davis cup tie

Cutting Del Potro some slack; familiar foes to meet for Davis Cup finals — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Familiar Foes

Just as they did three years ago, Spain and the Czech Republic will face off to take home the Davis Cup title. It’s familiar territory for Spain, the most dominant Davis Cup team of this century. Playing in their home country on clay, they proved too much for the American squad, with David Ferrer – less than a week removed from a semifinal showing in New York – coming up big to send his nation to the final. On the other side of the draw, the Czechs took on last year’s finalist, Argentina, and it was the talented Tomas Berdych who continued to play the type of tennis that took him to the semis of the US Open to get the Czechs back to the final. The Czechs will host Spain for title honors in November, but they will have their work cut out for them. No matter what surface they choose, Spain’s depth will be a huge obstacle. But if Berdych can maintain his form and Stepanek play his brand of quirky tennis that makes so many opponents uncomfortable, it could make for a very entertaining end to the 2012 season.

Cup Controversy

While two teams were celebrating a trip to the final, another Davis Cup team was busy pointing fingers. Unfortunately for Juan Martin del Potro, the bulk of the blame for Argentina’s loss to the Czech Republic fell on his shoulders. Some called the Argentine’s wrist injury into question, claiming he could have played singles on Sunday, and another source accused him of not being a team player. It’s difficult not to suspect that del Potro is getting the short end of the stick. He’s never been classified as high maintenance, so it’s hard to imagine him being a problematic team member. And while it’s not an excuse if that is in fact the case, there have been numerous reports of alleged rifts between the various Argentine players for years, so if del Potro chose not to socialize with his teammates for much of the tie, that ought to be seen as par for the course with fault on both sides. The more mind-boggling thing is that his injury would be brought into question. He was clearly suffering back in Cincinnati and was unable to fully crack it at the US Open. With essentially no recovery time since mid-August, it would have been more surprising if his wrist were 100%. Besides, at the end of the day, the guy was a hero who bounced back from a devastating semifinal loss to Federer to bring home an Olympic Bronze with a victory over Djokovic. Cut him some slack.

Mudslinging

As tumultuous as the situation with Argentine tennis is, it’s nothing compared to the turmoil that is enveloping tennis in India. Mahesh Bhupathi has come out swinging against the AITA – the governing body of Indian tennis – in the wake of the organization handing him and partner Bopanna a two-year ban from Davis Cup. The ban shouldn’t have come as a shock to the players, as the AITA had warned both Bhupathi and Bopanna that action would be taken against them when they were allowed to refuse partnering with Paes in favor of partnering with one another for the 2012 Olympics. It’s easy to see both sides of the equation. The feud between Bhupathi and Paes is well documented, and Bhupathi had gotten comfortable playing with Bopanna in preparation for the London Games. On the other hand, a country has the right to field what it feels is the best team possible for bringing home a medal, and there’s little doubt that on paper and past results, Paes and Bhupathi fit that bill. The AITA wasn’t out of line to ask the two men to put their differences aside to achieve success. There’s plenty of blame to go around. The only thing for certain is that with Bhupathi claiming years of mismanagement by the AITA, and the AITA striking back to refute those claims, things are bound to get a lot uglier before the matter is resolved. Expect more drama to follow.

Looking Forward

There are still some big tournaments left to be contested, but with the US Open done and dusted, many are already starting to look toward the 2013 season. Venus Williams has fans buzzing with the news that she’s planning to play Hopman Cup with countryman John Isner, making the American duo the second high profile tandem alongside Djokovic/Ivanovic to commit to the mixed team competition. It will mark the first time Venus has played the event, and it arguably couldn’t come at a better time for her. It’s less stressful than a formal WTA event and guarantees her a set number of matches, which is just what the doctor ordered as she looks to ease her way back into competition next year. And as a side note, they’re not a lock to walk away the victors, but Isner and V. Williams have to make for one intimidating combo in the mixed doubles!

Consolation Prize

He’d undoubtedly prefer to be back out and winning on the tennis courts, but Rafael Nadal did enjoy a spot of good fortune earlier this week as he was named Spanish Vanity Fair’s “Male Personality of the Year.” At the awards reception, Nadal talked very candidly about where he is in his career. His comments hinted that he may be looking at another five years, but he also suggested that his current hiatus from the game could further extend his career. In the end, it all depends on how much longer his body can hold up, as well as where his physical struggles leave him mentally. For now though, Nadal seems to be enjoying himself, which, assuming we don’t see him the rest of this season, should leave him plenty fresh and ready to go in 2013.

CAREERS REJUVENATED: THE FRIDAY FIVE

Careers Rejuvenated – Raise your hand if you had Caroline Wozniaki vs. Jelena Jankovic in the Indian Wells women’s final and Andy Roddick vs. Ivan Ljubicic in the Indian Wells men’s final. While credit has to go to both of the losing finalists for a fine effort in the desert, hearty congratulations are due to the winners, Jankovic and Ljubicic. Jankovic, who has seen her ranking slowly plummet as she struggled to win matches, finally got her act together to bag the big title and put herself back on the map. Even more impressive was Ljubicic. Well into the twilight of his career, it would seem that the big Croat’s best days were behind him. But Ljubicic proved the critics wrong and held his nerve to knock off Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal (“accident” or not), and Roddick to win his first Masters 1000 title. If this is a sign of things to come, the men’s and women’s games just got a little more interesting.

More Rumblings at Roland Garros – Gilbert Ysern has once again reiterated the fact that the French Open may not only have to move away from the Roland Garros site, but from the city of Paris itself. The reason for the move is the current inability of the FFT to enact site upgrades, such as the construction of a retractable roof, due to opposition from the public, primarily environmentalists. Some predict this will all blow over, that there’s little chance of the move. They feel that the public will cave, as they can’t imagine the second major of the year being played anywhere but Roland Garros. I’ve got my fingers crossed that a compromise can be reached so that fans around the world can continue to enjoy springtime in Paris.

A Split Decision – Politics once again has the opportunity to influence an upcoming Davis Cup tie, as Serbia is set to take on host Croatia in the city of Split. The Serbian coach, Bogdan Obradovic had requested that the tie be played in the capital Zagreb, as he felt it would be less nationalistic than Split. I’m with the ITF on denying the request, especially given the significance of Split to Croatian tennis as the hometown of local hero Goran Ivanisevic. That said, I’m not Serbian, nor am I Croatian. I can’t fathom the levels of tension that may exist, but I have seen players from both nations making great strides to get along and set an example. While this could potentially be ugly, this may also be a viewed as a golden opportunity. This is a chance for tennis to set politics aside and perhaps through sport, start mending fences between two nations.

Hewitt Headed to Houston – Aussie Lleyton Hewitt has announced that he will be making his return to the ATP World Tour earlier than expected at the clay court event in Houston.  Bouncing back from a second hip surgery will be difficult, but Houston is the perfect place to test the waters. The soft clay coupled with a middle-of-the-road field should give Hewitt the opportunity to ease back into competition. And with guys such as Ivan Ljubicic and Juan Carlos Ferrero mounting their own comebacks in the latter years of their careers, there’s no reason two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt shouldn’t expect he can do the same.

Tiger Tim Ready to Return – Well, he wasn’t ready to sit in the captain’s seat of the British Davis Cup team, but Tim Henman, still one of the most popular figures in British sports, has stated that he is ready to consider making a return to competitive tennis. He’ll play his first event at the AEGON Masters in London at the end of the season. Having reached a career high of No. 4 and one of the best serve-and-volleyers in his day, Henman was always a crowd favorite and will undoubtedly be a welcomed presence to the tour. I for one hope everything pans out, and that as Henman said, the AEGON Masters is the “first event of many for me on the ATP Champions Tour.”

THE CONTINUED MESS WITH BRITISH TENNIS

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for British tennis, they do. In fact the situation has become so comical even the genius minds of the Monty Python crew would have been hard-pressed to come up with this.

Carry On Tennis, it should be called.

“Great Britain suffer humiliating Davis Cup defeat” scream the BBC.

“Dan Evans defeat brings fresh Davis Cup despair for Britain” moans The Guardian.

Yes, it is that time again. Very much like the hangover of all hangovers, that sinking feeling when the words “Great Britain” and “Davis Cup tie” have been the main event of the weekend is slamming around our skulls like the feeling of dread at a week ahead of working 15-hour shifts shoveling doggy doodoos.

Which great tennis nation have we lost to this time? Oh the mighty….Lithuania?!

Yes, a nation with only three world-ranked tennis players. A team of teenagers running around pumping the air celebrating the greatest victory in their history like they had just brought world peace.

The Lithuanian Tennis Association has an annual budget of £95,000 compared to the £25,000,000 continually squandered by the Lawn Tennis Association. After all, there are only 173 players our Lithuanian counterparts have to cater for.

You get the picture. David has once more cast his stone and Goliath has hit the deck quicker than Cristiano Ronaldo in a gust of wind.

You will all have read the doom and gloom stories about the matches and I would rather not subject any Brits reading this to any more of those. But what of the fallout?

LTA Chief Executive Roger Draper claimed in the 2009 Tennis Annual produced by the association that he had enjoyed the progress of British tennis over the past three years. This supposed progress has seen our national side drop through the tiers like an elephant strapped to a boulder in the Pacific Ocean.

Now we must face Turkey, who lost to Ireland, in a relegation playoff to avoid sinking to the Europe/Africa Zone Group III in July – the lowest tier of the competition.

Captain John Lloyd has now become the first British Davis Cup captain EVER to oversee five successive defeats. He has said he is “devastated” by the defeat.

“They don’t have as many players to pick from as we do but their players are good,” Lloyd told the BBC.

“We obviously didn’t have our number one playing, and that was certainly an evening-out point. It was a 50/50 sort of match before the start, and they were the better team.”

Woah, woah, woah. What you are saying Mr. Lloyd is that even with Andy Murray playing a nation such as ourselves is only just better than Lithuania and without him we are only as good as a side whose top player is ranked 195 in the ATP World rankings. Lord help us.

Mr. Draper has released a statement on the defeat:

“I share the deep disappointment and frustration at this result. Five defeats in a row is unacceptable.

“So I have asked the LTA Player Director, Steven Martens, to review last week’s performance and result, and report back to me and the LTA Main Board as soon as possible.

That review needs to be swift and decisive as it is clear some real improvements need to be made.”

That’s not even edited. That is the entire statement.

Fingers, though, are already being pointed. Former captain David Lloyd (brother of John) has demanded Draper step down to allow British tennis to recover. Draper’s decision to encourage British No. 1 Andy Murray not to compete in such a lowly tier was a particular stickler for Lloyd.

“”Roger is wrong endorsing the fact that Andy shouldn’t have played. That was a bad call,” he seethed in an interview with the BBC. “I would try and encourage him to play and give something back to the game.

“Where are the male players that the LTA has actually produced? Zero. That’s the bottom line. How do you keep your job if you are failing? I think Roger should walk. I don’t see it getting better.”

“He has missed every target he’s ever set,” added Andy Murray’s former coach Mark Petchey in an interview with Sky Sports News.

“What’s happened with the Davis Cup proves he’s wrong. His import of high-price foreign coaches, Brad Gilbert etc, has failed. The people at the LTA can’t sit on their hands and do nothing. They have to say ‘Your vision of the sport was wrong and you need to go.’”

But how can British tennis improve? Would culling the top man bring an improvement in fortunes? Well, Petchey certainly had ideas about how things could be changed for the better.

“The moment that we built the National Tennis Centre I feared for British tennis in a big way. What we needed right then was 30 centres around the country to get a catchment area from every region, every county.

“If you’re playing in Scotland for example, trying to get to a tennis centre with decent courts etc. is impossible. This money needs to be invested around the country, it’s that simple.”

That simple, eh? Fancy a new job as Chief Executive at the LTA Mr. Petchey?

WILL SAFINA’S BACK FORCE HER TO HANG IT UP? THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

The Back Saga Continues – Once again, Dinara Safina’s back has forced her to withdraw from a tournament. This time, it is the prestigious BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Safina has stated that her back is still causing her too much pain to even consider competing next week in California, and is now setting her sights on the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. Safina is missing a golden opportunity to compete at Indian Wells, given that the field is already weakened by the absence of the Williams sisters, and it is dicey she’ll be able to compete in Miami. If Safina is forced to continually miss these large events, she may find herself hanging her racquet up much sooner than expected, which would be a loss for women’s tennis.

The Show Will Go On – Despite the devastating earthquake that hit Chile this past weekend, the Davis Cup tie between host nation Chile and Israel will still be contested this coming weekend, just a day later than planned as players and officials were understandably delayed in making the trip to the South American country. Israel is a nation that has obviously seen more than its share of turmoil over the past decades, but I must admit that I have my fingers crossed that the Chilean team is able to bring a bit a joy to their home country as sport can so often do for troubled nations.

Headed to the Hall – This past Monday, it was announced that the Woodies (Todd Woodbridge, Mark Woodforde), Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva, Owen Davidson, Brad Parks, and Derek Hardwick will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame later this summer. It’s nice to see some of the greatest doubles teams in history get some recognition, as well as Brad Parks, who will be the first wheelchair tennis player enshrined at Newport.  Fernandez, Davidson, and Parks were on hand at Madison Square Garden Monday evening for the Billie Jean King Cup, where they were officially recognized and congratulated for their impending enshrinement.  And in case you missed it, Venus Williams also defeated Kim Clijsters in three tight sets to take the exhibition title.

More Hip Woes – The latest player to fall victim to hip surgery is Germany’s Tommy Haas.  Germany’s Bild reported that Haas could be out for as many as six months as he recovers from recent surgery to his right hip. At least Haas should be able to retain a protected ranking for when he does return, but one has to feel for him given that he enjoyed a resurgence in his career the latter half of 2009. Perhaps that resurgence will be what ultimately pushes him to bounce back from this latest setback.

Victory at Last – After being touted as one of the game’s next great talents before falling into an early slump, Ernests Gulbis finally won his maiden title this past week at Delray Beach.  Gulbis took out big man Dr. Ivo Karlovic 6-2, 6-3 to become the first Latvian to notch up a tournament win on the ATP World Tour.  The question will be if this victory is merely a flash in the pan or the sign of bigger and better things to come for the player with so much talent but who has thus far proved to be nothing more than a massive underachiever.

The Friday Five: Hang it up Scud

By Maud Watson

Hang it up Scud – My apologies to any Mark Philippoussis fans out there. I don’t personally have anything against the guy, but when I read earlier this week that he’s considering the possibility of yet another comeback to the ATP World Tour, I had to shake my head. He claims his reasons for coming back are twofold: he has “unfinished business,” and he wants the money. The guy needs to face reality. He is struggling to beat Jim Courier and Pat Cash on the seniors tour, and it’s no disrespect to Courier and Cash. They’re great players in their own right, but they’re playing the seniors tour for a reason. If Flipper can’t hang with those guys, how does he ever figure he’ll make it into the Top 100 on the ATP World Tour? Maybe if he’d put the time in earlier in his career (which might have curbed his injuries) and managed his finances better, he wouldn’t be in this situation now. Cut your losses, Scud and move on.

Adieu Roland Garros? – It seems plans for a new center court with a retractable roof at the world’s second Slam event of the year have hit a snag according to French Tennis Federation (FFT) Director General Gilbert Ysern. The Paris mayor’s office is now expressing doubts about the project, mainly due to the opposition of green members within the city council. While the FFT is relatively confident the project will still be able to move forward, Ysern has also stated the FFT is prepared to move from the Roland Garros site if their plans are blocked. Given the historical significance of the site, which hosted the famous 1928 Davis Cup tie between the USA and France, and its ties to the famous French aviator whose name the complex bears, it would be a shame to see the site of the French Championships moved to a new location. That said, in an effort to keep up with the other Majors, as well as a few voices from Spain (a nation that has produced the champion at the French major six of the last 10 years) claiming they now have the facilities to host the clay court Grand Slam event, the FFT must be prepared to take whatever steps necessary. Fingers crossed they reach an agreement with the Paris city council.

Serena Sweeps – As if winning two majors, the WTA Tour Championships, and taking the No. 1 ranking weren’t enough, Serena Williams has managed to add one more accolade to her 2009 season. She has set a new record for most prize money won by a woman in a single season, with $6,545,586. Granted, she did win three of the biggest tournaments of the season, but if her prize money total is any indication, it would seem that the women’s tour is plenty healthy.

Under the Weather – Well, we all knew it was just a matter of time before swine flu hit the tennis community, and it finally did this week in Basel. German Tommy Haas was forced to withdraw from the tournament when he tested positive for the H1N1 virus. With the way things can often travel quickly throughout the locker room, tournament organizers and fans alike will hope this is just an isolated incident, especially with the ATP World Tour Championships just around the corner. And here’s wishing a speedy recovery to Haas, who has put together a great season!

Good-Bye Fred, Hello Adidas – Britain’s Andy Murray is back with a vengeance this week in Valencia, showing little mercy to the opposition in his return from injury. And while Andy Murray is undoubtedly happy to see his game back on track, he has even more to smile about with the new multi-million dollar deal that he just signed with Adidas. Murray will be trading in his Fred Perry duds for the three-striped brand beginning in January. Now wouldn’t it be ironic if he won Wimbledon in 2010?

Spain To Host Czechs In Davis Cup Final

Spain completed a 4-1 victory over Israel in the Davis Cup semifinals on Sunday, as the nations split a pair of dead singles rubbers following the clinching doubles victory for the defending champs on Saturday.

Feliciano Lopez and Tommy Robredo posted a 7-6 (8-6), 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 6-2 win over the Israeli tandem of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram on Saturday to give the Spaniards an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the best-of-five tie.

The decision also rendered Sunday’s reverse singles meaningless.

David Ferrer, who gave Spain its first point with a singles win over Harel Levy on Friday, breezed to a 6-3, 6-1 victory Sunday over Ram for Spain’s fourth point of the weekend.

Levy ensured it would not be a sweep, as he toppled Lopez in the final match, 7-5, 6-2.

Spain won a home Davis Cup tie for the 17th straight time and will try to make it 18 in a row in December when the Czech Republic visits for the Davis Cup final.

The Czechs, who beat Croatia this weekend, will play for the Davis Cup crown for the first time since 1980, when the former Czechoslovakia — led by Ivan Lendl — beat Italy for its lone title.

Spain won this weekend without its top two players, as both Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco sat out. Verdasco had the clinching point last year when the Spaniards won their third Davis Cup crown with a triumph at Argentina.

Israel was playing in the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time.