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Home   News   Tebbutt: Gearing up for Davis Cup

Tebbutt: Gearing up for Davis Cup

Sep 11, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Who knows what they were talking about during Monday’s practice for this weekend’s Davis Cup World Group Playoff? But the Netherlands captain Paul Haarhuis (back to camera) and Daniel Nestor have certainly played each other often enough on the doubles court.

Nestor, just turned 46 and the winner of eight Grand Slam doubles titles, and Haarhuis, 52 and a doubles champion at six Grand Slams, might have been recalling that the Dutchman beat Nestor (and Mark Knowles) in two French Open finals – 1998 with fellow-countryman Jacco Eltingh and 2002 with Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia.

Haarhuis, who ranked No. 1 in doubles for a total of 69 weeks (Nestor’s total is 108) and reached a singles career high of No. 18 (1995), will be in the Dutch team’s coaching role this weekend for a fourth consecutive tie.

The visiting Netherlands will be led in singles by No. 44-ranked Robin Haase, 31. (That’s him above arriving on Monday and walking past Felix Auger-Aliassime’s trainer Bernard Perrot and Denis Shapovalov’s physio Stefano De Pirro.) The second singles spot for the Dutch will likely go to No. 236 Thiemo de Bakker, 29. The other option, No. 224-ranked Scott Griekspoor, 27, has not played a Davis Cup singles match.

There are ironies here – at the Challenger event on clay in Blois, France, in June, Griekspoor defeated Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-4 in the final after Auger-Aliassime had beaten de Bakker 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-1 in the semi-final. But the next week de Bakker, the 2006 Wimbledon junior boys champion, downed Auger-Aliassime 6-2, 6-1 at a Challenger in Milan, Italy.

It would appear the 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime, now ranked No. 136, will be the second alternate for Canadian singles behind No. 85 Vasek Pospisil – with No. 20 Milos Raonic and No. 34 Denis Shapovalov getting the nod from Canadian captain Frank Dancevic. Raonic, who injured his right hip just nine days ago during a five-set loss to John Isner in the US Open round-of-16, practiced Monday at the Coca-Cola Coliseum site as did Shapovalov.

There appears to be no mystery about the Canadian doubles team for Saturday’s third match, it will be Nestor and Pospisil. They have had some memorable Davis Cup wins – including 15-13 in the fifth set over Italians Daniele Bracciale and Fabio Fognini in Vancouver in 2013 and 10-8 in the fifth set over Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic in Belgrade that same year. But there have also been disappointments – including last February in Osijek, Croatia, when they led Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig 6-2, 6-3, 4-1 only to lose 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.

Nestor will be playing in his 53rd tie and has a record of 15-15 in singles and 33-12 in doubles dating back to his first appearance against Sweden in Vancouver in 1992.

The pairing for the Netherlands in doubles is a bit more uncertain. As the No. 14 seeds at the US Open, Haase and No. 33-ranked Matwe Middelcoop, 35, reached the third round but the Dutch team’s most accomplished doubles player is No. 20-ranked Jean-Julien Rojer, 37. Haase, No. 37, has played doubles (and singles) in the last five Davis Cup ties for the Netherlands with either Rojer or Middelcoop – but the latter two have never played together.

While the Davis Cup format for singles and doubles is changing to best-of-three sets beginning next February – with ties just played over two days – the singles and doubles will still all be best best-of-five sets this weekend.

The Dutch are in this World Group Playoff after losing 3-1 to France in Albertville, France, in February – with their only point coming from a 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-2 victory by de Bakker over Adrian Mannarino.

Canada was beaten 3-1 in Croatia the same weekend – with the visitors’ Denis Shapovalov beating Viktor Galovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 before Borna Coric defeated him 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the fourth and deciding match.

The start time for Friday’s singles is 4 p.m., the doubles on Saturday will begin at 2:30 p.m. and the reverse singles is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday.

COOL RUNNINGS FOR CONNELL

It was damn cold in the early evening of September 23, 1990, at the National Tennis Centre in Toronto as about 200 hardy, bundled-up spectators watched Grant Connell of Vancouver finish off a 7-6(5), 7-6(5), 6-3 victory over Mark Koevermans of the Netherlands to give Canada a 3-2 win in the Davis Cup World Group Playoff.

The win was historic because it resulted in Canada reaching the World Group for the first time since a new format was introduced in 1981.

It was a weird weekend because the home team’s top-ranking player, No. 93-ranked Andrew Sznajder of Toronto, had basically taken himself out of the tie during a practice session earlier in the week. In anger he slammed his hand against the back-screen at the rear of the court, not realizing that a metal support beam was at that exact spot behind the screen. The injury meant he couldn’t play and he was replaced by Chris Pridham of Oakville, Ont.

That Canada-Netherlands match-up turned out to be basically a one-man-show for the No. 94-ranked Connell. Here are the five matches of the tie with the sets the then 25-year-old won in tiebreaks highlighted in bold.

Koevermans def C. Pridham 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-3.
G. Connell def P. Haarhuis 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-4
Connell and G. Michibata def Haarhuis and Koevermans 7-6(5), 7-6(5), 6-2
Haarhuis def Pridham 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5
Connell def Koevermans 7-6(5), 7-6(5), 6-3

On Monday, Haarhuis (above with Thiemo de Bakker) was reminded of that eminently forgettable weekend for the Dutch and said, “no Davis Cup with Canada has been a good memory for me. There were two – in 1990 and 2004. In 1990 we lost and I lost an important singles and then in 2004 (in Maastricht, the Netherlands) I’d had a shoulder surgery the year before and I tried to come back. I hurt my shoulder at the end of the first set of the doubles and I had to retire. And that’s when I retired (for good).”

The score in that one read: Daniel Nestor and Fredéric Niemeyer def Paul Haarhuis and Martin Verkerk 7-6(10), 1-0 ret. The Dutch, with Verkerk and Sjeng Schalken, won the three other singles over Frank Dancevic and Simon Larose.

About 1990 Haarhuis recalled, “it was not good temperatures, it was cold and I ended up playing late. But especially Grand Connell was playing very well and during that weekend he was the best player out there.”

TORONTO POST CARD

The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival is underway at the moment and thousands of cinephiles can be spotted all over downtown. Many are avid devotees with badges and bleary eyes after overdosing on a few too many movies.

NOTE: Next blog on Wednesday.