TEBBUTT: DAVIS CUP DESTINY
Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada
There’s no draw in the entire tennis year that compares with the Davis Cup draw done in September. It can drastically affect the fates of countries, and of players, for the following year.
Other draws during the year for tournaments such as the Sydney International, Roland Garros, the Rogers Cup or the Beijing-China Open provide a neat blueprint for players and the potential path they will have to negotiate in a particular event at a particular location.
What’s set in motion, and especially as regards the World Group, with the Davis Cup draw is a number of potential plotlines and travel itineraries that can have a huge repercussions on a country’s chances in a given year.
Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada
Here’s a quick list I jotted down right before the World Group draw was done last Thursday morning – it went from the easiest teams for Canada to play in the first round to the toughest, with a few neutrals in between.
AUSTRALIA: toughest. With emerging young stars Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, the inscrutable Bernard Tomic and veteran Lleyton Hewitt, the Aussies have the potential to be really tough – especially playing at home.
BELGIUM: easiest. Notwithstanding the superb play of David Goffin of late, the Belgians are thin on depth and doubles. A full-strength Canadian team would be a decided favourite either at home or away.
BRAZIL – easiest. I could have been a little off with this one. Thomaz Bellucci is only No. 79 in singles but he can be dangerous and just won the decisive fourth match over Roberto Bautista-Agut of Spain in the World Group Playoffs two weeks ago. Also, they have the No. 5 (Marcelo Melo) and No. 6 (Bruno Soares) ranked players in doubles. But, worth remembering, Canada was guaranteed to be playing them at home.
CROATIA: toughest. With US Open champion Marin Cilic capable of winning two singles matches and other single players like Ivan Dodig and promising 17-year-old, No. 140-ranked Borna Coric, as well as a possible doubles combination of Dodig and Marin Draganja, Croatia would be no pushover either at home or away.
Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada
GERMANY: neutral. You never know who’s going to play or who’s in dispute with the team captain, but No. 24-ranked Philipp Kohlschreiber is soon to turn 31 and Tommy Haas, 36, is recovering from yet another shoulder surgery. All the German players are older except promising Alexander Zverev, 17 and already ranked No. 149.
GREAT BRITAIN: neutral. Even with Andy Murray, it’s a big ask for the Brits, with such a weak supporting cast, to beat a deep Canadian team. And if Murray happened not to play – home or away – it would be one-way traffic for Canada.
JAPAN: neutral. Except for Kei Nishikori – as Canada found out last February in Tokyo when its own two top players, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, were injured and unavailable – this would be another mismatch. But Nishikori can potentially win two singles, which gives his team a fighting chance. Without him, and with Raonic and Pospisil playing, this would be a routine Canadian win, especially because it’s Japan’s turn to be the visitors.
KAZAKHSTAN: easiest: Maybe this was another under-estimation, especially if it was an away tie. Andrey Golubev, ranked No. 62, is a crazy/good, crazy/erratic player. He defeated Stan Wawrinka 7-6(5), 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5) in the opening Davis Cup singles versus Switzerland in Geneva last April, also beat Wawrinka and Roger Federer, with partner Alexandr Nedovyesov, in doubles. The Swiss needed Wawrinka and Federer wins on the final day to survive 3-2 against Kazakhstan and its band of transplanted Russians.
In the end, drawing Japan for a home tie in the 2015 first round is positive for Canada. Japan is basically a one-man team with the No. 8-ranked Nishikori – there’s no other Japanese in the top-100 in singles or the top-200 in doubles.
Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada
Looking ahead to 2015, Canada is in a favourable position. If Raonic and Pospisil are healthy, then it can expect to get past Japan in the first round at home.
The quarter-final would then be away in either Belgium or Switzerland the week after Wimbledon. Belgium’s lack of depth beyond Goffin, makes them beatable – and Switzerland would likely be the same because Roger Federer is probably not going to play. Switzerland basically has no one of any stature after Federer and Wawrinka – Federer ranks No. 3, Wawrinka is No. 4 and the only other top-200 player is 33-year-old Marco Chiudinelli at No. 163.
In the semi-finals, Canada would play at home against all four – Argentina, Brazil, Croatia and Serbia – of its possible opponents.
Taking this all the way to the final November 27-29 – Canada would be away to France and Italy but would have home ground for the other six possibilities from the top half of the draw – Australia, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Germany, Kazakhstan and the United States. As long as Raonic and Pospisil were fit, captain Martin Laurendeau (below) and his Canadian team would have a decent shot in any of those ties.
In Davis Cup, upsets and surprises are always part of the landscape. But with the nation that has the best top-to-bottom depth of anyone, Spain, not in the World Group in 2015, there’s definitely an opening for all the other countries.
And that includes Canada.
LI NA RETIRES
In terms of popularity among her peers, Li Na (above with former coach Carlos Rodriguez) has been compared to Kim Clijsters, probably the all-time cheeriest, most personable of female tennis players.
Li charmed people all over the world with her good-natured humour, putting a human face on the emerging world class players from China.
On the court, she was a first-rate athlete. And on a tour with many players who have strong backhands, her two-hander cross-court was one of the truly magnificent strokes in the game.
She ends her career with two Grand Slam titles – French Open 2011 and Australian Open 2014 – nine overall tournament wins and a career high ranking of No. 2.
It has always seemed odd that she broke through by winning Roland Garros on red clay when, up to that point and at age 29, it had been the poorest of the Grand Slams for her in terms of results.
There’s also the fact that she might have won the 2013 Australian Open if she hadn’t twice rolled her ankle (she didn’t play for a couple of months after that) and also gotten dazed when she fell and hit her head on the court during the final. Victoria Azarenka eventually won it 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
But most of all, there was a decent chance she could have won Wimbledon last year. In the 2013 quarter-finals, she hit an ace to win the first set against Agnieszka Radwanska. But the serve was called out and Li did not challenge. Hawk-Eye technology, used on the TV coverage, revealed that the ball had landed in.
Radwanska was banged up and was sporting a wrap on her thigh when she played poorly and lost in the semi-finals to Sabine Lisicki. So, if Li had won that first set, as she actually did except for that incorrect call, she could conceivably have beaten Radwanska instead of losing 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-2. Then, as the No. 6 seed, she would have been in the semi-finals with (eventual champion) No. 15 Marion Bartoli, No. 20 Kirsten Flipkins and No. 23 Lisicki.
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) September 19, 2014
Li (getting props from Rafa in a tweet above) had a fourth knee operation in March and, at age 32, said at her retirement media conference, “my body is not good enough to carry on.”
She was a true pioneer for Asian tennis – its first Grand Slam champion and highest ever ranking player – and her retirement is a great loss for the sport. Hopefully, she will someday be remembered as the trailblazer for the generations of Chinese who will follow.
SUI vs. FRA – DAVIS CUP FINAL
France will host Switzerland in the Davis Cup final in a 50,000-seat retractable roof stadium in Lille in northern France near the Belgian border.
One end of the Stade Pierre-Mauroy will be re-configured to a capacity of at least 27,000. The record for an officially-sanctioned tennis event was the 27,200 in the Olympic Stadium in Seville, Spain, for the 2004 Davis Cup final between Spain and the USA.
For the November 21-23 showdown, the French will install a red clay surface.
The basic thinking behind this is that Switzerland’s two singles players (and maybe its doubles players as well), Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, will be playing on an indoor hard court in the ATP World Tour Finals in London the previous week, while no Frenchman looks like he will qualify for the final eight at this moment. So, the French will get a chance to prepare on clay for approximately two weeks before the week of the final, while the Swiss would only have four days if either or both of their singles players were in the final at the O2 arena.
Everyone knows the story here – Federer is going for his and Switzerland’s first ever Davis Cup triumph, the host French are aiming for No. 10.
MURRAY TWEETS FOR YES SIDE
Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) September 18, 2014
The day of the September 18th referendum on whether Scotland would leave or remain a part of the United Kingdom, Andy Murray tweeted in favour of the ‘Yes’ or independence side.
His position sparked a sometimes nasty online reaction and assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins of Police Scotland remarked about internet criticism of Murray: “people who put abuse such as this online should be utterly ashamed of themselves for making such vile, disgusting and distasteful comments.”
The final vote was 55-45 against independence for Scotland. It’s interesting that Murray, up until then, had remained impartial. That included his response to a question about it during the US Open. “I’m not going into that,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about politics here. I’ll worry about my tennis.”
But subsequently he opted to take a position (at top) on the actual day of the referendum, in which he could not vote because he is resident in England.
Murray had every right to come out as he did. On the other hand, with the vote anticipated to be very close, he had to know he would probably alienate half the people no matter which side he supported.
RAFA CLOSE TO THE VEST
This is basically just an excuse to use a picture of the too-long absent Rafael Nadal. His publicist sent out a release last week with the information that he will be playing a head-to-head poker match – dubbed ‘The Duel’ – against Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo on November 6 in London.
Not coincidentally, Nadal and Ronaldo are both “ambassadors” for PokerStars.
At the far top left in the picture above is Canadian poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, whom Nadal is reported to have beaten in a previous poker competition.
Others in the photo include, top row left to right, Ronaldo, Nadal and former Dutch field hockey player Fatima Moreiro de Melo. In the front row are Ukrainian soccer great Andriy Shevchenko and legendary Italian skier Alberto Tomba.
NEW TWIST ON AN OLD SURGERY
This New Yorker cartoon offers a different take on that old diehard tennis fan – pop star Elton John.