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.

ATP

EXCLUSIVE: Marian Vajda Opens up About Working With A ‘New Novak Djokovic’

Ubitennis has spoken with the coach of the 14-time grand slam champion ahead of his last round-robin match at the ATP Finals on Friday.

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Marian Vajda and Ubaldo Scanagatta - ATP Finals 2018 (photo Alberto Pezzali/Ubitennis)

It was losing the ‘fear of losing’ that has helped Novak Djokovic stage one of the most emphatic comebacks in the recent history of men’s tennis, according to his coach Marian Vajda.

Vajda reunited with the world No.1 in April after previously working together for an 11-year period (2006-2017). Under his guidance, Djokovic has produced a stellar second half of the year that has seen him win four titles, including both Wimbledon and the US Open. Since July, only two players have managed to defeat him (Stefanos Tsitsipas and Karen Khachanov). During that same period, he has achieved a perfect record of 10-0 against top 10 opposition.

“I’ve known him for many years, but I never expected him to return back to that way so fast,” Vajda told Ubitennis. “I had a feeling that I was starting all over again with a new Novak because he had doubts after the (elbow) injury.
“The toughest part was the comparison between now and the past. He always compared himself to a champion and it took a while to get there.”

After suffering a bitterly disappointing loss to Italy’s Marco Cecchinato at the French Open, it was the magic of the grass that turned things around for Djokovic. On the surface, he reached his first final of the season at Queen’s before triumphing at The All England Club for the fourth time in his career.

“When he lost a match point to Marin Cilic (in the final at Queen’s), he started to believe. He said ‘it’s a final, finally I have reached a final,’’ Vajda commented about the start of Djokovic’s turning point this season.

Less than two weeks after falling to Cilic, the Serbian got the better of nemesis Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic at Wimbledon. At the time the Spaniard was the highest ranked player he has defeated in 2018. An achievement Vajda said spurred on Djokovic’s resurgence.

“The biggest change for him, I think, was his win over Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. It was an unbelievable match. I think after that he got belief and lost the fear of losing.”

It is unclear what the future hold for the Vajda-Djokovic partnership. The Slovakian coach had previously said that traveling around the world was tough on his family. His daughter is also a promising tennis player that he guides. When asked about what his plans are, Vajda gave little away. Diplomatically saying that he will ‘wait and see’ how life on the tour goes.

The full interview with Marian Vajda

Note: Article by Adam Addicott, interview conducted by Ubaldo Scanagatta.

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Davis Cup

EXCLUSIVE: Davis Cup Revamp Continues To Draw Concern From Britain’s Barmy Army

One of the UK’s most prominent Davis Cup supporters group has spoken to Ubitennis about the radical changes coming to the competition.

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Next year will see the Davis Cup enter into a new era following a radical overhaul that has split opinion in the world of tennis.

For the first time in history, the men’s team tournament will take place during two stages of the year. In February will be a series of qualifying rounds where home and away ties will take place. The winners will then travel to Madrid to play in a week-long tournament held at the Caja Magica in November. A 18-team event that features 12 qualified teams, the four semi-finalists from the previous year and two wild cards. A controversial move that has angered some countries due to loss of the ability to host the finals on home soil.

It isn’t just the team that has their concerns, it is also their fans. The Stirling University Barmy Army (SUBA) has established themselves as one of the most loyal and prestigious fan groups of British tennis. Founded in 2009 by Jamie MacDonald, former president of Sterling University, more than 120 people have attended Britain’s Davis Cup ties on behalf of the SUBA. Overall, they have attended 19 ties, including the last 12.

“The loss of regular home and away ties which therefore reduces the amount of tennis played in the UK restricting the opportunities for fans to go and watch the team.” McDonald told Ubitennis about the concerns they have about the new Davis Cup format.

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The SUBA has already stated their public opposition to the new-look event. Earlier this year, 88.9% of members voted against the reforms. Expressing concerns about the negative impact it will have on costs and travelling for British fans.

The driving force behind the Davis Cup changes are investment group Kosmos. A company that was founded by Barcelona F.C. footballer Gerard Pique. They have pledged to invest $3 billion over the next 25 years in a move they claim will see national tennis associations recieve more money. Kosmos’ plans came to life in August after being approved by a vote at the International Tennis Federation’s AGM meeting.

“We welcome new funding and new people to the sport. It is up to the sport’s governing bodies to regulate this and ensure that any changes to the sport are made in the best interests of tennis.” Said McDonald.

The ‘Change It Back’ Campaign

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After being awarded a wildcard into next year’s final, Great Britain will not play a Davis Cup tie on home soil until 2020 at the earliest. Leaving the SUBA in an uncertain position on if they will be able to cheer of their team from the sidelines next year. The group last missed a tie in 2014, when Britain took on America in San Diego.

“Less people will get to see live tennis which is a huge problem for the sport.” McDonald commented about the Davis Cup Finals.
“We would like to go to the finals but this depends on being able to access tickets and the cost of flights and accommodation not proving prohibitive.

Andrew McCrea is a member of the SUBA. Like McDonald, he is also concerned about the negative impact the new Davis Cup could have for fans of the sport. He is also a supporter of the #ChangItBack campaign on Twitter. Which urges the Davis Cup to revert back to their original format.

“The people who are involved in this are just a group of Great Britain Davis Cup fans (made up of people from a variety of supporters groups such as the Murraynators, We Are Tennis Fan Academy, British Association of Tennis Supporters etc) who initially just got in contact with one another via social media and brainstormed ideas as to what the fans could do to try and make their voices heard, and I’m actually the only person involved here who is in the Barmy Army.” McCrea explained.
“A few of us came up with the idea of tweeting the #ChangeItBack hashtag on posts relating to the Davis Cup, and these people have over the last month or so has been trying to contact other people who they think may be interested in getting involved.”

McCrea believes the new format will result in certain areas of the UK missing out on chances to engage in the sport. The Scottish city of Glasgow has hosted four ties since 2015, including their year’s clash between Britain and Uzbekistan. In September 3000 school children from schools across Glasgow was invited to watch the British team practice.

“It’s special for the players as well as they don’t get the chance to play professionally in their home country very often.” He said.
“The GB team also did a hugely successful Tennis for Kids Day a couple of days before the Uzbekistan tie last month – which is a brilliant way to try and get children inspired to take up tennis. With the new format they won’t be able to do this anymore.”

From a fan perspective, some fear that due to the finals being extended to a week it will put people off travelling to the event. At present, the Davis cup finals are contested between two teams and take place between Friday-Sunday. Kosmos has previously said that they have an attendance target of 200,000 for the 2019 finals.

“I don’t think the idea of having a one week finals event is a good idea at all from a fan perspective in terms of the arrangements they need to make in order to attend it, because the fans will need to provisionally book the full week off work, etc. (plus a day or two both sides of the week for travel) and also accommodation for the full week.”

The ATP Threat

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Amid the Davis Cup fallout, the ATP is quietly working on the rebirth of their team event. From 2020, the World Team Cup will be hosted in Australia at the start of each year. Besides prize money, ranking points will also be up for grabs. Something the Davis Cup is unable to offer. Should there be no adjustment to the calendar, both events will occur within two months (at the end of one season and at the beginning of the next). Meaning that some players may have to prioritise one over the other.

“There is no reason why tennis cannot have more than one team event.” Said McDonald.
“Tennis needs variety and at the moment nearly all tournaments are the same format. We (SUBA) welcome ingenuity and new ideas.
“What we are concerned about are changes to a 118-year-old competition that has served so many fans so well.” He added.

Some are concerned that the World Team Cup could be the start of the end for the Davis Cup. Both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have indicated that they will prioritise the ATP’s event. Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev is the first player to confirm that he will skip the 2018 Davis Cup Finals due to its ‘crazy scheduling.’ Adding to the fiasco, the ITF and ATP are yet to find a common ground when it comes to their tournaments.

“If the new Davis Cup format does turn out to be a complete disaster, there may come a time that the ATP World Team Cup could completely take over as the main men’s national team event and could kill of the Davis Cup for good.” McCrea warns.

The 2019 Davis Cup finals will take place between November 18 to 24.

SUBA quick facts

  • Founded in 2009
  • First tie attended – GB vs Ukraine Euro-Africa Zone 1 tie in Glasgow (2009)
  • First away tie attended – GB vs Italy (2014 World Group quarter-finals)
  • Founder Jamie McDonald is the head of the group since
  • Most members they ever had at one tie – 45 (GB vs Argentina in September 2016)
  • Average number of members they have at each tie – between 20 and 40 people.

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Featured

EXCLUSIVE: Felix Auger Aliassime, The Coming-Of-Age Of A Champion

An exclusive interview with Guillaume Marx, one of the coaches of Felix Auger Aliassime

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Felix Auger-Aliassime - Toronto 2018 (via Twitter, @rogerscup)

After Denis Shapovalov’s memorable run to the Rogers Cup semifinals in Montreal in 2017, somebody thought that his “BFF” Felix Auger Aliassime (n. 120 ATP), one year his junior, could relive the same dream a year later in Toronto. But this is tennis, not Hollywood, and after his maiden Top 20 win in the first round against Lucas Pouille (a fairly out-of-form Top 20, to tell the truth), the Canadian boy who shares his birthday with Roger Federer (8th August) ended his run against Daniil Medveded, who edged him in the second round by 7-6 in the third set.

During the week we had the opportunity to catch up with one of Auger Aliassime’s two coaches, Guillaume Marx, a Tennis Canada coach who follows Felix almost full-time together with Frenchman Frederic Fontang.

This was the first Rogers Cup for Felix: one great win with Pouille and an unlucky loss with Medvedev. How did he live this first experience in his home-town tournament, with all the extra pressures and extra demands on his time?

He didn’t do anything drastic, such as shutting down his phone or avoid the newspapers. He managed the situation, he had been thinking about it for a long time. I think he has progressively gotten used to pressure, it’s not his first experience on a big stage, and he didn’t look nervous before his first match. And when you play well everything gets easier. But he was definitely more excited than stressed.

Did he manage to celebrate his eighteenth birthday?

I think he celebrated it the night before, because on his birthday he had a match, so I think he had his cake the night before.

From a technical point of view, how has his progress been compared to what was expected of him?

I believe that technically he currently is at the level we were expecting. Somebody believes that it’s taking him too long to break in the Top-100, but we think he is progressing very well. As coaches, we are more inclined to look at his game level rather than his ranking: he has improved a lot during the last few months, while at the beginning of the year he did not play well, partly because of his injury [an injured knee forced him to skip the Australian swing in January], but now he is expressing a good level of tennis.

If Felix had won his match against Medvedev, where he has been two points away from victory, he would have reached the 105-106th position in the ranking, meaning a probable direct acceptance into the Australian Open main draw. Well, that didn’t happen, so what are his plans for the immediate future?

Next week we will be in Vancouver for the Challenger tournament, then we would go to New York for the US Open qualifying tournament. After that, we will need to see whether he will be nominated as part of the Canadian team for the Davis Cup tie in Toronto [Canada will play the Netherlands on 13-15 September in the Davis Cup World Group Play-Off] and assess his ranking at that point to figure out his schedule for the rest of the season.

It was very surprising Felix’s decision to skip the grass season completely and continue playing Challengers tournaments on clay in Europe. How was that decision taken?

Before Roland Garros we had a very long tour on clay with good results from a technical standpoint and average results. We thought we were doing a good job, catching up with what we had not done at the beginning of the year because of his injury. Therefore, we thought we could buy some time and do some more work by skipping one surface switch. Playing on grass would have meant switching from clay to grass and then from grass to hard later in the summer. Changing surface takes quite some time because you need to get used to it and that slows down the development work. Furthermore, grass is a bit of a strange surface, you don’t know how it is going to turn out, so we thought it was best to take this decision.

And what did Felix think about it? In the end, he needs to be the one buying into it, did he need convincing?

In the end what Frederic and I were suggesting did make sense, so he thought ‘why not thinking outside the box?’, and he got on board very quickly. We only had one conversation about the whole issue and the decision was made.

Every time I see Felix he looks like he has grown up? Are you monitoring his height? Do you know if he is still growing or not?

We know for sure that he grew up last year. The last time we measured him it was in January, and I don’t think he grew up in the last few months.

Do you measure him with or without hair?

Without hair, otherwise he would be too tall.

What kind of program does he follow to prevent injuries?

Every day Felix does some exercises precisely aimed at preventing injuries. When we have time we do even more work towards this, but even during days when he has a match the program needs to be followed.

A few years ago, Felix announced that he has a heart condition [tachycardia] that affects his activity. Does he need to follow a specific fitness regime because of this or take medications?

No, there are no specific precautions that need to be taken. We believe the condition is linked to his growth and it is going to disappear with time. Episodes have been extremely rare during the past two years, so we don’t need to do anything specific. Of course, we try to be careful when we see he is tired, but nothing more than that.

Is that an inborn condition?

Yes, that’s what it is.

Is there a lot of pressure on Felix for him to obtain results quickly?

He puts a lot of expectations on himself, and this helps to cope with the pressures from the outside environment. The pressure he puts on himself is more than the pressure coming from the outside. Felix is very invested in his career, he is ready to do whatever it takes to obtain the results he expects from himself and the people around him expect from him, so from our point of view there is not much to do on this aspect.to impro

Do you think the great friendship existing between Denis [Shapovalov] and Felix is positive for their careers?

I think so, they are very good friends, they push each other and the fact that their careers have followed different paths has certainly helped them. Since last year the spotlight has mainly been focused on Denis, following his success at the Rogers Cup, and this has taken some pressure off Felix, who in turn had been in the spotlight for the previous two years. The current situation is ideal: the two boys can share the load of expectations and push each other to improve.

You have said that Felix’s schedule will depend partly on him making the Davis Cup Team or not. Do you think that being part of the team at this stage in his career is a positive thing or maybe it’s a week that he could use otherwise?

I believe it is positive. Now that there are five people in the Davis Cup team it is a good thing for Felix to participate to the tie. If he were to go there as the sixth player it would be a different matter: Felix is too good a player at this stage to be just the team’s hitting partner, and it would be more useful to play a tournament during that week. But being officially part of the team is good.

How do you and Frederic Fontang share the workload?

We communicate a lot and we make all the decisions together. We share the traveling because it would be too much to do for only one person, and I follow Felix when he is in North America and he follows him while he is in Europe. We also try to schedule some training weeks together when possible, but what’s most important is that we share the traveling time.

Where is the training base for Felix?

He is based here at the Tennis Canada National Training Centre in Montreal for the time being. Maybe in future we will consider moving to a warmer place, but at the moment we stay in Montreal.

 

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