EXCLUSIVE: Mario Ancic 'Surprised' By Use Of Clay At Davis Cup Final - UBITENNIS
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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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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: Ex-Davis Cup Hero Arnaud Boetsch Backs France To Stage Comeback

The former world No.12 has spoken to Ubitennis about his prediction for the final day of this year’s Davis Cup final.

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A French fight back in on the cards heading into the final day of their Davis Cup clash with Croatia in Lille, according to former player Arnaud Boetsch.

The host nation currently trail the tie 1-2 following their double loss on the opening day. However, they have generated a much needed momentum boost with the help of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The French duo triumphed in their doubles match on Saturday with a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3), win over Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig.

“Every day is a different day and I think tomorrow with this victory there is a good chance France can win.” Said Boetsch. “(Marin) Cilic and (Borna) Coric are better than our players.
But with the crowd, with the energy coming from the seat of the captain (Yannick Noah), there is a good chance that it can change the energy and the curve of where the situation is heading. But it will not be easy.”

Boetsch, 49, is known best for his dramatic win over Sweden’s Nicklas Kulti during the 1996 Davis Cup that secured the trophy for his country. As a player he won three ATP titles in singles during the early 1990s, as well as two in the doubles.

Speaking about his picks for the last two matches, Boetsch has said that he would scrap Jeremy Chardy. The world No.40 lost in straight sets to Coric on Friday. Instead, lending his support behind doubles specialist Herbert.

“What we saw yesterday on court with Jeremy Chardy, I don’t feel very comfortable about him playing tomorrow. I would play with Lucas Pouille in the fourth match and then Paul-Henri Herbert in the fifth.” He said.

27-year-old Herbert achieved a singles ranking high of 50th in October on the ATP Tour. He has played eight Davis Cup matches since 2016, but only one of those was in singles. That was against Japan in 2017 where he lost in straight sets to Yasutaka Uchiyama.

The Davis Cup final will resumed on Sunday at 13:00 CET.

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