Shortly after his team wrapped up its Davis Cup World Group quarter-final with Canada on Saturday, Belgian captain Johan Van Herck said, “a coach at the national training centre said to me that ‘tennis is a game of circumstances.’”
Van Herck went on, “the circumstances are in our favour at the moment so we have to seize them. That’s what we’ll try and do in September (a home semifinal vs. Argentina), to go further and believe.
“(Milos) Raonic and (Vasek) Pospisil weren’t here. We handled that well and played good matches.”
Singles wins on Friday by Steve Darcis and David Goffin were followed on Saturday by the clincher as Ruben Bemelmans and Kimmer Coppejans (celebrating above) overcame Daniel Nestor and Adil Shamasdin 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to give the host team an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
The venerable Nestor and 33-year-old Davis Cup rookie Shamasdin were favoured over Bemelmans and Coppejans, who has little doubles experience and ranks No. 921 in the ATP doubles rankings.
“I told them before the match,” Van Herck said about Bemelmans and Coppejans, “that tennis-wise, the other guys (Nestor and Shamasdin) were better. But we get along with each other and I knew they’d be strong as a team. Ruben (left-handed and an artful volleyer in the Nestor mold) can dominate at the net and Kimmer at the back – and the clay helps because it’s not as easy to finish points.”
As it usually is in doubles, breaking serve is critical. The stats from the match show Bemelmans and Coppejans cashed in six of 13 chances while Nestor and Shamasdin could only convert on four of seven.
After losing the first set, Nestor and Shamasdin took the second, exploiting the shortcomings of the 21-year-old Coppejans at the net. In the sixth game of the second set on serve at 3-2 for the Canadians, Nestor and Shamasdin won three points in a row to break the Belgians, all by belting the ball at Coppejans at the net and him being unable to control his volleys.
But though they managed a second break to eventually take the set, they were not able again to really capitalize on Coppejans, who hit some rocket ground strokes.
“I think the difference in the match was the return,” Nestor summed up. “If we put good serves in, we’d win the point. But if we gave them a chance, they’d put in more quality returns than we would. We had some looks but our quality wasn’t as good as theirs. The kid (Coppejans) hit huge backhand returns on big points to win the first set and pretty much to win the third set.”
“If we’d made more returns,” said Shamasdin (above), “I think we could have exploited him (Coppejans), and in the second set we were able to do that. But Ruben was serving pretty well.
“Their level was actually getting better as the match went on. They were feeling more confident, feeding off the energy of the crowd. We just weren’t able to put enough balls in play and capitalize on our opportunities. Our standard is better than theirs but we didn’t come up with the goods today.”
Captain Martin Laurendeau chimed in, “I thought we had the momentum after the second set but the Belgians took the lead quickly in the third. They got confident with the crowd and everything and really took off from there.”
As usual, the Canadian support was loud and strong – and included this brave soul who paraded the Canadian flag in the middle of the side of the stadium filled with Belgian fans.
There remain two singles matches to play – both reduced to two-out-of-three sets on Sunday. It appears it will be Filip Peliwo against old junior rival Coppejans in one match and Goffin versus Frank Dancevic in the other.
“By the rules, we have to play those matches,” said an unenthusiastic sounding Laurendeau. “We’ve got two singles guys and we’ve got to go play.”
Host captain Van Herck had a different perspective. “I think there’s a good chance Kimmer (a local boy from Ostend) will play and I’ve already talked to David (Goffin) and I hope he’ll play,” he said in his media conference after the match. “When I hear that there are 5,500 seats sold for tomorrow, and considering the organization made such an effort to put up a stadium here, everyone should be there and everyone should be happy to play. I think it’s the least we can do for the crowd and for the organizers.”
Saturday’s loss was a huge disappointment for Nestor. When he was asked afterward about how many Davis Cups he has left at age 42, he responded somewhat reluctantly, “I’m still planning on playing next year. I don’t know after that.”
The eventual result of the match-up against Belgium was hardly a surprise, given the absence of Raonic and Pospisil. “It was hard to come here and try to win each match,” Laurendeau said. “We knew it would be a tough task – and it was. The Belgians were playing in front of their home crowd. And they chose the surface that would be the most awkward for us and everything went their way.”
Belgium has made it to the Davis Cup semifinals against Argentina by beating no player ranked higher than No. 272 in singles – Canada’s Frank Dancevic by Darcis on Friday. In March, the highest ranking Swiss singles player in the opening round was No. 282 Adrian Bossel.
“I think we have at least a 50-50 chance,” said Van Herck about playing an Argentine team that will likely feature Leonardo Mayer, Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq. A spot in November’s final is probable if the No. 14-ranked Goffin and his mates are fit.
Agreed a sporting captain Laurendeau about the victorious Belgians, “if they play Argentina, depending on the surface, they’ve got a good chance to win – why not?”
Q&A with Denis Shapovalov
Denis Shapovalov from Richmond Hill, Ont., turned 16 in April and celebrated by winning the Canadian (under-18) Junior Indoor Nationals.
He reached the third round of the Wimbledon junior event earlier this month and was a hitting partner with Canada’s Davis Cup team this past week in Ostend.
Q: How come you started playing tennis?
DS: My brother (Eugeniy, three years older) was playing tennis and I would run on the court. I saw him playing and I wanted to kind of be like him.
Q: What’s your family ancestry?
DS: My family is a mix of Ukrainian and Russian – more to the Russian side. Both my parents were born in Ukraine. Their parents were from Russia.
Q: When did you decide, as a kid, to be a professional tennis player?
DS: For me, it’s been my whole life. I’ve always been dedicated to tennis. I never had anything else on my mind. So it was really an easy choice. I loved it a lot.
Q: What’s been your career highlight so far?
DS: This (being with the Davis Cup team in Belgium) would definitely be one of my career highlights. Another would be hitting with Roger Federer as a hitting partner for the Rogers Cup. That was just a great moment for me.
Q: When was that?
DS: Last Rogers Cup – 2014 in Toronto.
Q: Any little anecdotes about what Federer said to you or whatever?
DS: We introduced ourselves, and my coach kind of choked when he came – he started coughing. But he (Federer) said I’m a great player and that I hit the ball very well.
Q: He needed you because you were left-handed?
DS: Yes, he was playing Feliciano Lopez in the semifinals. He was just going to just use me for my serve. So first I hit with (Stefan) Edberg and Edberg kind of tested me out. So then he decided I was good enough and I actually hit with Roger.
Q: Who’s the player you most enjoy watching?
DS: It would definitely be Roger, and I love Djokovic as well. I love watching him play.
Q: Who’s been the most important person in your tennis career, the person that’s helped you out the most?
DS: There’s a couple actually – my parents for sure, my mom and my dad. My mom coaching me up until I was 13 and my dad driving me around all the time and also helping me a lot with the tennis. Also my coach Adriano Fuorivia. When I was 13, I was kind of in a slump, I wasn’t doing that well. I was still okay but I wasn’t at the top. He started working with me and he really turned my career around. At that time it was kind of a dark patch for me, I didn’t enjoy tennis that much. When I started working with him I found why I love the sport again. He just completely changed my life around and I became No. 1 in Canada working with him.
So I’m very thankful for him.
Q: How many languages do you speak?
DS: I speak English, Russian and French.
Q: What has this Davis Cup experience been like?
DS: This is one of the most incredible experiences for me – just being on the side watching all these great players that I’ve grown up watching. I remember watching (Frank) Dancevic play at the Rogers Cup when I was little and I was just thinking ‘man I want to be beside this guy, I want to hit with him. I want to be him.’ And now I’m getting to know these guys and it’s just incredible for me.
Q: What are your plans for the rest of the summer?
DS: I’m going to play some pro tournaments. Starting now I’m going to play the Challenger (Banque Nationale starting July 20) in Granby. I got a wild card into the main draw. I’m going to play some pro tournaments mixed in with some juniors. I hope to do well at the US Open juniors.
Q: Will you be playing the Canadian Junior Nationals?
DS: Maybe, I don’t know yet. We’ll see, there’s going to be some tournaments before that, so I’m going to see if I’m tired or not. If it fits into my schedule, of course I’ll play it. I’d love to play Nationals but if I’m tired and I have a big tournament the following week, then I’ll just rest and practice.
Q: Will you be at the Rogers Cup in Montreal in any capacity?
DS: I might get a wild card into the qualifying, I’m not sure yet. And if not, I’ll try to be a hitting partner – of course I want to be involved.
Ostend post card
There’s an excellent tram that runs along the Belgium coastline – and that includes from Middelkerke, where the Davis Cup was played, to Ostend, the city about 20 minutes away. There seem to be a fair number of dogs on public transport in Belgium – and these two Huskies were part of a canine contingent on that coastline tram Friday evening.
NOTE: Next blog will be Tebbutt Tuesday – a look back at Davis Cup and a look ahead to the North American summer.