The last Davis Cup tie I attended was the 2007 final in Portland, between the U.S. and Russia. It was an exceptionally dreary early winter weekend, even for that part of the country. I remember five days of mist, low clouds, slick streets, and no sunshine. The song that kept running through my mind was the Talking Heads’ “Cities,” an ominous tune about a town that’s “dark, dark in the daytime,” and where “the people sleep, sleep in the daytime.”
It seemed to describe Portland, where I saw nary a soul downtown even on a Saturday afternoon, to a T. The final, which was held in a cement-heavy, minor-league hockey arena that the NBA’s Trail Blazers had long ago left behind, was sold out, but there wasn’t a whole lot of local interest in the tennis. Braving the rain on the two-block walk from my hotel to an auditorium where the draw was being held, I was accosted by a TV reporter and cameraman who were searching desperately for a tennis fan to interview about the big event. They laughed when I told them that I was also with the media; the two people they’d just tried had worked for the USTA.
Everything was different once you got inside that weekend. The draw ceremony, welcomingly warm, was mobbed with fans and photographers, though my most lasting memory of it was seeing the American team, led by Andy Roddick, blow past a hesitant Russian squad and take the first elevator upstairs. In my mind, it set the tone for the U.S.’s sweep.
It was equally warm and celebratory in the arena. There was a light show, there was a marching band, there were billowing Old Glories, there were half a dozen men dressed as Uncle Sam, there were chanting Netheads in red, white, and blue, there was the theme from Star Wars booming through the stadium as the players were announced. There was also a witty reporter who leaned over to me as the music blared and the lights flashed and said, “That’s what you have to love about the USTA: The modesty and restraint.”
It was the same in the mornings at the official Davis Cup hotel downtown. The rest of Portland might not have had a clue, but half of the tennis-loving American public seemed to cram itself into the breakfast room each morning. On Saturday morning, when Bob and Mike Bryan were set to clinch the U.S.’s first title in 12 years, they walked though the lobby to a standing ovation. I thought I even heard a young woman squeal, upon catching sight of their father—who was, naturally, in a red, white, and blue sweat suit—“Oh my God, that’s Wayne Bryan!”
The sound I remember most, though, was the team’s beery chant after it was all over that afternoon—“U.S.A! U.S.A!” they boomed in unison as they staggered their way toward the interview room. After seven years together, this generation of American men had validated themselves at last. If no one knew it on the streets of Portland, that only made sense in a way. As that weekend showed me again, in this country our sport lives—warmly, happily—in its own comfortable cocoon. It had never felt so nice to be included there.