Tramlines

Familiar tale means Davis Cup should make final changes

Spain captain Alex Corretja has come under fire following the Davis Cup final defeat to Czech Republic.

With tennis superstar Rafael Nadal absent through injury and world number five Ferrer a shoo-in for one of Sunday's singles rubbers, the options for the all-important deciding rubber came down to two men: Nicolas Almagro and Feliciano Lopez.

Corretja committed what has been viewed in the land of sun and paella as a criminal act by going with claycourt specialist Almagro rather than Lopez, whose game seems so much better suited to the quick hardcourts at the O2 Arena in Prague. Even big-serving Lopez himself questioned the decision prior to the match.

After Ferrer pulled the defending champions level with a win over Tomas Berdych, Almagro was seldom in the match against Radek Stepanek, going down in four sets.

All of Almagro's 12 career titles - and the six other finals he has contested - have come on clay, whereas Lopez's two - and three of five finals - have been on hardcourts.

Corretja said that he opted for Almagro after being impressed by his battling Friday singles loss in five sets to Berdych, a match in which the Spaniard served a surprising 21 aces.

His original rationale for fielding him on Friday - a conviction which clearly did not then waver ahead of Sunday - is not difficult to follow. In short: he is a better player than Lopez.

Like Almagro, Nadal is very much suited to clay, yet he has won 20 straight matches in the Davis Cup on a variety of surfaces (though mostly clay). Likewise, Ferrer has a 23-4 record.

Almagro is ranked 11th in the world to Lopez's 40th and those 12 titles have arrived despite having played for six fewer years on the professional circuit than his team-mate.

And the overall match results also paint a damning picture of Lopez's suitability. In the year-to-date, Almagro is 18-13 on hard surfaces, compared with the 15-16 of Lopez. The career comparisons are also similar (71-79, 166-165 respectively).

Yes, Almagro is a better claycourt player. Most Spaniards are. But the fact that Corretja was damned if he did, damned if he didn't, maybe means that a wider question should now be asked of the Davis Cup: is it time to play the final over two legs?

At present, all ties are played in the home country of whichever team did not host the previous meeting between the sides in the competition. In the event that they have never met before, or played at a neutral venue last time out, lots are drawn.

This system will always make one of the teams a heavy favourite. That is all fine and dandy in the earlier rounds, but when we are talking about the final, surely a level playing field would add to the spectacle.

The sight of 14,580 partisan fans backing their heroes then celebrating victory on Sunday was again one to behold. Should the final simply be played at a neutral venue, as in football, we would lose the essence of what makes the tournament so special - and the problem of surface would remain unresolved.

Besides, given that Spaniards don't follow their all-conquering football team abroad, you could hardly expect them to cross the oceans to back the Davis Cup team.

The 'one-off' final is part of the Davis Cup heritage, perhaps, but that should not be enough alone to save it. Even football is considering a multi-country European Championships in 2020.

In the last 10 years the home team has won the final on seven occasions (although only on one occasion in that time has an away team failed to win a solitary rubber). You can predict with a good deal of accuracy who will triumph before the match commences.

If the Davis Cup, now a century old, wishes to remain relevant and hold a special place in fans' hearts throughout the coming 100 years, it could do worse than pitch the best two teams in world tennis together on each country's own patch.