After the snow showers that swooped across Ottawa on Thursday afternoon after the draw ceremony at the House of Parliament, the first day of the Canada-GB Davis Cup tie was greeted by a crisp sunny winter afternoon in Ottawa, with the relatively “mild” temperature of – 8C. The temperature inside the TD Place, however, was much more comfortable and kept increasing as the day progressed, because as Friday turned into the weekend more and more people arrived to take part to the action, but also (or I should say above all) because local Davis hero Vasek Pospisil pulled of a much-needed upset defeating the GB n.2 Kyle Edmund, currently sitting almost 90 spots above him in the ATP ranking.
The day didn’t start too well for the picturesque chanting “red maple leaf” fans, as teenage “debutant” Denis Shapovalov (n.246) was schooled by Britain’s best-ranked players (after Andy Murray) Daniel Evans (n.45), who recently reached the Round of 16 at the Australian Open and came within one point of beating eventual champion Stan Wawrinka at last year’s US Open. The two had played a very tight 3-set match in 2016 at Challenger level in Drummondville, Canada, but on the fast indoor court of Ottawa nerves played a role in Shapovalov 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 defeat in 1h50’. The young Canadian never managed to find range and rhythm on Evans’ serve, which was only threatened twice all afternoon, both times on 2-2 in the second set, when the Brit showed guts and confidence serving an ace and volleying a passing shot on the two most delicate points of the match. “He played better the big point, that was the difference between us – said Shapovalov after the match, confirming he didn’t think he played badly in general but was outplayed by his opponent at crucial junctures in the match. “He plays with great confidence because he has been playing and winning a lot the past few weeks – continued Shapovalov – while I don’t have enough match under my belt this season to be that confident”.
The Tel Aviv-born Canadian 17-year-old conceded a break on the first and last game of the first set, on the one following the two break points in the second and on the final game of the match in the third. He stuck to his flamboyant high-risk attacking game, but racked up 39 unforced errors at the end of the match when he was uncappable of hurting Evans on his slice backhand as his opponent often found slow dipping passing shots exposing his slowness in approaching the net.
Luckily for the home crowd, Vasek Pospisil came to level the tie with a solid performance to easily rout an evanescent Kyle Edmund, who curiously ended up with the same number of unforced errors as Shapovalov (39) but displayed a much more passive attitude that led him to run around in rallies well behind the baseline. “My tennis was dismal today – said Edmund in the after-match press-conference with an extremely subdued, almost teary voice – I need to do more, this is not enough”.
Despite availing himself of a Medical Timeout after just five games to have his knee massaged (“It’s a pain that’s been bothering me all week, but it’s under control, there are no risks for the doubles” said Pospisil, who is planning to play three matches in three days in this tie), he held a tough service game at 4-4 and went on to win eight of the following nine games to take a 2-set-to-love lead.
In the third set there were no break points, but the resulting tie-break was a solo for the Canadian who sprinted from 2-2 to 6-2 and then sealed a 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (3) comprehensive win to ensure at least one live rubber on Sunday.
There should be no surprise when teams will cross swords on Saturday at 1pm ET for the doubles: Pospisil should team up with 44-year-old Daniel Nestor, who celebrates his 50th Davis Cup tie this weekend, while Great Britain should see specialists Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot take to the court. Reverse singles on Sunday will begin at noon ET, with the start time anticipated to try and avoid possible overlaps with the NFL SuperBowl, the most important sporting event of the year in North America, scheduled for 6.30pm ET on Sunday evening.
India’s political gambit throws Indo-Pakistan Davis Cup tie into chaos
The prospect of being sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) prompted the All India Tennis Association (AITA), the apex Indian tennis body, to agree to visit Pakistan for the Asia/Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie in September 2019. The tie – scheduled for 14th-15th September – would have been the first time since 1964 that India would have visited its neighbour and arch-rival to play the Davis Cup.
Up until last week, almost all details had been laid out. The venue had been decided – the tie was to be played on outdoor grass in Islamabad – and the visiting nation had announced its squad under the captaincy of Mahesh Bhupathi. And while security concerns remained a subject of discussion, they did not threaten any late-minute forfeiture of the tie.
The Cause of Problems, and the Aftermath
The Indian government’s decision to do away with a key article of the country’s constitution about its northern region of Jammu and Kashmir on 6th August, however, changed the dynamics of the Indo-Pak socio-political relationship yet again. On the said date, India’s home minister Amit Shah announced that Article 370 of the constitution would be abrogated. The Article, as it had come into effect in 1954 after being amended, gave Jammu and Kashmir special autonomy within the country’s geopolitical and social ambit. The Article was signed by the then ruler of the province Hari Singh who did not want to join either India or Pakistan at the time of India’s partition in 1947 after it gained independence from the British Empire.
Soon after India’s announcement, Pakistan – which regards Kashmir as its territory under Indian occupation – retaliated by snapping the existing diplomatic channels between the countries. It also approached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) asking the UN body to take up the issue.
In India and globally, there is also fear that the Kashmir problem could thrust both nations into a war-like scenario yet again. Concerning sports, specifically tennis, in this case, the Indian tennis administration does not want its players to face any potential security threat in Pakistan on account of the altered landscape.
The AITA Stand
Yet, despite the worry of any possible breach of security, the AITA does not want to take any premature step vis-à-vis the tie either. On 9th August, when the author of this story spoke to the AITA, the association’s general-secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee said that the AITA was taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We are waiting for two more days,” said Chatterjee. “…I will wait for today because Saturday and Sunday, the ITF will be closed, so Monday (12th August), I will respond… (So) we will see the situation, how it turns in the next two days.”
Noting that the operations of the sole train service between the two nations had been stopped and the airspace between them had been closed by Pakistan, Chatterjee rued that the situation was “not very conducive at the moment”. According to him, if the diplomatic relationship between the sub-continental giants were to improve in the next couple of days, the Indian team would not fail to travel westwards.
“Thereafter (after two days), we will write to the ITF may be suggesting that looking at the situation they should (move the) tie to a neutral venue,” Chatterjee noted, emphasised that India was not considering forfeiting the tie at any cost. “We are very keen to play the tie because (it) is very important for us. There is a lot of difference at stake for them (Pakistan) and us. So, it is very important we play this tie.”
Finally, when asked if the AITA was worried about the ITF sanctioning Indian Davis Cup aspirations, Chatterjee unequivocally denied that the eventuality would come to that.
“It won’t come to that. It shouldn’t come to that because everyone knows the situation. The ITF also knows the situation,” he said before subtly punting the ball back onto the ITF’s side. “The ITF can’t put us into a situation where there is going to be a lot of anxiety. I don’t want that to happen. So, we will discuss it and will come to an amicable solution.”
Gerard Pique Takes Swipe At The ATP Cup Over Calendar Scheduling
The Kosmos founder has made some comments that will likely not go down well with the governing body of men’s tennis.
Barcelona F.C. player and Kosmos founder Gerard Pique has come out fighting against critics of the newly revamped Davis Cup.
The 32-year-old was an instrumental figure behind the controversial changes to the 119-year-old team competition. His company Kosmos has pledged to invest $3 billion over the next 25 years. From 2019, the finals will take place over a week and feature 18 teams taking part. Removing the concept of home and away finals. It will be played in group stages with a format similar to that of the FIFA World Cup.
Since the revamp was approved last year, there has been a mixed reception in the world of tennis. A series of high-profile figures has branded the revamp as too radical and accused the International Tennis Federation (ITF) of killing the competition. Ion Tiriac, who is the president of the Romanian Tennis Federation, recently sent a letter to governing body voicing his anger. In it, he wrote ‘I strongly believe that many players will not accept to play in this format and that the nationalist glamour has been lost forever.’
Speaking to The Times, Pique has insisted that the Davis Cup will be a hit despite its criticism. The first edition of the week-long finals will take place in November at the end of the season. It will be held at the Caja Magica in the Spanish capital of Madrid.
“I totally understand that when someone comes from another sport and if you change something that is very traditional like the Davis Cup for the better of the sport there will be some people who won’t buy it and they won’t believe in it,” Piqué said. “We need time to convince the people that this is the right way to go. What we need in November is to prove these people wrong. I cannot simply convince them with words. What I will try to do is put in all my effort and experience from other sports. We will try to do our best to create an incredible event. I’m sure we will convince some of them, but it is impossible to convince everyone.”
It isn’t just changing the attitudes of others that Pique and Co have to fight against. It is also dealing with competition from the ATP. From next year the ATP Cup will be held annually in Australia at the start of each season. Both prize money and, more crucially ranking points will be on offer for those taking part. The Davis Cup, which is run by the ITF, can’t award points.
Players such as Alexander Zverev has ruled themselves out of playing in the Davis Cup finals as it will eat into their limited off-season training period. However, Pique has suggested that the newly created ATP Cup is in an even worse position in the calendar. A comment that will not help the tentative relationships between Kosmos and the ATP.
“It is true that maybe some people don’t see it as the best place in the calendar for us, but if you want to create a big event, I prefer to be where I am than the ATP Cup.” He stated.
“It will be the first event of the season and the Australian Open is two weeks after. As a professional athlete, you cannot start the pre-season with a big competition because normally you use it for warming up, a little bit like the Hopman Cup in the past. We are at the end of the season. Maybe for the players it is a long season, but it is the last event and a different event because of the uniqueness of playing for your country and the atmosphere we want to create.”
There have been talks about there being just one team event, but at the moment it is unlikely. The ATP is not going to surrender a tournament they have just revived and spent millions on. The same applies to the ITF, whose current president is a key backer of the reform.
“We had so many meetings with the ATP to try to arrive to a deal to create one event or go together. This is something that we are still working on. I think that both competitions have pros and cons. In the Davis Cup, we have the freedom to go elsewhere every two or for years. This is something that it doesn’t seem the ATP Cup will do because they have to be attached to Australia.” Pique concluded.
The Davis Cup finals will take place between 18-24 November.
EXCLUSIVE Interview With US Davis Cup Captain Mardy Fish: “If Davis Cup Fails, We All Fail”
Mardy Fish takes the reins of the US Davis Cup team and feels very strongly about the new format for the competition: “If you love Davis Cup you have to support it, even with this format”
After Jim Courier’s resignation from the role of US Davis Cup Captain last September after the defeat in the 2018 semifinal against Croatia, the USTA decided to take their time and make some changes to the duties required by the role. Following Courier’s suggestion that “the new captain should be someone closer in age to the players”, the United States Tennis Association decided to trust former world no.7 Mardy Fish with this important responsibility, also making him a key figure in the Player Development Program, expanding the role of captain into a year-round presence at tournaments around the world to provide a bigger support to players.
While we were covering the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Mardy found the time to talk to Ubitennis over the phone from his house in California and provided some insight into this new adventure for him.
What can you tell us about your first few months in your new role?
It’s been a fun few months, adjusting from the role of peer to the other players to that of captain. I have found a lot of respect towards me from the other players and this is obviously a great thing. I have always been a huge fan of Davis Cup, I have always said yes whenever I had the opportunity to play it, and it’s an honor to be in this role.
You retired a few years ago from professional tennis: how do you feel about getting back on the road now that your life is structured in a different way?
My life at home has been quite established, with my wife and my two kids, but I have been doing a bit of personal traveling for some exhibitions and for golfing. This role will not require a lot of traveling, I will just do what I need to create some camaraderie in the team: I have spent a few days in Indian Wells, from Tuesday to Saturday, I will be a few days in Miami, then I won’t be around much for the European season and I will travel again to tournaments in the summer. I just need the players to know that they have my support and the support of the USTA if it’s needed.
What do you think about the new formula for the Davis Cup?
I think it’s too early to tell right now, we will find out how it goes. On paper the formula sounds awesome, the time was right for a change, although I’m not sure if it was necessary to make it as drastic as this. I know there are some people that feel very strongly against this new formula, but this means that people are passionate about Davis Cup, they really care about it.
The date in the calendar for the Finals is quite tough though. But at the end of the day, if it’s Davis Cup the majority of players will find a way to participate and I’m convinced we will get an excellent field.
As far as the US Team is concerned, I don’t foresee any availability issue from our players, especially the younger ones: they are very excited about playing for the USA, the National Team is in a lot of conversations among our players. I can’s speak for other countries, I know some of them have pledged not to play with the new format, but what we need to remember is that we are all responsible for Davis Cup: if Davis Cup fails, we all fail, we are all together on the same boat. For example, the Australian players are all very passionate about Davis Cup, they love it, and that is fantastic. But if they don’t support it, it’s not going to work.
With the new formula, a team getting to the final will need to play six ties in seven days: how important do you think it will be to have a ‘long bench’?
I think it will be important to bring players who play only singles and other players who play only doubles. I believe that teams that only have one or two players, as it could be for Russia, and relying on them to play both singles and doubles could get into a bit of a situation should they get to the business end of the competition, because their players may get there quite tired. We are lucky in that sense because we can have someone like Jack Sock who could play doubles leaving the singles guys free to worry about the singles.
Tennis politics have recently made the headlines with Chris Kermode not being renewed as the ATP CEO. What is your take on this?
I have spoken to some of the guys who are in the Players’ Council and once again I need to stress that they do what they do because they act with passion. They are passionate about tennis, they act out of love for the game even if their ranking is not high. I know Kermode personally from when he was the Tournament Directors at the Queen’s Tournament and everything was perfect for me; I don’t have direct experience with him at the helm of the ATP, I had already retired when he took the reins of the organization.
A few weeks ago the ITF decided the composition of the Round Robin phase of the Davis Cup Final and the US team will be in the same group as Italy and Canada. Can you tell us about these teams?
Well, Canada has the right mix of experience and youth: Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime are going to be there for a long time, and Milos [Raonic] will be able to give them all the support they need. Similarly, Italy has an established core of players such as Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi that will be supplemented by Marco Cecchinato, whom I know him anyway because he is was my opponent in my last match ever at the US Open.
I am very confident about our chances in this group: we have three top 60 players who are still 21 years old or younger, who are Tiafoe, Fritz and Opelka. Tiafoe has just reached the Quarterfinals of the Australian Open, and that’s not a result that you can improvise, you need to beat good players to get there. They will be the core of our team for the years to come, and they will be helped by more established veterans like John [Isner] or Sam [Querrey].
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