For all its congenital flaws, tennis sure does irony awfully well. Roger Federer (page 78) has become the sport's best player without the benefit of a coach. Tim Henman, the Great British Hope, reached the semifinals of both the French and U.S. Opens this year but got mowed down on the lawns of Wimbledon. So, naturally, in this year that saw American males fail to win a Grand Slam singles title for the first time since 1988, the U.S. team has advanced to the Davis Cup finals. Last weekend in Charleston, S.C., the Yanks made quick work of Belarus--granted, not exactly a tennis citadel--and will play Spain in the finals on Dec. 3-5. In a marked departure from past years, the U.S. has fielded an actual team this year, not merely shotgun marriages of players who decide to participate when the urge strikes. Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and the doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan have been unswerving in their commitment. "Davis Cup is the best thing you can do in tennis," Mike Bryan said on Saturday. "I consider this a Grand Slam final."
The final will be played in Spain, and rest assured the hosts will opt for a power-blunting clay court. (It bodes ill, given that no American man advanced to the third round of the 2004 French Open.) What's more, Mike Bryan, who faces hip surgery, may not be available. That of course would make an American victory all the more ironic--and thus perhaps likely. --L. Jon Wertheim
AL MESSERSCHMIDT/WIREIMAGE.COM (DAVIS CUP)