competition is to play it at one central venue, either every year or every two years.

[+] EnlargeFans
Valery Hache/AFP/Getty ImagesThere's nothing quite like the passionate partisan fans at Davis Cup.

That concept, however, would take a partisan crowd out of the equation, and that is part of what makes Davis Cup so enticing. Anyone who was at the Monte Carlo Country Club this weekend -- or watching on TV -- had to notice the passionate, vociferous crowd.

Fans broke out into more than one impromptu singing of their national anthem -- La Marseillaise. This was a tried-and-true tennis crowd who cheered its own, but who also showed an appreciation of the U.S. victory.

The scheduling of Davis Cup during the year might not be ideal. It should be pointed out that the players picked the dates. Davis Cup is a rare joining together of forces for nationalistic pride in a sport that is normally a solo endeavor. To give up the excitement of the home-and-away design could seriously dilute the magic of the competition.

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.