Davis Cup, Davis Cup Finals, Team Canada, Madrid, Peter Polansky, Brayden Schnur
The 2021 season has come to a close for Canadian tennis.
And things didn’t exactly end on a high note.
At Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup, our national squads—minus their top players—didn’t make it past the playoffs and came home sooner rather than later.
At Davis Cup, the men suffered six losses in six matches.
Granted, the bar was low given that the Canadian top 3 were absent.
You can read all about it here.
In a strange twist of fate, the finalists of the first edition of the new Davis Cup were sent packing along with host and titleholder Spain, which tried to make do without Nadal (injury), Bautista Agut (injury) or Alcaraz (COVID-19).
As we wait to find out which nation will be crowned the new champion of the world’s oldest team event, the tennis world is pondering its future.
For the past two years, purists have been deploring the disappearance of the original format: four annual team tournaments and a final played on the home turf of one of the finalists. Having that local crowd in the stands was among the weekend’s highlights, and players loved it.
But the superstars didn’t love the four stops on top of their already hectic schedules.
And so, the International Tennis Federation reached out to Kosmos, an investment group founded and chaired by Gerard Piqué, to organize the new Davis Cup. After the first two editions with finals in Madrid, Kosmos is now planning to move the tournament to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.
For five years.
It’s a decision a lot of players and former players who are now at the helm of their national teams disagree with. Among them is Lleyton Hewitt.
The 2002 Wimbledon champion and two-time Davis Cup winner made that very clear after his team’s loss to Croatia in the opening tie in Turin.
“So, if they are going and selling the soul of the Davis Cup to the Middle East for another five years, they are really killing the competition,” said Hewitt in comments reported by the BBC. “Some of my greatest memories were playing in Davis Cup semis and finals, in front of packed houses, and it didn’t matter if it was in Australia or it was away. The atmosphere was incredible. Davis Cup was held in the highest regard—it was up there with the pinnacle of our sport in men’s tennis.”
Like I said, he was very clear.
After 121 years of history, it seems Davis Cup has reached a crossroads.
After losing tens of millions of dollars the first time around, Kosmos is likely looking to make up for the shortfall by signing a presumably lucrative contract with the wealthy Persian Gulf state, whose neighbour will be presenting another world-class sporting event next year: the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
A number of players have already said they wouldn’t be making the trek to the Emirates so late in the season.
Tradition, modernity, passion, money, long flights, family priorities, social requirements…it’s a delicate balance.
No Djokovic Down Under?
After a disappointing end to the season (according to the World No.1’s fantastically high standards, of course), it now seems more and more likely that Novak Djokovic will miss the first Slam of 2022.
At least that’s what his dad, Srdjan Djokovic, implied on Serbian television last week.
Twenty months into the global pandemic, and Novak is still refusing to say if he’s gotten the jab or even intends to.
He’s certainly among the last players standing in that regard. Just six months ago, only 50% of athletes were vaccinated, making tennis the world’s most vaccine-hesitant sport. But according to Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, things have improved and 85% of the members of the WTA and ATP are now immunized.
The AO has made its vaccination policy for athletes who want to enter the state of Victoria and compete from January 17 to 30 unequivocal, with exemptions only in rare cases.
“Of course, he would want to go with all his heart,” said the senior Djokovic. “Because he is a sportsman and there are a lot of our people, the [Serbian] diaspora, there who would be delighted to see Novak. But I really don’t know if that will happen. Probably not under these conditions, with this blackmail and when it’s done that way.”
Did you flinch at the term blackmail? Srdjan Djokovic wasn’t done.
He called Tiley out on what should be deemed a recognized vaccine and the reasons for which the Russian and Chinese vaccines aren’t OK. The transcript is here. Based on what he said, it’s doubtful Novak will be in the mix in Melbourne.
Over at the Tennis Channel, Andy Roddick had this to say: “Nobody knows except Novak what he’s going to do and if he’s going to play the game the way it has to be played to participate in Australia. If he doesn’t, opportunity’s knocking for Medvedev, Zverev. Rafa’s going to be foaming at the mouth to get there and get to that 21st Slam.”
Now, I’d like to revisit the word disappointing, which I used to qualify Novak’ season.
The youngest of the three kingpins of men’s tennis is embarking on his 355th week at No.1. In the past three years, he’s spent a mere 13 weeks not at No.1. He’s the favourite to win a 21st major and move ahead of the other two members of the triad.
After his loss to Alexander Zverev in the semis at the Tokyo Games in early August, Nole posted a very respectable 14-4 record, but the tumble he took in Japan dashed his dream of a Golden Slam. To make matters worse, he was upset by Pablo Carreno Busta in the bronze medal match.
He then took a month off and headed to New York to secure a Calendar Slam, but things ended with him in tears. He triumphed at the Paris Masters but was ousted by Zverev in the semis of the ATP Finals.
There’s no question that the string of upsets has taken its toll, on top of the fact that he’ll probably have to skip Melbourne. He’s got to be wanting some time off and a step back, and it may not be the best time to get him to reconsider his stance on vaccination. Still, he’ll have to decide eventually.
As far as the vaccine mandate, Roland-Garros and Wimbledon will likely follow Melbourne’s lead. With new variants popping up, it’s doubtful the events will reconsider.
Will the players (superstars or not) who remain against the most elementary and logical form of virus protection be able to stand their ground for much longer?
Genie’s new balance
She hasn’t been in action on the courts recently, but Eugenie Bouchard is rarely out of the spotlight.
Despite the shoulder injury that’s kept her away for the past eight months, she’s been making appearances on social media and TV, including the Tennis Channel.
And that’s exactly where she promoted the launch of a new co-branded line by New Balance that’s slated for release on December 1.
She hasn’t played a WTA match since Lin Zhu beat her in the opening round in Monterrey on March 16.
After working hard in physiotherapy to heal her shoulder, she had to resign herself to arthroscopic surgery in June and the standard long-haul rehab. It’s really a shame, since her fight to the final in Guadalajara helped her move up to No.116. She’s now back down to No.249.
In a promotional video entitled In Their Shoes released on Tennis.com, Genie talks about a typical day on the court and at the gym, complete with massage and PT, and the aggressive game she developed growing up on Canada’s very quick indoor surfaces.
When asked about her collab with New Balance, she said: “Personally, I think it’s really cool that I can be part of the design process with what I’m wearing on court and also things like lifestyle and shoes.”
She’s currently rehabbing and training and plans to get back out on tour as soon as she’s ready, more motivated than ever.
No one knows how much longer Eugenie Bouchard will play professionally, but her future seems bright regardless. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to catch her on TV providing commentary or expert analysis. The camera loves her, and she’s a natural.
Montreal sports fans have already seen another athlete with the same gifts off the ice. A dynamic character who is set to follow in Eugenie’s footsteps once his career is over, hockey player P. K. Subban.
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