The Davis Cup by BNP Paribas is quite a strange competition: a team tournament in an individual sport, during which egos that are used to be on their own throughout the year have to coexist with potential adversaries. But can it be called a team sport? Decryption.
« For me, team spirit is really important. I always put it above everything else. It's an honour to represent France and to wear the colours of the country. But with more people involved, it’s harder to get everything into place.» A year ago, Amelie Mauresmo, brand new captain of the France team of Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, curtly rein Marion Bartoli in. The reason? The latter didn't want to train with the France team coaches, but only with her father. She reminded everyone that the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas and the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas are very special worlds in the microcosm of tennis, where personal and collective routines rarely mix and where the team must be more important than egos that are spoiled by their staff all year. To better manage the group, the former world number one also confessed to have sought advice from Guy Forget, a man who served as France's Davis Cup team captain for fourteen years, and who therefore knows how to handle personalities accustomed to living in their bubble. The question then arises: Is the Davis by BNP Paribas a team sport?
A collection of individuals more than a team
Julien Benneteau offers a first answer: “The Davis Cup by BNP Paribas is a special competition because a collection of players have to form a team in an individual sport.” Not Easy. "In fact, the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas is a team sport because no player can win it all by himself. Even players like Novak Djokovic with Serbia or Rafael Nadal and Spain need a teammate to bring a point in double and one or several points during the other single matches.” He's right. The latest editions prove it. Novak Djokovic wouldn't have won the 2010 edition without Viktor Troicki and Nenad Zimonjić's points in double. Rafael Nadal wouldn't have won the 2008 edition without David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco. Ok then. So the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas is a competition that you win in team. But who’s doing best? The bonded collectives or the sum of great personalities?
Both, according to Michael Llodra: “The Davis Cup by BNP Paribas is a competition where everyone has to put his ego aside to serve the collective. But you can’t forget that countries like Russia have also won it without forming a real team. During the weekends of the tournament, Marat Safin and Nikolay Davydenko weren't eating together and were training with their personal coach. It shows that you can win with a collection of individuals, but they have to be very, very strong players.” Between a group of players, which form one, and the addition of top players, the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas has therefore not chosen sides yet.
Not for all the players
If the lefty admits to "have spent the best moments of his career with the France team", he still doesn't forget that there were "clashes, spats that are part of group life." We then remember what Gilles Simon said in February 2011: "I arrive in selection knowing that it's absolutely necessary to comply with the rules. And what do I see? I see that everyone shows up whenever he wants, we organize a photo shoot for the press at 2pm and you eventually have to postpone it to the next day because some player like it better. I see that it's the same in training. Everyone does exactly what he wants.” Because yes, it's an understatement to say that the 'Davis Cup spirit' doesn't fit with everybody. "In fact, there are Davis Cup by BNP Paribas players," says Michael Llodra, who continues his argument: "Some players are very strong but struggle to perform in a new context, namely a collective with habits that are not theirs. But others make their greatest matches in warm atmospheres such as the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, because these collective environments transcend them." But then, for who is this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas exactly? According to Michael Llodra, it's for "those who love be in a group." Julien Benneteau finishes his sentence: "For a special competition."