EXCLUSIVE: Journalists Around The World Speak Out On Eve Of Crucial Davis Cup Vote - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Journalists Around The World Speak Out On Eve Of Crucial Davis Cup Vote

Ubitennis has contacted officials around the world to find out what countries will vote in favour of a plan that will revolutionise the men’s team tournament.

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A day before a vote on reforming the Davis Cup takes place, a poll by Ubitennis has found that many federations are still undecided about the plans.

Last week a survey was sent to journalists across Europe, South America and North America. In it they were asked about their personal opinion as well as what they think their national federations will vote. Some were unable to answer the latter question as they are also members of their national associations. The three questions asked were :-

  1. Will your tennis Federation vote for the Davis Cup’s revolutionary format proposed by Mr Haggerty?
  2.  What is your personal opinion about it?
  3. Will the proposal be accepted or rejected?

Ubitennis has received responses from officials in nine different countries – Argentina, UK, Croatia, Belgium, Poland, USA, Spain, Switzerland and Canada. Based on their feedback, here is what we have discovered.

Argentina

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The Argentinian position has been explained by journalist Enrique Cano. Cano works for Radio 10 and is a member of the International Tennis Writers Association.

According to Cano’s information, former player Mariano Zabaleta will travel to Orlando to vote. Zabaleta is the vice president of the national federation (AAT). It is understood that the federation has sought input from past and present players, but they are yet to make a final decision. The AAT is now in discussions with other federations before they make a final decision.

“In the case that the ATP decide to go ahead with the new Nations Championship and ITF votes for the new Davis Cup format we will have three similar tournaments in tennis along with the Laver Cup in September. It’s to many for me.” Cano told Ubitennis.
“I think that nobody can guarantee that the changes make the best players join to their National Davis Cup Team.”

Cano predicts the proposal will be rejected.

Great Britain

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The British vote in the Davis Cup is crucial. They are one of only five countries that have the ability to cast a maximum of 12 votes. Stuart Fraser from The Times have reported that the LTA remains undecided. Meanwhile the Stirling University Barmy Army, which is a group of loyal Davis Cup supporters that travel the world supporting the British team, has opposed the reform in a statement on Tuesday.

Richard Evans is a veteran tennis broadcaster with a career that dates back to the 1960s. He was a commentator for the BBC at the Wimbledon championships over a 20-year period. When asked about his opinion on the Davis Cup, Evans has casts his own doubts about the plan.

“I have no idea what the LTA is doing. I hear the French Fed are voting for the Davis Cup changes despite their players being against it. Tennis Australia is voting against.” Said Evans.
“I have advocated changes for years, but not this drastic. The new concept is the World Team Cup, not the Davis Cup.”

As to what the outcome will be on Thursday, Evans believes it will get the go ahead.

“I think it will get passed in Orlando but there will be huge protests. The pendulum always swings too far.” He said.
“But, of course it is all about money and now that has been re-inforced by Larry Ellison’s participation. He loves the idea and will back it. Madrid for the 1st two years (nothing to do with Tiriac) and then Indian Wells for two years. That’s the plan.”

Simon Briggs from The Telegraph has also said that the LTA are still debating the matter. In his personal opinion, the new Davis Cup plan should not be approved due to a lack of information. He believes the proposal will be rejected.

Mike Dickson from The Daily Mail has said that he ‘suspects’ that the LTA will vote against the reform. Although there has been no official confirmation.

“I don’t think the proposal is the worst compromise in terms of structure and keeping some element of home and away is better than nothing. It’s not perfect, but there needed to be change. Probably the best idea now would be to do it every two years and do it properly.” Said Dickson.
“My biggest fear about this plan is the business side of it. What happens if the numbers do not add up for the investors? What are the guarantees? It worries me the future of a great competition being in the hands of a few corporate interests.”

Croatia

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Gordan Gabrovec works for the Croatian News Agency. His country’s position on the Davis Cup is complexed due to recent changes in the organisation. Earlier this year Franjo Lukovic was removed from his position as the president of the Croatian tennis federation. He has been replaced by Nikolina Babic, who is the first female president of the CTF.

“If Mr. Lukovic would still be the president, I have no doubt that CTF would vote for the new Davis Cup format.” Said Gabrovec.
“I would be surprised if that person (from the CTF) would vote against the reform because there is a lot of money promised and for such a small and rather poor federation (in terms of the financial resources) that could be a strong argument. There is another reason to vote for and that is to go along with your best player, as Marin Cilic seems to be a strong suporter of the new format.”

Gabrovec has voiced his personal opposition to the move. Arguing that it will have a negative impact on Croatian tennis fans.

“People in Croatia will not be able to see Croatian players live in action if they don’t travel to foreign countries. I think there are a very small number of people that would go out of the country to watch our team competing in the Davis Cup.” He said.
“There is another issue with one city, one venue format. What if you have, for example, Croatia – Austria DC final in Lille or Madrid? Or anywhere in the world except in Croatia or Austria? How many people would come to watch and what kind of an atmosphere will they create? It would just be another tournament with a great prize money but that Davis Cup feeling would vanish if there isn’t a home team playing.”

Despite his reservations, he believes the proposal will be passed. Citing that the promised injection of money will be enough to sway voters.

“It would be a great surprise for me to see the proposal of the new DC rejected on August 16. Too much money’s been promised and we live in a greedy world that doesn’t care too much for tradition.”

Poland

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Adam Romer from tennisklub.pl believes the ITF will be making a mistake if the plans are passed. Arguing that the situation could be history repeating itself.

“Mr. Haggerty&Co will sell last valuable product owned by ITF and what then? The same mistake was done more than 40 years ago, when ITF lost the control of tournaments and give a space for new organisations ATP and WTA. You feel consequences until today… To make it short: DC need some reforms, but not on this way.” Said Romer.
“I didn’t count the votes, but to rejected you need only 1/3 votes. It’s easier to find it.”

Romer’s opinion about about his federations stance cannot be disclosed due to a potential conflict of interest. A member of his family is part of the Polish ITF delegation.

America

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It has already been reported that America will back the proposal. Two key members of the Kosmos-backed plan, David Haggerty and Larry Ellison, are from the country.

Speaking about his country’s position, Joel Drucker from The Tennis Channel believes change is a good thing.

“I like the idea of trying something new for Davis Cup. From scheduling to exposure to player participation, over the years, this wonderful event has seen certain flaws exposed. So I strongly believe it’s worth giving these new approaches — match length and, most notably, venue — be given a shot.” He said.

Pete Bodo from ESPN has cited two reasons as to why America will vote for the changes. He believes the proposal will be passed.

“The US public (and newspaper editors and other media members) has never fully embraced Davis Cup or they have embraced the idea that Davis Cup needs fixing. The other reason is that the driving force behind the proposal is ITF chief and former USTA president Dave Haggerty.” Bodo explained.
“Personally, I like the Davis Cup format as it is, although I believe it could use some tweaks, perhaps even a change to best of three-set tiebreaker matches. That might help recruit quality players who are sacrificing rest and recuperation time during those awkward DC weeks. I do not think a one-site event played over a week or two is a solution.”

Spain

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It is expected that the Spanish federation will support the proposal. Gerard Pique, who plays for Barcelona F.C, has held numerous meeting with his country’s governing body to persuade them. Also, considering that Madrid is in line to host the new competition, a no vote would be a massive shock.

“There is no official pronunciation of the Spanish tennis federation, but I Know they are in favour of the new format.” Journalist Joan Solsona Magri told Ubitennis.
“At the end for us (Spain) it’s not about what Mr Haggerty proposes. It’s about what Gerard Pique proposes. Pique has had several meetings with the Spanish federation members to convince them.”

Magri, who works for Diario Marca, believes the only issue with the plan is the date of when it will take place.

“For me the only problem are the dates at the end of November. I would suggest to organize the competition at the end of the US Open. Two world cups, I mean ITF and ATP, followed in the calendar, I don’t think they have chances to survive at the same time.” He said.
“I Know the Kosmos team and of course ITF have been working a lot since February when there was the official presentation of the project to the ITF members. I think it will be accepted.”

Switzerland

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Swiss journalist Mathieu Aeschmann is confident that his country will vote for the revamp. Aeschmann writes for publications such as Le Matin and 20 minutes.

“The Swiss Federation will vote for the reform; because the President René Stammbach is the chairman of the ITF finance committee and he welcomes the idea of the financial guarantees that Kosmos would provide.” He said.

Nevertheless, Aeschmann has come out against the plans. Saying that despite his country’s backing, the proposal will be rejected.

“We want to change because the “old generation” want to change. But did we ask the Young Guns? Zverev, Kyrgios, Shapovalov, Coric and Co all played in 2018. So the old format is maybe not as over as it’s sounds.” He argues.
“I could maybe accept a “Final Four” (men and women) after two “normal” rounds and a final in a neutral city… But this Big Tournament (18 Teams?) in November, it’s too much and too late! The players are too tired to play something like this.”

Canada

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Tom Tebbutt works for Tennis Canada. He believes his country will vote for the changes, but due to Tebutt’s job role we can not elaborate any further. Although, this is his own opinion about the matter.

“I think the idea is probably for the best, but a Davis Cup grand final the week after the World Tour Finals is ridiculous – you just can’t expect the top players to be fit enough to play such an important competition at that time.” He said.

Belgium

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The country has been one of the most vocal opponents to the changes and has already confirmed that they will vote against the plans.

Nevertheless, Yves Simon from Sudpresse has reported that he country has already accepted defeat. Interestingly revealing that Belgium will appeal for a wild card in the new style Davis cup, if approved.

“The Belgian position is a resigned position, since our president thinks that everything is already played in favor of kosmos.” Simon explained.
“He will vote … trying to get one of the wildcard 2019 for Belgium.”
“The kosmos plan will pass without problem. Money ruins always the spirit …” He added.

The vote on the Davis Cup reform will take place on Thursday.

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How To Face 67 Aces And Still Win The Match

Thomas Fabbiano explains how he overcame the tidal wave of ace that almost drowned him during his match against Reilly Opelka

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Thomas Fabbiano (left) and Reilly Opelka (right) at the Australian Open 2019 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

To be honest, I didn’t really understand much of his serve. I still don’t understand most of what happened out there”. This is how Thomas Fabbiano started his post-match press conference after his 6-7(15) 6-2 6-4 3-6 7-6(5) victory against Reilly Opelka in the second round of the 2019 Australian Open.

The match was a tennis rendition of David vs Goliath, as 1.73m (5-foot-6) Fabbiano was facing 2.11m (6-foot-9) Opelka, who served 67 aces during the 3h14’ match but still couldn’t come out on top of his shorter opponent. Fabbiano didn’t know how many aces he had to face during the match, he had to ask the journalists in the room: “Sixty-seven? And how many did I do? Only two?” Yes, Opelka scored more aces with his second serve (3) than Fabbiano with his first serve (2).

Opelka’s final tally was the fifth-highest number of aces anyone has ever scored in a tennis match: the legendary 2010 Wimbledon first round between Isner and Mahut (113 for Isner, 103 for Mahut) takes up the first two spots of this special ranking, with Ivo Karlovic occupying position n.3 and n.4 (78 aces in Davis Cup against Radek Stefanek in 2009 and 75 aces against Horacio Zeballos at the 2017 Australian Open).

It was a very difficult match, different from any other. I am very happy I was able to stay in the game and swallow all the frustration for, at times, not being able to touch the ball for many points in a row. The flip side of the coin is that I didn’t run that much in this match: I probably covered more ground doing my ‘walkarounds’ to find concentration rather than during rallies”.

The problem with facing Opelka’s serve stems not only from the sheer speed of the shot but also from the angle of attack which makes the ball bounce very high. On the second game, one of the aces saw the ball whizz past Fabbiano not on the left or on the right, but ABOVE his head: he just couldn’t get to the ball above him with his two-handed backhand.

I tried to mix it up while returning, tried to give him different looks and change my strategy from time to time. On some points I would just pick a side and move as he struck the ball, on other occasions I would put try to read the direction, but not much worked. I focused on taking care of my serve and getting into the rallies, his groundstrokes need to improve a lot for this level of tennis”.

During the fifth set tie-break, Fabbiano was able to obtain two crucial minibreaks on Opelka’s first three points of serve, both times on the American’s first serve. “I decided to give him an even different look, doing something I had never done before: I positioned right outside the doubles alley while he was serving from the ad court. I wanted to let him know that if he wanted to ace me he had to go down the T, but he served wide anyway, and I managed to get the point”.

Although he is very happy he got the win, Fabbiano hopes he will not have to repeat a similar experience too soon: “If tennis was like this every day, I would never play it, and I would never be interested in following it. But fortunately for us, there are only a few players who play like that: Isner, Karlovic, and possibly Raonic. With a bit of luck, I won’t have to face any of them for some time”.

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SPECIAL REPORT: The Fight To Preserve Andy Murray’s Legacy

Coach Mike James gives his insight into the significance Murray’s career has had on British tennis and the challenges that lies ahead for the nation.

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You don’t know what you have until it’s gone might be the best phrase to describe the relationship between the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and Andy Murray.

Earlier this week Murray announced his intention to retire from the sport in 2019 with the possibility of the Australian Open being his final tournament. The decision ends a career that has rewritten history in British tennis. Murray is the only British man in the Open era to win Wimbledon, reach number one in the ATP rankings and defend an Olympic title in tennis. In total he has won 45 titles on the ATP Tour, including three at grand slam level.

“I can play with limitations but having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training,” Murray said during an emotional press conference in Melbourne on Friday. “Wimbledon is where I would like to stop playing but I am not certain I am able to do that.
“Not feeling good. Been struggling for a long time. I’m not sure I can play through the pain for another four or five months.
“Pretty much done everything that I could to try and get my hip feeling better and it hasn’t helped loads. I think there is a chance the Australian Open is my last tournament.”

It is without question that the 31-year-old has been his country’s most successful player of all time, but how will his legacy influence the next generation? In November 2017 the LTA announced a 10% decline in participation levels compared to the previous year. Despite the successes of Kyle Edmund during that period. Meanwhile, a YouGov survey ranked the British Davis Cup team as the 32nd most popular sports team in the country. However, the younger the age group, the lower down the rankings they were placed.

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers
Positive opinion 26% 30% 36%
Popularity ranking among group 42nd 32nd 23rd

Coach Mike James is well aware of the influence his compatriot has had on the sport. James has worked on the ATP World Tour with players ranked between 200-1000 in the world rankings over the past four years. Within the past 20 months, he has been working alongside Croatian Davis Cup player Ante Pavic. His role has taken him to an array of tournaments ranging from Futures level to grand slams.

“He’s been way more successful than Henman and Rusedski, who were excellent professionals. Henman was top 10 in the world for ten years, Rusedski made the US Open final. But Murray has done it all.” James said during an interview with Ubitennis.
“His impact as a career compared to his predecessors is by far better. He is the greatest British tennis player of all time.”

A legacy remembered, but not built on

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It is no secret that the relationships between Murray and the LTA has been a rocky one. He once said in 2015 that it was ‘a waste of time’ to talk with the governing body of tennis because ‘nothing gets done.’ Meanwhile in Scotland, Murray’s birthplace, the Chief Executive of Scottish Tennis recently told the BBC that building on Murray’s legacy ‘has not quite happened.’

“We are way short of where we should be for indoor and outdoor courts,” Blade Dodds told BBC Scotland’s Sportsound on January 6th.
“If you compare us to England and the rest of Europe, we are about 1,000 courts short of where we should be per capita.
“If you look at indoor courts, providing that all-year-round tennis that is absolutely vital if we are going to be world class, then we have 109 indoor courts in Scotland, which is one per 48,000 people. In England, it’s one per 24,000 people.”

So what needs to be done now? According to Leicester-based coach James, the media will play a vital role. In order to maintain interest in the sport in Great Britain, the public needs to be made aware of the other players. Entering into the first grand slam of 2019, British No.2 Cameron Norrie reached his first ATP Final in Auckland. Meanwhile, Dan Evans has successfully come through three rounds of qualifying at the Australian Open to reach the main draw.

“If you look at France from their point of view, they are very jealous that we had Andy Murray over the last 10 years winning big titles.” He explained. “But they have nearly the most amount of professionals in the top 100, particularly on the ATP Tour, so I think tennis needs to stay in the news.”
“For sure Edmund, Konta and Norrie can keep tennis relevant and on the back pages for many years to come.” James added.

It is without a doubt that there will need to be a collective group of players to fill the void left by Murray with not a single British player yet to have a fan base as strong as the former world No.1. For example on Twitter and Facebook, Edmund has a combined following of roughly 65,700. An estimated 110 times less than Andy Murray’s total of 7.29 million.

Time for the women to show their stuff

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Perhaps the future of British tennis lies within the women’s circuit. There are currently two British women in the top 100 and six in the top 200. More crucial is the fact that four of those are aged 22 or younger.

“If you look at the Fed Cup team at the moment, we have a very young team coming through. I think this is exciting.” Said James.
“We have Katie Boulter who has just broken into the top 100, and I think there are several girls – Katy Swan, Gabi Taylor, Francesca Jones, Harriet Dart – that can also break into the top 100 as well.”

James believes that the tides are turning and it is the female players that perhaps have the best chances of success in the future. At the upcoming Australian Open, four women are in the main draw – Konta, Boulter, Dart and Heather Watson.

“I think we could be having a shift from the golden era of men’s tennis with Andy, and moving into the women’s. From the men’s side, we don’t really have that many coming through apart from Edmund and Norrie.” He concluded.

Britain’s top 200 players (as of 13/1/19)

MEN

Ranking
Player
Age
14 Kyle Edmund 23
93 Cameron Norrie 23
187 James Ward 31
190 Daniel Evans 28

WOMEN

Ranking Player Age
38 Johanna Konta 27
97 Katie Boulter 22
108 Heather Watson 26
131 Harriet Dart 22
175 Katie Swan 19
182 Gabriella Taylor 20

On the other hand, it can be argued that Jack Draper could be a big name in the future. The 17-year-old was a finalist in the Wimbledon Boy’s tournament and won three Futures titles during 2018. He is at a current ranking of 562 on the pro circuit and seventh in the juniors.

“What has come through is the way he has competed throughout his whole career,” world No.38 Konta said in tribute to Murray. “That is something which is very unique to him and we will probably be waiting decades for another person to be like that.”

Whilst the future of British tennis may be a bit murky, there is one thing for certain. Murray’s service to British tennis will end soon. Whether that will be at the Australian Open or Wimbledon remains to be seen.

Only time will tell if his legacy in the sport has been one others have been able to capitalise on.

Murray will take on Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round at Melbourne on Monday.

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EXCLUSIVE: Mario Ancic ‘Surprised’ By Use Of Clay At Davis Cup Final

Ubitennis has caught up with the former Wimbledon semi-finalist in Lille ahead of crunch day for both nations.

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Former World No.7 Mario Ancic has said the decision to play the Davis Cup final on clay is one that has caught him off guard.

Ancic voiced his opinion about the playing surface shortly after France revive their titles hopes with a crucial win in the doubles with the help of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The final is taking place at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, which is located in the Villeneuve-d’Ascq area of Lille. It is the first time final has been played on the clay since 2015. A decision that has puzzled former player Ancic.

“For me, the surface was strange. I was very surprised.” He told Ubitennis. “I think the idea was to choose the surface that our (Croatia’s) players were not the best on.”
“I was expecting either indoor hard or indoor fast court.” Ancic added.

Ancic is not the first person to question the playing surface. World No.32 Lucas Pouille has recently told reporters that he was initially ‘not in favour of playing on the clay,’ before having a change of heart to support the decision made by captain Yannick Noah. France are missing their three top singles players – Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils.

Like Pouille, Ancic is falling short of criticising Noah. The Croat has previously played in 18 Davis Cup ties over a 10-year period. He was part of the 2005 that won Croatia’s first and so far only title in the team competition.

“I think Noah is an experienced player and an experienced captain, and he has picked the team he feels is the best.” Concludes Ancic.
“Once you pick a faster surface, I feel France would have many more options.”

Croatia currently leads France 2-1 heading into the final day. As for the line-up on Sunday, Ancic has backed Pouille and Herbert to play for the French team. Mirroring similar comments made to Ubitennis by another former player, Arnaud Boetsch.

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