Ghent will host the eagerly-awaited Davis Cup Final between Great Britain and Belgium this weekend on the indoor clay surface of the Flanders Expo. Great Britain has reached the Davis Cup Final for the first time since 1978 and will be bidding to win their first title since 1936. Belgium has not reached the Davis Cup final since 1904.
Belgium and Great Britain have clashed eleven times in their long Davis Cup history. These countries met for the first time in the final of the 1904 edition when Great Britain won 5-0 at Wimbledon. Their last Davis Cup clash dates back to 2012 when Belgium won 4-1 in Glasgow.
British tennis Number 1 player Andy Murray will be looking to add his first Davis Cup title to his long list of honours which includes the 2012 Olympic gold medal, the US Open title in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013 when he became the first British man to win at the All-England Club since Fred Perry in 1936. With a win at this weekend’s Davis Cup final in Ghent, Murray would equal Fred Perry who led to the last British triumph in 1936 when Great Britain beat Australia 3-2 at Wimbledon. Great Britain has played in 17 Davis Cup finals, winning the trophy 9 times.
Murray led the British team to the final with singles and doubles wins over three big Davis Cup nations. The Dunblane star contributed significantly to the three British wins over the USA, France and Australia this year winning eight of the nine rubbers in 2015. The only other British win which did not involve Murray came from James Ward who beat John Isner in five sets in the first round match against the USA.
In the clash with America last March, Murray beat Donald Young in four sets before Ward fought back from two sets down to upset Isner in a thrilling five set match with 6-7 (5-7) 5-7 6-3 7-6 (7-3) 15-13, which lasted almost five hours. After a win by the Bryan brothers over Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot in five sets, Murray beat Isner in three sets.
Andy and Jamie Murray secured all the three points in the 3-1 win over nine-time Davis Cup champions France at the Queen’s Club last July. After a win by Gilles Simon over James Ward, Andy Murray beat Jo Wilfried Tsonga to draw level to 1-1. The Murray brothers beat Tsonga and Nicholas Mahut in the doubles match before Andy won a tough four-set match against Simon. The win resulted in Great Britain qualifying for their first Davis Cup semifinal since 1981.
The results of the Murray brothers have put their native town Dunblane in the spotlight. A tweet after their quarter final against France stated: “If Dunblane declared independence, they could win the Davis Cup”.
Judy Murray, the mother of Andy and Jamie and Fed Cup captain, also spoke about how the performance by Murray brothers have brought pride to their home town.
“There is a huge sense of pride in what the boys have achieved. It just brings so much excitement to the people in Dunblane. To see them go out there and play together for their country is a very special moment. For Dunblane it’s a huge thing. Andy and Jamie started out as two little tots with tiny rackets and shorts way too big for them. Who could have believed they would end up where they are?” said Judy Murray.
In Great Britain’s semifinal against Australia last September Andy Murray beat Thanasi Kokkinakis in three sets before Bernard Tomic beat Dan Evans to draw level to 1-1. Andy and Jamie Murray then won the crucial doubles match against Sam Groth and Lleyton Hewitt in five sets. Andy Murray sealed the first Davis Cup final for his country since 1978 with a three-set win over Bernard Tomic. Shortly after the win, Murray spoke about how much the trophy would mean for his country.
“To win the biggest team competition in tennis having beaten the other three Grand Slam nations would be a huge victory for everyone in the team. It would be well-deserved as well. It’s taken a lot of time and hard work from many players, many of the staff, coaches, physios, everyone. It’s taken five years. It’s taken five years. When you win a Slam or a big competition, it’s obviously years in the work but this is a bit different. The last five years it’s been a progression from a pretty low place in world tennis, to playing for the biggets team competition. It would be big for everyone involved for sure”, said Murray.
British captain Leon Smith is yet to choose between James Ward and Kyle Edmund for the second singles spot in the British team this week-end. Edmund has recently boosted his chance to be chosen as the second singles player after winning the ATP Challenger in Buenos Aires, defeating Carlos Berloq on clay. Edmund has improved his ranking from world number 191 to number 99 and has showed a good attitude to play on the clay surface. Edmund won two doubles junior Grand Slam titles at the 2012 US Open and at the 2013 French Open and reached two Junior semifinals at the 2011 US Open and at Wimbledon in 2013.
Belgium will play their first Davis Cup final since 1904 and obviously this weekend’s event will be one of the greatest highlights for Belgian sport this year. Belgium has only reached the semifinal stage twice since 1981.
The team captained by Johan Van Herck has reached the historic final after a successful campaign highlighted by wins over 2014 Davis Cup champions Switzerland followed by Canada and Argentina.
“For us it’s a huge event. I think for Belgium it’s important not only for tennis but sport in general. It’s a good team effort. I think everyone in Belgium appreciates that. We will to go one step further. The whole country will be behind us and we will try to keep the trophy here”, said Belgian captain van Herck.
Belgium’s top player David Goffin will carry the major hopes for the home team. Goffin lost against Andy Murray 1-6 1-6 in their recent head-to-head match in Paris Bercy but this weekend’s final will be a totally different story. The unique Davis Cup atmosphere and a different surface could turn around the predictions in favour of the Belgian star who will rely on the strong support from the home crowd.
In this year’s Davis Cup Goffin scored the decisive 3-2 point in the first round match against Switzerland with a straight-set win over Swiss Adrien Bossel in the fifth match. In the semifinal Goffin beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in straight sets to draw level to 2-2 after Argentina took the 2-1 lead after the win in the doubles match.
Goffin has a win-loss record of 37-24 this year and reached two finals at s’Hertogenbosch and Gstaad. He also reached the quarter finals in Rome, Munich and Basel as well as the semifinals in Chennai. His best result at the Grand Slams in 2015 was reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon.
“The day I played against Andy in Bercy it was just a off-day for me”, said Goffin. “I didn’t play really well. Andy was really aggressive. He played an unbelievable match there but it’s different conditions here. It’s a completely different match and another match. I just have to forget this match and think about the matches of this week-end”, said Goffin.
Belgium started this year’s campaign with a dramatic 3-2 win over a Swiss team without Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka before crushing Canada 5-0 last July. Last September Belgium delighted the home fans at the Forest National in Brussels with another dramatic 3-2 over Argentina.
The other man to watch on the Belgian side will be Steve Darcis who has won four decisive fifth rubber matches for his team at 2-2, including the decisive clash against Federico Delbonis from Argentina last September in Brussels. In that dramatic match Delbonis fended off two match points in the fourth set as Darcis was serving at 5-4 before the Belgian clinched a dramatic 3-2 win in the tie-break.
However, there is a question match on Darcis’ form as the 31-year-old Belgian player was forced to retire from a match against Richard Gasquet with a left ankle injury last month in Stockholm.
Belgium will also feature Ruben Bemelmans, who will play in the doubles, and 21-year-old Kimmer Coppejans. Bemelmans teamed up with Coppejans in the four-set doubles match over Canada last July.
The Belgian team has enlisted the help of former French player Michael Llodra, who was recently contacted by the Belgian tennis Federation to offer his advice for the doubles during the Davis Cup final.
“This is a very exciting challenge when you know how difficult it is to win that title”, said Llodra.
The Final between the two countries will get start on Friday at 12:30 GMT.
Former Tennis Star Robin Soderling Appointed Davis Cup Captain
The former world No.4 is hoping to make waves in the team competition.
Robin Sodering has taken on a new role in the world of tennis after being appointed the captain of the Swedish Davis Cup team on Wednesday.
The 35-year-old takes over from Johan Hedsberg, who has held the role since January 2017. Soderling is a former world No.4 player and the last player from his country to contest a grand slam final at the 2010 French Open. After winning 10 ATP titles, his career came to an abrupt end after he failed to recover from a long-term illness. Soderling was hit by mononucleosis in 2011, a viral illness also known as glandular fever. He spent four years away from the tour before officially retiring in 2015.
“Being able to lead the best players in the country is an honour, so it was a pretty easy decision.” He told tennis.se.
“I have not thought about this, but when the question came, I immediately felt that I wanted to do this. I want it to go well for Swedish tennis.”
Sweden has won the Davis Cup seven times with their most recent triumph occurring back in 1998. They are currently playing in Group I of the Europe/Africa zone. This season the team managed to reach the World Group playoffs, but suffered a 4-0 defeat to Colombia. Sweden last played in the top tier of the competition back in 2012.
Soderling had been working with Elias Ymer, who is currently ranked 176th in the world. He is the brother of world No.76 Mikael Ymer, who is Sweden’s top men’s player. The reason for the end of their collaboration was because Soderling wanted to spend more time with his family. He is married with two children under the age of 10.
“I worked with Elias Ymer for a year and thought it was fun and educational. It was as close as you can get to your own career when playing yourself.” He said.
“But it became too much for me with over 30 trips a year. It didn’t work with my family situation. Maybe I listened too much to “Fidde” (Fredrik Rosengren) who said he had not seen his children in 25 years. I wasn’t prepared for that. I received questions after the assignment with Elias but declined no.’
“This assignment as the Davis Cup captain does not mean as many trips and given that I like tennis overall and above all Swedish tennis, the choice was easy.”
Soderling’s first test will be in March when his country takes on Chile on home soil. A team who has two top 100 players in singles. The winner will be moved into the 18-team Davis Cup finals, which was launched for the first time this year.
“Sweden has certainly not been favourites in all those matches. They have done really well.” He stated.
“If you look at the (Swedish) team, we have a good team with Mikael and Elias Ymer even though we are not super wide overall compared to many other countries that have several players in the top 100. But we are competitive and actually play for a place in Madrid against the world best team.”
During his playing career, Soderling played in 10 Davis Cup ties and won 14 out of 18 matches.
The ITF Reacts With Caution To Russian Doping Ban
Ubitennis contacted a member of the governing body following the decision to suspend the nation from all major sporting events.
The International Tennis Federation has said it will wait until an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from Russia is made before pondering any potential implications it may have on tennis.
On Monday the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) slammed the country with a four-year ban from hosting or attending ‘major sporting events.’ Including the 2020 Olympics and 2022 World Cup. Russia was issued with the penalty for continuous breaches of anti-doping rules. The most recent being evidence that they deliberately tampered with laboratory data by planting fake evidence to cover up failed drugs tests.
The decision to ban Russia was unanimously made, according to a spokesman from WADA. In 2015 an extensive report revealed a state-sponsored doping programme on a mass scale. Resulting in Russia being suspended from international athletics events, including the 2016 Olympics, but they were still allowed to compete as neutral athletes.
“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of Rusada’s reinstatement conditions demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered.” WADA chief Sir Craig Reedie said.
“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and rejoin the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.”
Following the announcement, Ubitennis contacted the ITF to establish their stance on the decision. The governing body is recognised by WADA. Heather Bowler, who is the ITF’s executive director of communications, points out that throughout the investigation, none of the doping violations have been linked to tennis.
“According to the WADA decision issued earlier today (Monday), Russian athletes will only be eligible to compete in major competitions subject to satisfying certain conditions listed by the WADA Compliance Review Committee.“ Bowler said in a statement.
“The ITF is not currently aware of any Russian tennis player having been mentioned in incriminating circumstances in the McLaren Report (2016) nor has any evidence been provided to the ITF at this time in relation to the manipulation, alteration or deletion of anti-doping data in the Moscow anti-doping laboratory’s database.” She added.
Unless there is a successful appeal made, Russian tennis players will only be allowed to participate in the upcoming Olympics under a neutral status. Meaning they are not allowed to fly their own flag. Furthermore if somebody such as Daniil Medvedev wins a gold medal, the Russian national anthem will not be played during the medal ceremony.
Bowler states that all Russian players have been tested under the sport’s own anti-doping controls and not just that of the controversial RUSDA. Indicating that it is unlikely that they will be banned from ITF events such as the Davis Cup unless a new significant discovery arises. The WADA’s definition of a ‘major sporting event’ is confusing at best. They are still allowed to host football matches during the 2020 European Championships because Uefa isn’t classed as a ‘major event organisation.’
“Tennis has a zero tolerance anti-doping policy. All players competing at Grand Slams and ITF, WTA and ATP sanctioned events are subject to the WADA-compliant Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (TADP); a comprehensive programme which includes athlete biological passports, in-competition and out-of-competition testing and the year-round whereabouts programme. Russian players will have been tested under the TADP, outside of Russia.” Bowler outlines.
“WADA’s decision is subject to appeal by RUSADA. For that reason, we will not comment further until that process has reached its final conclusion and we have had the opportunity to review its outcome.”
Kafelnikov – ‘There was a doping system’
Following the verdict, former world No.1 and 2000 Olympic champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov spoke out. The 45-year-old is now the deputy head of the Russian Tennis Federation. Talking with national media, he blamed those directly involved in the doping programme for not admitting their guilt. Saying that it has resulted in athletes getting unfairly punished. Whilst some officials have doubted the allegation of a state doping system, Kafelnikov has stated the opposite.
“There was a doping system in Russia, I have no doubt about it. Someone must be punished for this.” sport-express.ru quoted him as saying.
“Russian sports could have a reputation if those people, a group of people who started all this, just went out and said: “Yes, I’ve messed up, please forgive me.” I am sure that then in this case there could be some relief for Russian athletes. But no one wants to take responsibility for this. As a result, everything is shifted to poor athletes.”
As for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Kafelnikov has urged his fellow compatriot to still attend the event under a neutral flag if the appeal fails. Saying the event is a priority for ‘every self-respecting athlete.’ During his career, he only participated in the four-year sporting event once.
“If I faced such a dilemma: to go to the Olympics under a neutral flag or to refuse to play for the national team, I would go under a neutral flag,” said Kafelnikov.
“For any self-respecting athlete, the Olympic Games are a priority.”
As of this week, there are 11 Russian tennis players in the top 100. Three on the men’s tour and eight of the women.
Former Grand Slam Champion Hits Out At ‘Abysmal’ Davis Cup
Australia’s most successful doubles player in Davis Cup history isn’t happy about the changes made to team event.
Former world No.1 Doubles player Todd Woodbridge has taken a fresh swipe at the revamped Davis Cup and their allocation of wild cards for the 2020 finals.
The 48-year-old has blasted the format of the historic team event following major changes that was made this year. Last month was the first time the finals took place over a week with 18 teams participating in one location in Madrid. At the event there was a few blips with the scheduling being at times problematic. Highlighted by the tie between the USA and Italy that went on until 4am.
Despite the issues, there were also positives to be taken away from the event, which was won by Spain. However, Woodbridge remains a critic. The Australian is his country’s most successful doubles player in the history of the Davis Cup with 25 wins under his belt. Overall, he played in 32 ties over a 14-year period (1991-2005).
“The tennis itself has been brilliant, the organisation has been abysmal,” Woodbridge said on Australian programme Sports Sunday.
“Everything from IT issues, to playing matches that finish at 4am, and then today the ITF go, ‘Well we’re going to put in more wild cards.”
It is the wild cards decision that has irritated the 16-time grand slam champion the most. Recently it was announced that Serbia and France has been handed passes into the finals next November. Meaning that will not have to go through the play-off ties. Woodbridge has suggested the move was deliberately made in order to persuade Novak Djokovic to play in the event again.
“They’ve given wild cards this week, for 12 months’ time. You’ve got to ask the question, how can you do that? It looks like they’re guaranteeing Novak Djokovic a spot for next year … ‘We want you back so we’re going to guarantee you can be there, you don’t have to play the qualifying match earlier in the year,” he said.
“And then France have also been put in, so you’ve got to ask the question, the President of the ITF is also French and I’m sure he’s had a big influence in that discussion. They’ve got so many things to fix if it’s going to be a success next year.
“The biggest issue was crowd. We (Australia) played our first match with about 400 people watching, and that’s a great disappointment.”
Gerard Pique if the founder of Kosmos, whose investment has enabled the transformation of the Davis cup. In a recent interview with Spanish media, he said the allocation of a wild card to France was done so the country ‘feel part of the competition because the format will continue like this.’
“We’re delighted with how everything went and above all with the final, which Spain won,” he told Onda Cero about the 2019 Davis Cup finals. “There are things which need to be improved, like the times of the games, which has an easy solution in the form of adding another court and changing the times a little bit.”
The 2020 Davis Cup qualifying rounds will get underway in March.
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