Vasek Pospisil, taking a selfie of himself and Denis Shapovalov on Monday with Davis Cup coach Fred Fontang alongside, was the main topic of conversation on the first day of practice for this weekend’s World Group Play-off against India at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton.
Pospisil pulled out of his singles after one set and his doubles completely less than two weeks ago at Flushing Meadows because of his back problem.
And things are still up in the air about his participation in singles and/or doubles starting on Friday. “I’m optimistic that I can compete this weekend,” Pospisil said on Monday after hitting with Shapovalov but not playing any points. “I wouldn’t be ready to go and compete today – there’s no chance. But Friday is still four days away and a lot can happen in four days. I’ll have to play some points tomorrow (Tuesday) and see how it feels.”
Elaborating he added, “I had a back issue in 2014 and it was a little bit of a flare-up of the same issue, a disc issue.” He explained that he first felt it during an exhibition (Stowe, Vermont) the week before the US Open.
“I’ve had relapses for the last few years. It’s something that’s a little bit chronic and this time around at the US Open it was a little bit worse than it had been in previous years.”
Answering a question from Edmonton media about what was at stake this weekend, Pospisil was animated: “It’s huge, we’re trying to stay in the World Group – we’ve been in the World Group since 2012. It’s a spot that we think we deserve, that we’ve worked hard for. We have a great team in depth and we’re going to have a tough tie this weekend. The Indians have a good team and our team isn’t complete (no Milos Raonic) the way we’d like it to. But we’ve got a good team here with Denis, myself and Daniel (Nestor) we’re going to try and do the best we can to stay in the World Group.”
Before Pospisil hit with Shapovalov, Brayden Schnur, part of the named Canadian team with Shapovalov, Pospisil and Daniel Nestor, practiced with Frank Dancevic. One of the two could substitute for Pospisil in Friday’s singles – with a substitution of two of the team’s four players permitted up until an hour before Thursday’s draw for the weekend’s matches.
It would be the 22-year-old Schnur’s first ever Davis Cup match while Dancevic, 32, has now played 36 singles (15-21) in a Davis Cup career that began in 15 years ago in 2002.
While Dancevic could be substituted in on Thursday, so could the Indians make a change to their named team of Ramkumar Ramanathan (154), Yuki Bhambri (157), Saketh Myneni (665) and Rohan Bopanna (19 in doubles).
They have replaced one of their practice players with 31-year-old Purav Raja, who ranks No. 56 in doubles. The scouting report of Raja is that he’s a clever player with an interesting variety of shots. If the Indians, under captain Mahesh Bhupathi (above talking to Davis Cup tournament director Gavin Ziv with Raja nearby in a yellow top) were to insert Raja in the line-up for doubles, they would not really have any back-up if there was an injury to singles players Ramanathan or Bhambri.
So Dancevic, now ranked No. 346 after an injury absence and recently using a protected ranking to get into events such as the recent US Open qualifying where he reached the third round, and/or Raja could be late ‘chess moves’ by one or both of the team captains.
There’s a new Premium Court surface at Northlands Coliseum for the World Group play-off as Tennis Canada’s tried and true usual surface is currently undergoing a refurbishing.
“The court itself is slower, they slowed it down and it’s softer but because of the altitude (645 metres above sea level) it still plays fast…it still flies,” Pospisil said. “So it’s fast through the air but a slow bounce – if that makes sense.”
During Monday’s media availability with Pospisil, the subject came up about it being Shapovalov’s first Davis Cup event since he accidentally hit French umpire Arnaud Gabas with a ball in Ottawa in February.
“It was tough for him as it would be for anybody at such a young age (17),” Pospisil said, “but I think he handled himself extremely well. It’s behind him now with his great run this summer and I think he’s very eager to go out there this week and kind of completely put in the past what happened at the last tie. This is the first tie he’s played since then and he’s looking forward to having a good weekend here.”
Veteran Edmonton sportswriter Terry Jones popped an unexpected question on Monday when he asked Pospisil, apropos of Davis Cup, “is there money in this?” Pospisil was caught off guard and laughed before replying, “there is a small amount but it’s not enough to be motivated for financial reasons. We’re all here because we love playing for Canada – that’s why I’ve been playing (14 ties since 2008) every tie except I missed one with a wrist injury. I love the atmosphere and I love representing the country and I think Denis has that – it’s very obvious just being around him. It’s for the pride that we’re here – for sure.”
On a personal level, Pospisil is back in Edmonton for just the second time in his career. “I won my first Nationals here – the under-14s,” he said. “It was the only time I’ve been here and it was a good experience. I have really good memories.”
This weekend’s site, the Northlands Coliseum, was built in 1974 and was the home of the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League until April of 2016 and, for many years, of their famous superstar Wayne Gretzky. The team moved into the new Rogers Place arena in the fall of 2016.
While India is in the old Edmonton Oil Kings (major junior hockey team) locker room at Northlands, Canada is in the one formerly used by the Oilers – and that impressed Pospisil. “You need to have a tour guide for that dressing room,” he joked, “it’s massive. It was very cool – we got to see where the Stanley Cups were propped up and to see the dust around them. It was cool to see where the Great One was spending his years. As Canadians I guess we appreciate that a little bit more than the Indian team would.”
When doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna, at 37 the veteran of the Indian team, arrived in Northlands, he spoke with a Canadian about the arena and Gretzky. When told that Gretzky had scored more than 90 goals (92 in 1981-82) one year, Bopanna smiled and said, “but he was putting those in the net – that’s not a good thing to do in tennis.”
Full disclosure right off the top – yours truly was at the famous Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe Wimbledon final in 1980, covered Borg and McEnroe as a reporter and also worked for tournaments they played in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The one thing that’s most striking in the Borg/McEnroe film, which opened the Toronto International Film Festival last week, is the uncanny resemblance between the Borg of that time and the Swedish actor, Sverrir Gudnason, who plays him in the movie.
There has rarely been such a strong likeness between a subject and the actor portraying him, and it makes it easy to believe in the Borg character.
On the other hand, Shia LaBeouf, the actor playing John McEnroe, looks nothing like him. So while Gudnason appears so much like Borg, LaBeouf just seems like a caricature of McEnroe and thus loses some credibility – a problem for the film.
(Sporting a much shorter haircut at last week’s media conference in Toronto, Gudnason looked remarkably unlike his Borg character.)
Sitting in the audience for an advance screening last week at the Toronto International Film Festival, before the film I heard some nostalgic tennis talk going on behind me. A group were discussing former players and a woman recalled a player but could only say his name was “Ivan, Ivan…?” before one of her friends said “Lendl.” Then she said about Lendl, “he was the eternal second,” before adding, “did he ever win a Grand Slam?” I wanted to turn around and say, “John McEnroe won seven Grand Slams, guess how many Lendl won?” While I actually did not say anything, my response would have been to inform her it was “eight.”
The movie’s script was written by a Swede, Ronnie Sandahl, and the director was a Dane, Janus Metz. That’s noted because the movie is basically about Borg, the Swede. The Borg background stuff – all about his anxiety trying to win a fifth Wimbledon in a row – was well done and seems authentic – right down to having Borg’s own (second) son Leo play him as a 13-year-old. (Metz told the media gathering in Toronto that Leo actually applied for the role and that, after weighing pros and cons, they decided to give him the part. He’s apparently a very good junior player in Sweden.)
By contrast, McEnroe’s past is handled in a cursory manner, with not nearly as much time spent detailing his background as was the case with Borg.
The film unfolds to the constantly pounding and welling sounds of a symphonic orchestra to heighten emotions, and is reasonably believable.
There’s not an excessive amount of actual tennis until the last half hour or so, which is essentially a re-creation of the 1980 match. For whatever reason – the 1979 movie ‘Players’ had its tennis action filmed on Centre Court at Wimbledon – the Borg/McEnroe tennis was shot on a re-creation of Centre Court. The main sticking point there was that the grass – or artificial grass – looked to have been laid in long vertical strips, which was jarring to the mind’s eye compared to the immaculate, uniform lawn on Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
Gudnason and LaBeouf were filmed in close-up and looked okay in the action scenes, but the body doubles filmed from behind for action shots were good – especially the guy doubling the McEnroe character.
During a media conference after the film, it was learned that neither LaBeouf or Gudnason had played tennis but that they did train for six months before production began. Gudnason now plays once a week while LeBoeuf said he learned his tennis for the part as if he were learning dance moves – just the movement and he never really played nor does he play now.
It seems a shame they could not have used the original 1980 Wimbledon final video for the film just for authenticity’s sake – and the tennis of the match near the end probably went on too long because a few people walked out of the cinema during the long concluding action scene on the court.
Gudnason met the 61-year-old Borg at a screening in Sweden last week and said he was a nice guy. But LaBeouf has never met McEnroe but that didn’t stop him offering views on the controversial American, including describing him affectionately as a “Bad Santa” kind of character.
Apparently McEnroe doesn’t like the film, which is not surprising seeing as he is mainly portrayed as a coarse, obnoxious individual.
Borg, who was much examined about his background and foibles in the film, particularly in his relationships with coach Lennart Bergelin and his fiancée Mariana Simionescu of Romania, has said he liked it. (Above is a picture of ‘Bjorn’ and ‘Mariana’ Donnay racquets from that period.)
The final verdict on Borg/McEnroe the movie – worth seeing but it’s a Hollywood version of the rivalry, nothing close to factual representation.
It was only 20 degrees (68 degrees Fahrenheit) in Edmonton on Sunday afternoon. But that didn’t stop these hardy locals from swimming in the wading pool in front of the Alberta Legislature Building.