There are 60 kilometres of beautiful beaches along the Belgian North Sea coast, but not many bathers on them at the moment. The past week the weather has been rainy, often windy and sometimes with temperatures in the teens that make it feel more like fall than mid-summer.
“Humid but playable,” was the way Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau described the marginal conditions as Frank Dancevic and Filip Peliwo were about to begin a practice session at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday for this weekend’s Davis Cup World Group quarter-final in Ostend (technically nearby Middelkerke).
Before the Canadians started, the Belgians had been working on doubles. Tuesday, captain Johan van Herck had said about Saturday’s doubles, the only match of the tie where Canada, with Daniel Nestor and Adil Shamasdin, will be favoured, “we would never give up the doubles. You have to establish priorities and then put a plan in place for the week and see where you are. That doesn’t mean we won’t ever practice doubles.”
When they focused on doubles early on Wednesday, the two team members involved were Ruben Bemelmens, No. 189 in doubles, and Kimmer Coppejans, No. 921. What was surprising was that Bemelmens and Coppejans weren’t on the same side of the net together – Bemelmens (near court) was with coach Ananda Vandendoren while Coppejans was alongside captain van Herck.
It would still appear that Bemelmens and Coppejans will likely play the doubles if the Belgians are ahead 2-0 after the opening day. A different score might change things but Bemelmens did play, and win, with Neils Desein against the Swiss in the first round in March.
When Canadians Dancevic and Peliwo got on court, there was something between a mist and drizzle going on but the court held up reasonably well, even if Laurendeau had to resort to a hoodie.
Dancevic, who started the year at No. 145, has dropped to 272 and really only had one solid result in 2015 – reaching the final of the Banque Nationale Challenger in Drummondville, Que., in March before losing to John Patrick Smith of Australia.
He is 0-2 in ATP tour matches – losing to Alexander Dolgopolov in Indian Wells and to Michael Berrer on grass in Stuttgart last month.
Above, he walks out as physio Stéphane Lamy (right) and masseur Jeff Ludovici perform court maintenance duties. Dancevic, 30, is playing in his 22nd Davis Cup tie and has a 13-17 record in singles.
On paper, his intended opponent in Friday’s singles, No. 76-ranked Steve Darcis, should win their match. He started 2015 at No. 158 and won two Challengers – Noumea (New Caledonia) and Wroclaw (Poland) – early in the year and then qualified and made the third round in Miami before losing to Novak Djokovic. But since then he has lost five matches in a row, including to Feliciano Lopez in the first round of Wimbledon two weeks ago.
“It’s going to be quite a task,” Dancevic said about facing Darcis. “He’s good on clay and his backhand is a weapon.”
On Wednesday, Dancevic mentioned that he has had a message from former Tennis Canada president Michael Downey (now chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association in Britain) wishing him good luck and encouraging him to play like he did in when he ‘zoned’ and upset Spaniard Marcel Granollers in 2013 in Vancouver.
Espionage is common in Davis Cup, although maybe it doesn’t really qualify as espionage because it’s out in the open. On Wednesday, Darcis, Goffin and captain van Herck watched Dancevic practice with Peliwo. It is common for captains and their designates to keep an eye on the opposition to try to pick up useful insights.
Goffin has never played Peliwo, so it may have been useful to scout him. The 5-foot-11 player from Liege started 2015 at No. 22 and has risen to No. 14 based mostly on recent results – the quarter-finals of the Italian Open, the third round of Roland Garros, the final (Nicolas Mahut) on grass in s’Hertogenbosch and the round-of-16 at Wimbledon where he lost to Stan Wawrinka.
He is 20-15 in ATP matches so far this year.
Peliwo, who will be playing his first live match in Davis Cup, should face Goffin on the first day unless there are some very unexpected changes.
The 21-year-old from Vancouver had his best result of 2015 back in January when he won a Futures tournament in Feucherolles, France.
He was out of action for six weeks from April until June with a psoas muscle (hip area) injury.
After starting 2015 at No. 398, his ranking has slipped to No. 491.
But he remains one of the most intense competitors in the history of Canadian tennis, and a bit of that is evident in the pose above on Wednesday as he attempted to reply to one of Dancevic’s shots.
While Peliwo and Dancevic will be underdogs in their matches, captain Laurendeau is determined to max out on them in the absence of Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil. “We’ll rely on the guys who are here,” he said. “They are our best players after the other two and we’ll do everything to try to win. We’re professionals and we’ll do everything to prepare and take it match by match.”
Weather-wise, there was good news later in the day Wednesday when Daniel Nestor and Adil Shamasdin practiced. The sky lightened up, which might be a good omen for the rest of the week. The word here is that there was also rain in Ostend (Middelkerke) last week – so it hasn’t exactly been seaside holiday time on the Belgian coast.
Strings take a beating
The rainy weather and moisture have meant brisk business for Canadian Davis Cup team stringer Yvon Gilbert from Morin Heights, Que.
Stringer for the team since 1999, “Gily,” as Daniel Nestor calls him, has been more occupied than usual in Ostend.
“These misty, damp days are making it tough on strings,” Gilbert said. “I’ve already re-strung (coach) Guillaume Marx’s racquet twice and (captain) Martin Laurendeau’s once. That happens about once every five years.”
Gilbert figures he will string about 25 racquets each for singles guys Frank Dancevic and Filip Peliwo during the week.
Players all have their own habits and Gilbert said that Milos Raonic can take 12 strung racquets onto court for a match, while doubles specialist Nestor would only have three or four.
In terms of the actual strings, Raonic uses M2 Pro Luxilon 125 while Nestor and Vasek Pospisil use a gut/Luxilon mix. Nestor has the main strings in gut and the cross strings in polyester while Pospisil is the opposite. “If Vasek used gut in the mains, he’d break too many racquets,” Gilbert explained.
Dancevic and Peliwo use Luxilon while Adil Shamasdin has a mix of Luxilon and Wilson Sensation in his sticks.
Nestor is the most radical in terms of tension – Gilbert said he can actually go as low as 30 pounds in the mains and 28 in the crosses.
Here are Canadian players and their approximate string tensions in pounds:
Raonic: 53 main – 55 cross
Nestor: 32 main – 30 cross
Shamasdin: 42 main – 44 cross
Ostend post card
This picture is from nightfall on the beach at Ostend. Two couples were having a little ‘selfie’ session with the North Sea as a background.