Italy vs. Russia: Davis Cup Tie Preview - UBITENNIS
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Italy vs. Russia: Davis Cup Tie Preview

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TENNIS- The Siberian city of Irkutsk will play host to the BNP Paribas World-Group Play-Off match between Russia and Italy. The Italian team coached by former Davis Cup champion Corrado Barazzutti will bid to maintain its place in the World Group for 2016 after reaching the semifinals last year. Italy will have to defend its position in the Davis Cup World Group top-tier after losing 3-2 against Kazakhstan in Astana last March.

Italian top two players Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi both have a better ranking than the Russian best player Teymuraz Gabashvili and start as favourites but rankings do not matter too much at Davis Cup level and surprises are possible.

In the opening match Russian best player Gabashvili will play against Simone Bolelli, replacing Andreas Seppi who has been sidelined for the opening match by a left foot issue. Seppi could play in the second singles rubber on Sunday if the match will be decisive.

Gabashvili, a Russian player of Georgian origin, beat Andy Murray this year in Washington, reached the fourth round in the Paris Roland Garros where he lost to Kei Nishikori and won three ATP Challengers. Gabashvili reached his best ranking this year when he advanced to World Number 50. Bolelli leads 2-1 in his previous three head-to-head matches against Gabashvili. The Russian player beat Bolelli in Miami in 2009 but the Italian won their last head-to-head match in Biella in 2010.

“Teymuraz is playing well this year and I think he likes this surface. He is an indoor specialist and a dangerous. I will try to play my best tennis and push him and try to win”, said Bolelli.

The Indoor surface and home advantage could be a factor and help the Russian team reduce the gap on the Italian team.

“It won’t be easy to play there because it’s for sure going to be on a fast court. Our rivals will be pretty young. It’s an important tie for us. Last year we did very well by reaching the semifinals, so we hope to stay in the World Group four a fifth consecutive year. Before we played a lot of years in the first division, one down from the World Group, and it took us a long time to come back to this level. We lost a close match against Kazakhstan in the fifth rubber at the beginning of the year, so it was a little bit sad but we will try to win this one to stay in the World Group”, said Andreas Seppi.

The Russian team came captained by Shamir Tarpishev back from 0-2 to beat Spain 3-2 in the Davis Cup in the second round of the Davis Cup Group I in Vladivostok last July. The home team will bid to return to the World Group for the first time since 2012. Seventeen-year old Andrey Rublev, Roland Garros Junior champion in 2014, won the decisive point for 3-2 in the fifth rubber match against Pablo Andujar in Vladivostok and will be a dangerous rival to Italian star Fabio Fognini, who reached the fourth round at this month’s US Open after beating Rafael Nadal in the third round. The Italian, who is ranked World Number 28, was the first player to beat Nadal after losing the first two sets.

Fognini and Rublev will meet in the second match on Friday during the opening day. Fognini and Rubliev are separated by 148 positions in the ATP Ranking but the young Russian player will play without pressure. Fognini beat Rublev earlier this year on clay in the ATP 500 in Barcelona.

Fognini has recently boosted his confidence with his third win over Nadal at Flushing Meadows and the first Grand Slam title won by his fiancee Flavia Pennetta over Roberta Vinci in New York. Fognini joined the Italian team on Tuesday after a 19-hour flight from New York.

“I am tired but to play for your country is something different and something that you have to feel in your body and your skin and especially in your heart. I just have to go out on to the court and do my best to try and fight against him and that’s it I trained very well. I will play against a young player. I hope that the experience will be a factor and that I will play with a 1-0 lead for the Italian team. I don’t feel pressure. I have always played very well in the Davis Cup but it will not be easy becaus the level is very high. All players want to do well as they represent their country. The surface is not very fast and I am adaèting well to it. The only problem is the jet-leg after the long flight from New York but there is no time to think about that as it’s a very important week-end for Italian tennis. The win of Flavia Pennetta in Flushing Meadows gives me extra motivation as it shows that it is possible to fulfil every dream with hard work ”, said Fognini.

On Saturday Evgeniy Donskoy will team up with Konstantin Kravchuk in the doubles match against the Italian team formed by Paolo Lorenzi and Andreas Seppi, although it is possible that this year’s Australian Open doubles champions Fognini and Bolelli could play for what is expected to be a crucial match. Donskoy and Kravchuk won the doubles match against Spain leading to the incredible come-back victory in Vladivostok.

Donskoy is a dangerous player for the Italian team at Davis Cup level especally after he beat Tommy Robredo in four sets in the match between Russia and Spain last July.

It’s the first time that Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia near the Angara River will host a Davis Cup match. Italy played only once on Russian soil in 1969 and lost 5-0 against the former Soviet Union team.

The last time both teams met dates back to 1996 when Italy beat Russia 3-2 in Rome.

Diego Sampaolo

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Could Regional Groups Boost Davis Cup’s Appeal?

Home-and-away ties are charming, but may be complicated and expensive. Round-robin groups are efficient, but may lack atmosphere. A possible solution for Davis Cup to have the cake and eat it, too

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The Australian Open ended barely a week ago and tennis has celebrated another milestone of its ever-grueling calendar. The past weekend saw Davis Cup select the 16 teams for the final stage of the competition through the Qualifiers that took place across continents and time zones.

We gave an account of the results of these 12 ties, some of which ended in a nailbiter, over the course of the past few days. Here, however, we want to stress once again how this highly criticized event, profoundly changed in its formula by the “Kosmos revolution”, still manages to generate unique emotions in its actors despite the lack of some components that had accompanied its history for over a century.

The tears of Nicolas Massu, captain of the Chilean national team, after the victory of the decisive match by Alejandro Tabilo over Peruvian Ignacio Buse summarise what Davis Cup means in that country, in which there are entire areas devastated by fires and whose populations were mentioned by the former Olympic gold medalist: “This victory is for those who are going through a difficult time – said Massu in front of the packed stands of the Estadio Nacional in Santiago even though it was already past midnight – in the hope that it can bring them at least a little happiness.”

The tie between Chile and Peru, won 3-2 by the hosts, reminded everyone, in case it was needed, of the charm of the “home and away” component of the Davis Cup, that is when one of the teams hosts the opponent on their own turf. But he wasn’t the only one: the tie decided in the third set tie-break in the deciding singles between Argentina and Kazakhstan, played on clay in Rosario, in which Sebastian Baez angrily snatched the last four points against Dmitry Popko, as the light was fading in the Argentine summer evening, provided a moment of great emotional intensity.

And it is worth noting that nothing has been taken away from the drama of these matches by the distance of the two sets out of three of all the matches: the “best of five” would have lengthened the matches and made some of these clashes as epic as perhaps impossible to follow by a television audience that cannot have entire days available (and it would have been three days instead of two) to follow Davis Cup matches.

This year the ITF has granted greater flexibility on the scheduling of matches: when this new formula debuted, the “home and away” ties had to be played on Friday and Saturday, to leave Sunday as a travel day for players who had to reach the venue of the next tournament. However, we have now seen different variations, with some host countries deciding to play on Saturday and Sunday to maximize the attendance of the crowd. The match between Ukraine and the USA even took place on Thursday and Friday in Vilnius, Lithuania, to facilitate the return of American players to Dallas, home of the next ATP tournament.

This Davis Cup formula is not perfect, this has been clear for quite some time. And the ITF, now back in control of the event after the failure of the Kosmos experiment, is going ahead in a succession of trials and errors trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, or rather safeguarding what good things the old Davis Cup formula still had by mixing them with the new element of the round-robin groups which significantly simplifies players’ lives, makes the competition logistically more predictable and, most importantly, limits the total cost of the competition.

The solution with the four groups in September and the knockout finals in November seems promising, but there are still too many matches played in front of half-empty arenas populated by only a few hundred fans. The groupings in a single venue, if on the one hand allow for more efficient logistical planning and limit unexpected changes of surface for the players, on the other hand in some cases remove the crowd factor which has very often been the essence of historic Davis Cup matches. One of the pillars of Kosmos’ vision, the ”World Cup of Tennis”, immediately proved to be an unattainable chimera, and that’s where Kosmos’ entire business plan started to crumble. Expecting tennis to have a sufficient number of fans willing to travel across the world to follow their national team, and do so every year, has proven to be completely unrealistic.

It is necessary to find corrective measures to bring the atmosphere of “home and away” ties to the arenas of round-robin groups. And one of these corrective measures could be to group the teams taking into consideration some geographic criteria. Up to this moment all the round-robin groups of the “new Davis Cup” have been played in Europe: many of the top players are European, most of the teams competing are European, and therefore it was a quite logical consequence. But if we look at the list of the 16 teams qualified for the September 2024 groups, we will notice that there are five teams from the American continent: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile and the USA.

If it were possible to organize a grouping with four of these national teams in North America, Davis Cup would benefit immensely: a week-long event in a large arena in Canada or the USA, in a city with a strong immigrant component in which each of the South American national teams could count on a base of “local” fans, with the strong historical rivalries of these national teams (for example Canada vs USA, Argentina vs Brazil, Argentina vs Chile just to name a few) creating an incandescent atmosphere in the stands.

American players should not travel to Europe after the US Open and before the Asian swing, at that time NBA basketball and NHL hockey have not yet started, so it should not be difficult to find the availability of one of the iconic arenas in the United States or Canada. Furthermore, in this way, television broadcasters would also benefit as they would have some matches staggered by time zone instead of having four events almost all at the same time in Europe. Not to mention that American broadcasters would be able to show the ties of their own teams at more comfortable times, rather than early in the morning.

If we think about it, even American professional leagues such as the NBA and the NHL have created “divisions”, sub-groupings that require some teams to face each other more often than others, which not only limits the travel days in the very busy calendars of professional leagues but they are also designed to fuel historic rivalries in order to create an ever-increasing number of matches that can ignite the interest of fans.

The Davis Cup needs to find a similar mechanism to ensure that fewer and fewer aseptic matches are played in the echoing void of a deserted arena. In a few weeks the draw will decide the four September groups, when at least two of the three venues seem more or less safe (Bologna, Valencia and probably one in the United Kingdom). Last year the fourth venue for the September groups was Split, in Croatia, but this year Croatia will not take part in the Final stage after the defeat at home against Belgium last weekend. It will be unlikely that the ballot box will deliver an “entirely American group, but for the Davis Cup and for tennis it would be a godsend. Let’s hope the ITF can spot this enormous opportunity and acts accordingly.

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Novak Djokovic Refuses To Blame Fatigue For Davis Cup Defeat

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Novak Djokovic at the 2023 Davis Cup Finals in Malaga (photo by Marta Magni)

Novak Djokovic says his defeat in the Davis Cup on Saturday was a ‘huge disappointment’ but he isn’t taking any credit away from the performance of his opponents. 

The 24-time major winner was on the verge of taking Serbia into the final of the competition. Taking to the court after Miomir Kecmanović beat Lorenzo Musetti, Djokovic knew that beating Jannik Sinner would secure his team an unassabile lead. Against the world No.4, he had a 5-4 lead in the deciding set with three consecutive match points at his disposal. However, Djokovic was unable to convert any of them and ended up losing 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. 

Then in the deciding doubles match, Djokovic and Kecmanovic lost 6-3, 6-4, to Sinner and Musetti. Resulting in Italy progressing to their first title tie in the competition since 1998. 

“Congratulations to Italy for qualifying for the finals,” Djokovic said afterward. “They deserved it. They played really well, particularly Jannik, in singles against me and then doubles, as well. He barely missed a ball the entire match.
“For me personally it’s a huge disappointment, because I take the responsibility, obviously having three match points, being so close to winning it. It’s unfortunate really. This is sport. When you lose for your country, the bitter feeling is even greater.”

It is only the fourth time in Djokovic’s career that he has suffered a loss after having match point opportunities. It is also the first time in his career he has been beaten by the same player (Sinner) multiple times in the Davis Cup. 

The defeat is a bitter end to what has been a highly successful season for Djokovic who has won three out of the four Grand Slam events held in 2023. Last week he beat Sinner to win his 98th Tour title at the ATP Finals in Turin. To put that tally into context, only Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors have won more ATP trophies than him. 

When asked if end-of-season fatigue played a role in his latest performance, Djokovic refused to find excuses. Coming into this weekend, he had won 21 consecutive matches in the Davis Cup. 

“I don’t want to talk about it because it’s going to sound like an excuse,” he said. 
“Obviously this is a tough one to swallow. I was really trying to hype myself and encourage myself for this week. 
“Throughout the entire season, my thoughts were this week with my Davis Cup team. I tried to contribute. I did in the first tie, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

As Djokovic begins his off-season, Italy will face Australia for the Davis Cup title on Sunday. It will be the first meeting between the two countries in the event since 1993. If Italy wins, it will be only the second time they have claimed the trophy after 1976. 

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Novak Djokovic At Odds With British Captain Smith Over Behaviour Of Davis Cup Crowd

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Novak Djokovic practicing at the 2023 Davis Cup finals (photo by Marta Magni)

Novak Djokovic’s comment that it is normal for fans to ‘step over the line’ during Davis Cup ties has been disputed by British team captain Leon Smith who argues that the highly animated atmosphere is a positive. 

The world No.1 clashed with a group of British fans during his country’s quarter-finals win. Just moments after beating Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4, to seal an unassailable 2-0 lead for Serbia, Djokovic was frustrated with fans during his on-court interview. Whilst speaking, he had to contend with a group of fans deliberately beating their drums.

 “Learn how to respect players, learn how to behave yourself,” the 24-time Grand Slam winner responded to those drumming before adding, “No, you shut up, you be quiet”.

During the match, Djokovic also expressed his displeasure with some of the crowd by cupping his ear and blowing kisses after winning the first set. The tie featured an estimated 5000 British fans in attendance at the event which is being staged in Malaga, Spain. 

Speaking during his press conference, Djokovic said he felt that there was ‘disrespect’ from some of those in the stands throughout his match but acknowledged that this was not unusual in the competition. Although he believes the way he reacted was justified.

“In the Davis Cup, it’s normal that sometimes fans step over the line but in the heat of the moment, you react too. You in a way show that you don’t allow this kind of behavior.” He said. 
“They (the crowd) can do whatever they want but I’m going to respond to that. That’s what happened.’
“I was trying to talk and they were purposely starting to play the drums so that I don’t talk and they were trying to annoy me the entire match.”

Reacting to the incident, British captain Smith has dismissed a suggestion that there should be a review into the policy on having drums during matches when asked if he thinks more should be done to show respect to players whilst they are playing. The former coach of Andy Murray has been in charge of his country’s team for more than a decade and oversaw their run to the title in 2015. 

“The best ones are the noisy ones. When it’s flat and dead and no one’s clapping, no music, it’s pretty boring.” Said Smith. 
“That’s one of the things that’s good about Davis Cup and the team competition that actually you’re kind of meant to make noise. And there is always, whether there is a bit that goes over, comments, I could hear a couple. I don’t think it’s that bad.”
“I would hate to see it quietening down because there’s enough quiet tennis as it is. If anything, that atmosphere is good for us.”

In the competition itself, Serbia is set to play Italy in the semi-finals where Djokovic could continue his rivalry with Jannik Sinner. The two clashed twice at last week’s ATP Finals with Sinner winning their group match before Djokovic triumphed in straight sets in the final. 

“We’re kind of developing a nice rivalry lately. I have tons of respect for him.” Djokovic said of the world No.4.
“He’s been playing arguably the tennis of his life. I saw a little bit of singles and doubles that he won. He really played on a high level. I could see that he was very pumped to play for his nation.’
“I know that he’s confident and playing some of the best tennis that we saw him ever play. But I’m not playing bad myself. So it’s going to be a great match.”

Serbia’s semi-final clash with Italy will take place on Saturday. 

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