By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Tennis in Brazil suffered a setback this past weekend as the national side was swept aside 4-1 by Germany in the Davis Cup, generally considered tennis’ answer to the FIFA football (soccer) World Cup. The thrashing means the Brazilians have not qualified for the World Group Stage, the first round of the tournament proper, to be held next year.
Brazil’s biggest hope, Tomaz Bellucci, lost twice, to Florian Mayer and Daniel Brands, as the Germans completed what turned out to be a straightforward task.
Only Brazil’s doubles pair, of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares, managed to pull off a victory, winning in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Some argue Brazil’s lack of success in the sport is down to its lack of popularity in the country itself, which subsequently can be attributed to the lack of professional Brazilian starts, creating a vicious cycle.
Marcos Campos, 36, a Youth and Families Development Manager, told The Rio Times, “We [Brazil] haven’t had a major tennis player on the world circuit since Guga [Gustavo Kuerten].”
Kuerten is the last player from Brazil to reach number one in the ITF rankings. He won three Grand Slam titles in his career – all of them French Open championships, in 1997, 2000 and 2001.
“I think tennis was a bit more popular back then. In Brazil, young people are inspired by seeing other Brazilians doing well at a sport, which is not happening with tennis at the moment,” Campos said.
Another issue affecting the progress of tennis is Brazil is the social stigma the sport brings. It is primarily seen as a pass-time for the wealthy. Mr. Campos continued, “Tennis in Brazil is certainly an elite sport. It is expensive to buy the equipment and take lessons, most Brazilians cannot afford that. To make a sport popular in Brazil you have to make it easier to access.”
Sentiments which would go some way to explain the country’s ongoing love affair with football, where a patch of ground, a few friends and a ball will suffice. Likewise with beach volleyball where a small stretch of sand can serve your interests with minimum fuss.
Despite the lack of a long legacy and current contender, a key point may help spark a new interest in tennis is the upcoming Olympic Games.
In August 2016, when Rio de Janeiro hosts sport’s oldest tournament, far more will be on the city’s agenda than football and volleyball. It is a chance for the people of the city to try their hand at something new as sporting fever spreads.
São Paulo based businessman Sean Colgan noted the raised interest in the sport when Rafael Nadal trained at a court in São Jose dos Campos. “There are various tennis courts with some of the larger apartment complexes in town. But interest really soared when Nadal arrived,” he said.
The nation has never won a Davis Cup title and is not ranked in the top seventeen countries in the world by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
Now with the 2016 Olympic Games coming to the Cidade Maravilhosa and Cariocas taking a more varied interest in their sporting activities, there is the distinct opportunity for tennis to break through some social barriers in Brazil.