by David Foster
(The following is written by David Foster, who heads up the U.S. Davis Cup Team’s cheer squad “The Netheads.” David was the one and only non-USTA delegation fan from the United States to travel to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for the recent USA vs. Uzbekistan Davis Cup series. To get involved with the Netheads, email David at [email protected] and mentioned “Nethead” in the subject line)
Going to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for the USA vs. Uzbekistan Davis Cup Playoff Round was an unbelievable trip! There were super friendly Uzbeks, super pretty girls (for some reason as I get older girls keep getting prettier), awesome American support from the Marines and the Embassy staff, a beautiful city and beautiful weather.
I arrived in Tashkent at 2:45AM on the Wednesday before the Friday start. The USTA provided a special envoy to get me to VIP customs and then a ride to hotel. That was a nice start.
After a few hours sleep, I headed for Amir Temur park to see the statue of this great Uzbek leader from the 1300s. Within half hour of my first walk in Tashkent, two pretty Uzbek girls (students) asked if they could ask me survey questions on video. Never being able to turn down a pretty girl in any country, I consented. They asked me to compare US (60 years for me) to Uzbekistan (30 minutes on street). All I could say is Tashkent is much cleaner than American cities. After videos were done, one for each girl, they asked me if I thought Uzbek girls were pretty. Geez, did they pick the right person to ask? But what was funny was that in one article I read about going to Uzbekistan it stated you should not comment on ladies’ looks. Well, I bypassed the article and stated, yes, Uzbek girls are pretty.
I then sat on bench in park to watch people. Watching moms with their kids showed me once more people are all the same in the world. I just wish governments could get along. I had two folks ask me for directions before I could say “Ingliz.” It happens everywhere I go.
Then I committed my first American error. I stopped at ATM to get some “som” (Uzbek currency). The ATM had English on the initial screen but after I entered my card, there was no English option. Being a smart American, I thought I know what it is asking (pin number first, then do I want withdrawal) even though it was in Uzbek. I finally got to screen that had 50, 100, 150, 200, 300, 400. So I assumed this is stating how much in US dollars to I want to be given in som. I hit 100 and low and behold a Ben Franklin $100 bill came out of the machine. I have never been anywhere where foreign ATM had an option for US dollars.
To tell you what prices are like in Uzbekistan, when I went to hotel exchange desk to convert my Ben Franklin, the lady questioned why I would want to convert the whole thing. She asked “are you sure you are going to spend all that?”
The draw was held in courtyard at the hotel, the Lotte Palace Hotel. After draw I went on long walk (4 miles each way) to visit the US Embassy. Unfortunately, I followed the Google map directions I had and I never found it. I asked several Uzbeks for help but they couldn’t even recognize the street names. After wandering around neighborhood for a while I just headed back to hotel. But I did get to see non-downtown section of city and see mucho people so all was not lost.
On Friday, I took a taxi to tennis facility and had driver who had lived in Pittsburgh for awhile. The road to the tennis went by government offices so he pointed out presidential building (president works there and lives elsewhere) and Uzbek version of Pentagon. The highway signs on this road not only showed the speed limit but also signs indicating no pictures/videos allowed, for security purposes. The Pittsburgh driver pointed out that road was in great shape until after road where president turns to go home. Then two lanes have been under construction for years, finally turning into dirt and gravel before we got to tennis courts.
In Uzbekistan, they have instant Uber. As my Pittsburgh driver told me, every car in Tashkent is a taxi. Folks stand on side of road. A potential driver stops, they discuss location and price, and if agreement, the passenger climbs in for ride. On my taxi ride back to hotel, my driver picked up two extras and dropped one off. No official name for process – may be they should call it Uzber.
The tennis facility was interesting with seats only on one side. The capacity was maybe 2,000. Admission was free. School kids, probably age 12 to 16, filled the stadium on Friday and Saturday. They were wearing school uniforms consisting of a white shirt and black pants or skirts. We had a couple of folks from the U.S. Embassy and three U.S. Marines joining me in our small U.S. cheer section
After first match between Steve Johnson and Denis Istomin finished (Istomin winning in five sets), the students all left – but not before 50 or more stopped by me to ask for a selfie. I went off to concession store and had my picture taken with ball kids and two very pretty girls who then asked if I could get them a picture with players (never understand why they are not satisfied with me). The second match went quickly for Jack Sock in front of probably less than 300 fans. It rained, a light shower, during the match but they kept going on the clay.
In addition to selfies, I had a gentleman hand me some pictures at the end of the first match. When I got back to hotel, I discovered in middle of pictures was a visa/immigration request. I showed this info to one of embassy folks and he just assumed the person was asking me to help with visa process. That was very Interesting.
On Friday night, the Marines picked me up at hotel and we went to the embassy annex for movie and hot dogs night with embassy folks and families. They couldn’t believe I got visa to come to Uzbekistan in seven days.
On Saturday, I took a taxi early to stadium and posed for another twenty to twenty-five pictures before match. Students were there again in uniform. One young lady sat down next to me and when I told her USA girls do not go to school on Saturday and do not have to wear uniforms, she was ready to head to America. Before the match, I was able to get large group of students to do the “USA” cheer. Randy Walker, press guy for USTA, got the USA cheering on video and posted it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56KVDZGeREQ
Three Marines joined me for doubles and we won pretty easily in three sets. We had two good players (Johnson and Sam Querrey) against one good (Istomin) and one fair player (Farrukh Dustov). After the match, the Marines gave me a ride back to hotel. It’s nice to have those guys looking out for you.
On Sunday at breakfast, a Japanese lady decided I had interesting face and asked for obligatory picture. After I finished eating, I went upstairs and came back with Nethead on and she was really excited to take another picture. She asked for an autograph and was super excited when I signed “Robert Redford.”
At the match, there were more adults than students for a change. Besides the Marines, there were probably 25 embassy folks there, including the ambassador, who sat with the USTA folks. I did not get to meet her since she was gone after I had my last session of stadium selfies. It was a good match on Sunday with Sock trying to serve it out for tie and went back and forth several times with Istomin. It let our fans experience some tension before with Sock closed it out. I got a final ride back with the Marines and thanked them for their service for us.
After the matches on Sunday afternoon, I took another walk around Amir Temur Square. (A video of this area can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-mf7VtKO8E. I saw two pretty girls ahead of me taking pictures towards the statue and, as I got close, I got another request for pictures with each one. I figured it was pictures No. 99 and 100 for the trip.
Everybody in the USTA contingent left on Sunday night, leaving me alone on Monday. I took a personal tour with an English-speaking guide, who was a very knowledgeable guy. He explained that Independence Square was originally Red Square under the Russian Empire and Lenin’s square under Soviet rule. At the 1966 earthquake statue, he explained how Soviets came in to rebuild and add new housing after earthquake damage. I then saw the World War II memorial which had books of gold with names of 500,000 Uzbek men who never came home. I also saw Osman’s Koran which many believe is oldest Koran in existence. The Koran shows Osman’s blood stains where legend is he was stabbed while reading the Koran.
My tour guide explained there is freedom of religion in Uzbekistan but not freedom of where to practice it. Muslims cannot pray in public. Minarets at mosques are for looks only. One cannot issue any calls to prayer. The government does not want religion to be involved in government at all, trying to avoid the problems of other countries – a true separation of church and state. He also told me the building secured with guards with AK-47s I had jogged past for five days was the National Security building, the old KGB. I never saw any indication of street crime during my time in Tashkent. I felt safe wherever I went. My guide indicated Uzbekistan is considered in top five safest countries in the world. In discussion on security with one of embassy staff, she stated there is security in a police state.
I left the hotel at 5PM (Monday) EST time (2AM Tuesday Uzbek time) and got back to my condo in Atlanta at midnight EST Tuesday – 31 hours of travel. It was an uneventful trip except for a two-hour delay on my Paris to Atlanta flight. In Moscow, I saw the prettiest TSA person I’ve ever seen. It was the only time I’ve ever wanted to set off the buzzer and require a pat down! I told her she was prettier than agents in USA, but either she did not understand or she was just giving me the normal cold shoulder I usually get!
By Michael Lemort
Could Federer win the Davis Cup for the first time of his career and be No. 1 again by the end of the season?
After his success in Shanghai, his 23rd Masters 1000 title, with a victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinal, Roger Federer became No. 2 at the race, overtaking Rafael Nadal. After a very solid year, even though he didnt win a major title, the Swiss player could manage to finish the year ranked No. 1 if he obtains better results than Djokovic in the last tournaments left this year. He is playing Basle, his home tournament (where he reached the final last year), then the Masters 1000 in Paris at Bercy and finally the Masters Cup in London – reaching the semifinals of both events last year. Novak Djokovic plans to play Paris and London, knowing that he won both titles last year, which means that he could lose lots of points if he loses early.
But being ATP No. 1 again is not a priority for Federer who already holds the record for weeks in that position. And on top of that, another challenge is coming in front of him as he’s gonna play the Davis Cup final for the first time of his career. With his partner Stanislas Wawrinka, No. 4 at the race, the Swiss team has never been so close to bring the trophy home, even though playing in France on clay against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet is not going to be an easy thing. But this is probably gonna be the priority for Federer since playing for his country has always been something important for him (especially during Olympic Games). None of the French players will qualify for the Masters Cup so they will have another extra week to practice and get used to the clay courts.
Because of that busy year-ending calendar and because switching from indoor to clay in few days time won’t be easy, Federer might have to make some choices, like not playing Bercy for example (like it already happened in the past), and giving up on the No. 1 position for now if he wants to focus on the Davis Cup.
On another hand, playing and winning matches brings confidence. Entering Basel, Federer has already played 71 matches this year (61 victories), 11 more than Djokovic, 19 more than Tsonga. And he won’t probably have those opportunities facing him every year as he will turn 34 next year. But he has to think about his body and he probably hasn’t forgotten about that back injury that ruined most of his 2013 season.
Federer is a symbol of longevity and efficiency and an example about how to manage his body and career. So no doubt that he will take the good decisions, break some new records and add some new lines to his already huge career.
This gallery contains 1 photo.
Prior to competing on the 2014 PowerShares Series “legends” tennis circuit, Andy Roddick held court with the media to discuss a wide array of topics including his competitiveness, the Australian Open, Bernard Tomic, the National Football League, a potential future role with the U.S. Davis Cup team, and playing alongside legends of the game at events in Birmingham, Denver and Houston. Here’s the full conference call transcript of Roddick’s interview.
RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining today. We’re happy to welcome to the PowerShares Series tennis circuit in 2014 and to our call today Andy Roddick. Andy is going to be making his PowerShares Series debut on February 13th in Birmingham, Alabama, and will be competing in tournaments in Denver on February 19th and Houston on February 20th. The 2014 PowerShares Series starts its 12 city tour February 5th in Kansas City. For more information, including players, schedule and ticket information, you can go to www.PowerSharesSeries.com. Before we open it up to the questions for our participants, I’m going to ask Andy a question about playing in the PowerShares Series. Andy, since you were playing in the juniors, you’ve always been a very competitive guy,and Patrick McEnroe was talking on the Australian Open broadcast last night about how you were such a competitor and fought your guts out in every match you played. What is it going to be like on the PowerShares Series this year where you’re going to be able to fire up those competitive juices again?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I’d like to say that I’ll be able to be mature enough to kind of put it in perspective that it’s not what we do every day now, but I’d probably be lying to you. Even when I play these charity expos now, I kind of have to contain myself. I certainly have my share of, I guess, quasi embarrassing moments that come from being so competitive and a little too intense. I think when you get guys who are programmed from when they’re young to have a goal of trying to win something, I don’t think that goes away easily, and I’m sure when we get between the lines… listen, if there’s an option of winning and losing, you want to win. That’s just human nature.
Q. Talk about playing in Houston. You’ve had some great memories in Houston. You won your second ATP title there. You clinched the year end No. 1 there at the Tennis Masters Cup. Talk a little bit about what it’s going to be like playing in Houston.
ANDY RODDICK: Well, it’ll be great. I feel there’s so much in the early part of my career over at Westside, from the tournament to Masters Cup to we played a Davis Cup tie there, so I played there at the same club clay, hard and grass, which doesn’t happen very often. But just a lot of good memories, and it’s always a place that I certainly enjoy playing. It’s a short drive to my home in Austin, too, which is a great thing, and I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Andy, I know you’re coming to Denver, and I know you can speak on all sports; I’ve seen you on the show. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, two large sports personas going up against each other; does this remind you of any great rivalries in tennis or even other sports?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think Manning and Brady kind of have all the makings of a great rivalry. They’re so similar in so many ways as far as their preparation and kind of their will to win, and like any great rivalry, I think it needs to happen over time so we can get a little nostalgic about it. But at the same time there are distinct differences. Peyton can be self deprecating on Saturday Night Live, and Brady is this unbelievably good looking guy married to Giselle that has all the cool stuff in press conferences. So there is enough difference to make it very interesting. It’s just fun. It also is getting to the point where you don’t know how many more times you’re going to see it, so you start reflecting and appreciating it each time.
Q. In your opinion what’s the greatest tennis rivalry of all time?
ANDY RODDICK: Oh, man, that’s hard. It’s tough going generation versus generation. Obviously in my kind of era, it all happened around Roger and Rafa. But again, it had the same sort of underlying they’re different enough personalities to make it interesting. Stylistically they matched up in an entertaining way, and they both went about it the right way and had a certain level of respect, which is probably different than the ones you saw in the ’80s with McEnroe and Connors where they just flat out didn’t like each other. There are different ways to have a great rivalry.
Q. And with Peyton versus Brady, is it one of those things like must see TV; you can’t miss it if you’re a sports fan?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think the funny thing is these guys have been running the ball the last couple weeks, so it’s all about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but as the weather has been colder, I think I saw a stat today the Patriots ran the ball 62 percent of the time last week, which was their highest total since like 2008 against Buffalo, and Moreno was a factor, also. So we’re building up this whole game around these great quarterbacks because it looks like they’re running the ball in the cold weather, so we’ll see how much they actually air it out.
Q. What’s the best barbecue in Austin, Texas?
ANDY RODDICK: It has to be Franklin’s. Any time people are waiting two hours for lunch, it’s got to be pretty good.
Q. Andy, playing in Denver you’re going to be matched up in the semifinals against Philippoussis, and the other semifinal is going to be Jim Courier against James Blake. Talk about playing Philippoussis and also playing in altitude and what that does to a tennis ball up in Denver?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, that’s a bad combination for me, Philippoussis and altitude. This is actually the first I’m hearing about it. Mark and I have been friends for a while. The thing is his service motion is so technically sound that, from what I’ve heard, he really hasn’t lost much on his serve since he was playing, which I wish the same could be said for me. It’ll be tough, but I’m just excited to get out there and play. It’ll be fun. I like all those guys who are there. Jim and James are two of my closest friends. I’d love to be able to get through Mark and play one of those guys in the final.
Q. I know there’s a lot to talk about here. I wanted to ask a couple quick questions about the topic of the day in tennis, since I know you’ve been through this so many times. These guys are suffering in the heat. I know you always liked the heat to a large degree, even though you sweat a lot, and I was just curious how you feel about where the extreme should be, what you’re seeing or hearing. Is it too much? And also, would you talk a little bit about there’s a lot of discussion in sport now about the fact that we shouldn’t have a World Cup in big heat. What’s your feeling about all that?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, part of me finds it entertaining that every time we go down to Australia we act surprised that it’s hot outside. It’s funny, the guys who have the reputation for being prepared aren’t the guys keeling over. You’re never going to see Roger outwardly showing heat. You’re not going to see Rafa doing it. You’re not going to see Novak anymore; you’re not going to see him doing it. Frankly I hated it when they closed the roof. I felt like I was prepared. I felt like it was a different tennis tournament once they put it indoors. They do have a system in place where if they deem it’s too hot, and there’s a pretty distinct number system that they have used there in the past, and they do have the ability to call it. Do we need to make extreme things because guys are struggling in the heat? I don’t know. Personally I don’t think so. I think as athletes we push our bodies to do things that aren’t normal, and frankly that’s what we get paid for. I can’t feel it. Listen, when you play there, it’s brutal. It feels like you’re playing in a hairdryer, but that’s all part of it. Each Slam presents its own unique set of challenges and you kind of have to attack it accordingly.
Q. Is it desirable in your opinion that we keep putting these sporting events in situations like this where it could happen at this extreme level, or is that not a problem?
ANDY RODDICK: I can’t speak to the World Cup. I haven’t been there. I haven’t experienced it. It seemed like there were other viable options that maybe didn’t have that. But you’re not going to take the Slam out of Australia. It’s too good of a venue. They have built indoor courts, and like I said, they do have a system in place that they have used before. It’s not as if…I was reading something where the humidity levels weren’t as bad so they didn’t use it. There is thought put into it. It’s not like they’re just going rogue with throwing people out there. They’ve set the precedent for being smart about it, and they have done it in the past. I don’t think they should just close the roofs because people are writing about it.
Q. And the last thing from me, what’s the most key thing about preparing yourself for that? I know you’ve lived in hot weather parts of the States, but you used to go to Hawai’i to train before the Open. What’s the critical thing? Is it the adaptation? Is it good genetics?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, I don’t know that there’s one thing. I spent four weeks doing fitness in Austin, and then when I started really hitting balls, I put myself in heat for two weeks before I even went down to play the first event there. By the time we got to Australia, I had been in similar heat for three or four weeks. Frankly it’s stupid to train indoors in cold weather the whole time and then expect to go to Australia and not to have your your body is not going to adapt that quick. But it will adapt. And frankly I don’t know that Australia is as extreme as Florida in the summer or the hottest days in Cincinnati in the summer. I think you’re seeing guys play three out of five, and it’s become a more physical game, so you’re kind of seeing the toll of that.
Q. Someone was telling me that you back in the day played tennis against Drew Brees. Are you relieved we don’t have him on the tennis tour today?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah. It’s funny, every time he plays a playoff game on national television, this story comes up again. He played he actually beat me the first two times. I think he was 12 and I was 9, and he was kind of like an after school tennis player who was better than all the guys who actually practiced like me, and then I beat him and he started playing other sports. So who knows how far it could have gone. But I think it just kind of lends itself to discussion of what a good athlete he actually is.
Q. There were moments during your playing career that you didn’t like media. Now that you’ve got a radio show, do you view the folks on the other side with a little bit more empathy?
ANDY RODDICK: No, I don’t. The only time I had an issue with the media is when I felt like they weren’t prepared with their questioning or they were asking irresponsible questions. You know, listen, I’m not going to have someone who covers tennis once a year coming into the local market, coming into a press conference and using the wrong terminology for our sport. So no, I never had a problem with media when they were well thought out, asked smart questions, and seemed to actually care as opposed to just being there because their boss was taking attendance, frankly.
Q. Bernard Tomic was booed by fans when he retired after one set with Nadal. Have you ever been in a situation like that where you were booed by your own fans?
ANDY RODDICK: Listen, I’ve been booed because of the way I’ve acted. I don’t know that I’ve been booed because of a perceived lack of effort. Bernie is in a tough position now because he’s developed a little bit of a reputation of giving less than 100 percent effort now, so he might have had a groin injury the other night. Had it been someone like Lleyton, who has built his career and at least gained the trust from the fan base as far as putting in effort, I don’t think the boos would have been there. Bernie has a certain process ahead of him where he has to kind of earn the respect back as far as being a competitor. It was an unfortunate situation because by all accounts he is actually hurt, but I feel like the booing is maybe more of a snowball effect from some of the past performances.
Q. Talk a little bit about making your debut event in Birmingham. It’s going to be at the same arena where you played Davis Cup against Switzerland. Talk a little bit about that tie against Switzerland and what it’s going to be like to be back in Birmingham.
ANDY RODDICK: Well, I’m excited. We obviously had a great Davis Cup tie back there in I think it was 2009, and we enjoyed everything about it. It was one of those rare Davis Cup ties where everything went mostly according to script. We got out with a W. I played a good match the last day against Wawrinka. The court was fast; the crowd was into it. We were able to lean on him. You know, I enjoyed playing there. I’m sure it’ll bring back some good memories when I’m back.
Q. No doubt about it, you gave so much to the game. You thrilled, you entertained the sports fans for a decade. How much will this new arena, this venue, allow you to entertain even more as you’re playing?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, I think it certainly provides that opportunity. There’s no way to replace playing in front of a crowd and kind of the feeling that gives you, and I have a lot of other interests right now which are very fulfilling, but nothing will ever replace being able to play live sports. Yeah, I didn’t expect it to. But this is a chance for me to do it, I guess, more in a little bit of a part time scale. I’m looking forward to it. You know, it’s always fun to play with guys that have been so accomplished in the sport, as well. I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Any good one liners you’re working on these days?
ANDY RODDICK: You know, if I previewed them they wouldn’t be as funny that day, would they?
Q. You gave your life to Davis Cup during your career. What would it mean to be part of Davis Cup again in some capacity down the road?
ANDY RODDICK: Oh, I don’t know. Frankly I see Jim being the captain for a very long time. I think he does a great job. All the guys love him. I was able to play for him for a couple of ties, so that’s Jim is a great friend of mine. Honestly that’s something I hadn’t really thought about much.
Q. I wasn’t trying to usurp his job for you, but if you were brought in as a coach, as a motivator, someone that could really relate to the players, what would that mean to you?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, again, I wasn’t insinuating that I was going to be captain, either. I was just saying I think Jim can do all those things. Basically any skill set that I would apply, he’s done it all and more. He’s done a great job with the crew. Honestly I don’t see what value I would add with Jim at the helm right now.
Q. Playing in Houston, how about you and your friend, your buddy, Bobby Bones? Do you have anything planned? I know you can’t talk about it, but are you excited to be working this with him in some capacity?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, we’ve had a really good relationship. We’re great friends. He’s done such a good job now with country radio being pretty much the guy for country radio nationally. I’m proud of his career path. I certainly admire his work ethic. He gets after it, and he wants to do everything. It’s always fun to kind of watch his career progress.
Q. As a barometer, when you were in Miami playing Murray, you played well. I know he was coming back, but how strong of a barometer is that for you? You can still do it, I guess.
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, listen, I wanted to… I’m retired. I can still play a little bit. I won two out of my last five events on tour. When I do practice with guys who are currently playing, I can hold my own. It was never a I’m fully confident the guys I played against my whole career, a lot of them are Youzhny is 14 in the world; Lopez is 20 in the world. There’s a lot of guys who I played for a long time. For me it wasn’t a matter of could I still be good on tour. The question was can I win a Grand Slam, and once I didn’t think I could, that was enough for me. I certainly feel like I’m capable of playing a high level tennis still.
Q. What is it like being a part of this series with all the great names that you’ve been around, and now you guys are involved again?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, listen, it’s certainly a big list of names and personalities. It’s almost as if every night it’s almost a history lesson of the last 30 years of tennis. It’s really cool. I was a tennis fan long before I was a player, and so it’s surreal for me to be involved with these guys. I don’t think I’ve ever fully gotten used to, let’s say, participating in the same night as a Pete Sampras or a Jim Courier. Those guys were my heroes growing up. But it’s always fun to get together with those guys again and be around them and to play against them. It’s always been a blast for me.
Q. For fans who will be buying tickets to watch your event, what would you tell them about what they can expect to see perhaps?
ANDY RODDICK: (Laughing) Anything, really. The thing about our group of guys, not a lot of us have been accused of being shy out there. I think we do understand we all want to win. But at the same time I certainly understand it’s a show, and I couldn’t always interact as much as I wanted to while I was playing on tour, but I’m going to have a good time during these matches. That’ll show through. I think we want fans to come out and really actively participate in the matches. You want it to be interactive. You want it to be fun. You want to give them a good event on top of the tennis.
RANDY WALKER: We want to thank everyone for joining us today. We want to thank especially Andy, and we’ll see you starting in Birmingham next month.
By Mark McCormick
Canada, a country that is so passionate for hockey, has had their eyes on tennis lately. Tennis? Canada is one of the coldest countries in the world, but that hasn’t stopped the rapid rise of tennis star Milos Raonic from training. The 2013 season has been a groundbreaking year for the young Canadian, cracking into the world’s top 10 for the first time in Canadian tennis history, reaching his first Masters 1000 Series final, and leading his country to the Davis Cup semifinals.
In an interview with AskMen, Raonic talks about his rise in Canadian tennis. “The pressure is really what you make of it, and I like to make more for myself than anyone else will, so I always push myself. The responsibility I have is a great thing, from helping tennis grow in Canada, but also in the future, being able to do stuff through my foundation, helping kids. And helping everyone I can, and really trying to make a difference.”
The 22-year-old is one of the youngest in the top 100, and has shown no signs of stumbling in the rankings. The 6’5” Canadian has a booming serve, and a big forehand. The powerful shots that Raonic possesses show a glimpse of what could possibly be the future of tennis.
Earlier in the summer this year, Raonic hired former top player Ivan Ljubicic as his full time head coach. Ljubicic’s work with Raonic has shown positive results. The months of August and September were important for Raonic. In the big matches he played, however, he didn’t make that big step. When Raonic reached his first Masters 1000 Series finals in Montreal in August, he had Canada on his back. The final for Raonic was a bit of a disappointment for Canadian fans, when Raonic fell 6-2 6-2 to Rafael Nadal. Granted, he was playing against one of the greatest players of all time, but this was a big chance to make a statement. Sadly, his nerves got the best of him.
A couple weeks later, he made the fourth round at Flushing Meadows. He reached the fourth round there last year, and had a legitimate chance to get into his first Grand Slam quarterfinal ever. He was playing against world No. 9 Richard Gasquet. Gasquet hadn’t been in a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam since 2007. Raonic dictated for most of the match, until fatigue came in late in the fourth set. Raonic was leading two sets to one, with several break points to go up a break early in the fifth set, but failed to capitalize again.
Nine days after his exit at the U.S. Open, Raonic led the Canadian tennis team into its first Davis Cup semifinal in over a century. Canada held a 2-1 lead going into the final day of the semi’s, but fell 3-2, with Raonic losing to Djokovic in the fourth rubber.
A wild stretch of firsts for Raonic ended in disappointments, but his run isn’t going to end yet this year.
En Bangkok, en route to the title, Raonic dismantled Feliciano Lopez in straight sets 6-4 6-3. His statistics were off the charts. Raonic had 19 aces serving at 86% for the whole match, and gave up eight points on his serve the whole match!
Raonic’s best surface is indoor hard courts. The post U.S. Open Asia swing is mostly played on hard courts and indoor hard courts. The Paris Masters is a big event for Raonic to make a deep run in. This tournament is played indoors, and is the one Masters 1000 tournament that lacks the most top players. His confidence is high still despite tough losses, and has a legitimate shot at making the ATP World Tour Year End Finals, which is also played indoors.
What does 2014 hold for Raonic? Big things. His unforced errors have cut down immensely, especially on his backhand. His inside out forehand is huge on the return game. His main focus in the off season has to be working on his return game. If Raonic can get more balls into play on the return, he has a better chance of getting into rallies, and trying to put himself into position to run around a forehand and put the ball away.
Raonic opens up his 2014 season at the Brisbane International, where he will be one of the top seeds going into the event. He lost in the second round last year in Brisbane, so he will have a chance at gaining points to boost his ranking. He’ll get a week after Brisbane to recuperate and head into the Australian Open most likely as a top 16 seed. This time, he’ll have a more favorable draw at the Grand Slam he plays best at. If he gets matched up in any of the top 8’s quarters except Nadal, Murray and Djokovic, he will have a serious shot at making his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
From the Asia swing to mid-February, Raonic can make his statement known on the hard courts. His chances of cracking into the top 8 are very likely. He has already proven to tennis fans how much of a threat he is from his results this summer. It may be a slight surprise to see his name ranked among the names of Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal, but come February, it may happen. Don’t be surprised if you see the name Milos Raonic on sports headlines in mid-January, because his hard work and talent is going to be known to all sports fans very soon.
Gun Shots, Protesters, Bomb Scares and Religious Fanatics – The Most Unusual Delays In Tennis History
By Randy Walker
There is nothing worse than when you are locked into playing – or watching – a great tennis match and there is a delay in play. Rain and sometimes darkness are the most commons delays in play but in the history of tennis, there have been some rather unusual ways where play was delayed.
Here are six of the most unusual delays as documented in my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY, which is also a mobile app (www.TennisHistoryApp.com) listed in no particular order. Which one do you think is the strangest? Please share any other worthy episodes in the comment section below or via [email protected].
March 18, 1984 – A bomb scare forces the Rotterdam men’s singles final between Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors to be called off. Lendl sweeps through the first set, 6-0, and breaks service in the first game of the second set when the police, reacting to an anonymous telephone call, order the evacuation of the Ahoy Sports Hall. The caller, claiming to represent an anti-capitalism movement, tells the police that a bomb had been placed close to center court. A search does not yield any suspicious articles, and spectators are then allowed to return to their seats. However, the crowd is then informed that Lendl and Connors would not be resuming their match. Wim Buitendijk, the organizer of the Grand Prix tournament, fails to persuade Lendl to stay and finish the match. He says Connors may have been persuaded to resume the game but ”Lendl was not prepared to take any risks.”
March 30, 1980 – Bjorn Borg dominates Manuel Orantes 6-2, 6-0, 6-1 in the final of the Nice Open in France in a match delayed by 25 minutes when a group of local physical education students storm the court and stage a “sit-in” to protest their department being closed by the French education ministry.
April 16, 1977 – Anti-apartheid protestors spill oil on court to protest the United States competing against South Africa and disrupt the doubles match between Stan Smith and Bob Lutz and Frew McMillan and Byron Bertram in Newport Beach, Calif. U.S. Captain Tony Trabert hits one of the two protestors with a racquet before police apprehend the culprits. After a 45-minute delay to clean the oil, Smith and Lutz defeat McMillan and Bertram 7-5, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to give the United States an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the South Africans.
April 27, 2006 – The only thing bothering Rafael Nadal during his 6-4, 6-2 second round match with Spanish qualifier Ivan Navaro-Pastor at the Barcelona Open is a female intruder, who bursts onto the court and handcuffs herself to the net post. Nadal is leading 6-4, 4-0 when the woman enters the court and a brief delay ensues while the protester is cut loose and taken away by security guards.
September 4, 1977 – James Reilly, a 33-year-old resident of New York City, is shot in the left thigh as a spectator at the John McEnroe – Eddie Dibbs third-round night match at the U.S. Open at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. The shooting, from a .38 caliber gun, occurs at the start of the match near Portal 8 in the north section of the stadium and delays play for about six minutes as Reilly is taken from the stands to the first aid station and then to nearby St. John’s Hospital. Most of the 6, 943 fans in attendance are not aware that a shooting had occurred. Police conclude it was likely a shot that came from outside the stadium. McEnroe wins the best-of-three set match 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
October 20, 1985 – A religious fanatic walks on the court, serves drinks to Ivan Lendl and Henri Leconte and preaches a sermon in the middle of the final round match of the Australian Indoor Championships in Sydney. In the ninth game of the third set, the man, wearing a caterer’s uniform, walks onto the court with a tray with two glasses of orange juice and religious pamphlets that he presents to both Lendl and Leconte. Reports the Associated Press of the incident, “To the astonishment of the players, officials and crowd, he put the tray down in the center of the court and proclaimed loudly, ‘I would like to bring these gentlemen two drinks.’ He then began babbling about the evil of credit cards and the devil before being escorted away by embarrassed officials. The tournament was sponsored by a credit finance company.” Says Lendl of the incident, “I was really, really mad at that. Not for the security reason, but because they were too gentle with him. They should have been rougher with him.” Lendl wins the match from Leconte by a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 margin.
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
A few months ago, we looked at John Isner and his apparent distance away from the red clay. We went through his good match history on clay and how, when he played up to his potential, he could challenge just about anyone in the world. It was also puzzling, though, why Isner wouldn’t take opportunities to play more on clay and further that aspect of his game.
Well, it looks like Isner has finally decided to go for it. He played in Houston, the only clay court tournament in the United States. This isn’t really surprising, though. Many Americans come to this tournament as a matter both of pride and collecting a bit of money. Also, it is a good introduction to the clay season and often has a relatively weak field, allowing decent players to get more match play on the dirt (when Andy Roddick has won a clay tournament three times, you know the fields can’t be that strong).
Isner started off this year in a bit of a slump, to put things mildly. He reached a few semifinals of 250-level tournaments but has some bad losses and hasn’t really looked good all year. He was forced to skip the Australian Open with a fluke knee injury and hasn’t been able to find much of a rhythm this season. In Indian Wells, where he was defending a semifinal showing, Isner lost his first match to Lleyton Hewitt. He managed to win one match in Miami before being beaten by Marin Cilic without much trouble. And Isner was easily handled by Djokovic in Davis Cup, but there is no shame in that.
Now, though, is where Isner is getting smart. He won the tournament in Houston, beating some good clay-courters along the way. You could see his confidence increase in each successive match. He was playing attacking tennis, taking everything in his hitting zone and absolutely blasting it.
Isner is not the most precise baseline player and having to hit low, awkward balls is a problem for him. But on clay, everything bounces up. He keeps enough spin on the ball to keep it coming back where he can just tee off on it. I’ve joked before that Isner doesn’t need to ever hit anything other than his massively high-bouncing kick serves. And while that is obviously an exaggeration, the point behind it stands. Isner was made to play on high-bouncing clay.
Isner took a very late wild card to come and play Monte Carlo, the optional Masters 1000 event on the tour. He had a very short turnaround from Houston (he played his first Monte Carlo match less than 48 hours after the Houston final and over a quarter of that gap was spent travelling across the Atlantic, time difference included), something he probably didn’t expect when he got the wild card. He played well against Gulbis before succumbing to fatigue and an injury, but the match did show that he kept to his strategy of attacking everything in his hitting zone. He now has 3 weeks to heal and rest up as he will not play between Monte Carlo and the two Masters events in May.
Isner seems to have realized that clay is the surface that he can really hit his stride on. Deciding to play Monte Carlo is a great sign from him, regardless of how it turned out. At 27, Isner is not one of the younger guys on tour anymore. You almost get the feeling that if he wants to have a breakthrough stretch of his career, it has to come during this year’s clay season. And, well, at least he’s giving himself a chance to do that.
Balanced among four continents, the Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals illustrate the diversity of excellence in this sport. From Vancouver, Canada to Astana, Kazakhstan, each of the ties contains multiple storylines that we discuss in a preview.
Canada vs. Italy: Choice of surface often plays a crucial role in handing the home team a Davis Cup advantage, and such may prove the case again when a nation of fast-court players hosts a nation of clay specialists. While Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini excel on the prevailing surface of Europe, the edge swings to the massive serves of Milos Raonic and the similarly aggressive style of Vasek Pospisil on the indoor hard court that Canada has laid in Vancouver. Thumping Davis Cup superpower Spain in this arena to start 2013 World Group play, Raonic and his compatriots should have gained a valuable boost of confidence, albeit a little mitigated by the Canadian No. 1’s recent illness. If Pospisil’s youth undoes him against the more experienced Italians, doubles specialist Daniel Nestor might suffice to supplement Raonic’s effort in propelling Canada through. He has accumulated more renown in that area than any of the Italians, although Pospisil may be the weakest link of the four on the court. The Canadians certainly will hope to win in three or four rubbers, for nobody wants to gamble on what Italian No. 2 Fognini can produce when inspiration strikes him.
USA vs. Serbia: With world No. 1 Novak Djokovic towering ominously above this tie, Team USA must rest its hopes on winning the three rubbers that he does not play. Or must they? Both of the American singles players, Sam Querrey and John Isner, defeated Djokovic on hard courts last season. Querrey’s victory came on fast indoor courts in Paris, perhaps similar to those in Boise, while Isner’s triumph came on the marquee stage of Indian Wells, illustrating his tendency to excel on home soil. Appearing to nurse an abdominal strain in Miami, Djokovic produced one of his least impressive performances on the spring hard courts in years and can fluster under the pressure of overpowering serves. Much less impressive all season are the two American giants, however, so sustaining a Djokovic-stifling level of play in a best-of-five format seems beyond their grasp. Instead, they will hope to win the doubles behind Bob and Mike Bryan and pounce on Serbian #2 Viktor Troicki. Despite a first-round setback against Brazil, the Bryans almost always deliver for Team USA. But Troicki holds a 5-2 edge over Querrey and Isner, so they will need all of the assistance that the home crowd can give them to make it 5-4.
Argentina vs. France: Arguably the best Davis Cup team on paper, France enjoys the rare balance of star power and depth not only two top-15 singles players but an elite doubles squad in Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra. Still, all of the Frenchmen will confront the challenge of playing on their worst surface against a team playing on its best. Hoping that home-court advantage will narrow the talent gap, Argentina welcomes them to the Parque Roca with clay specialists Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq. The former man has watched his ranking skid this year as he has not won a match outside Davis Cup, but he did sweep his two first-round rubbers against Germany. Playing above his usual level in that tie, Berlocq defeated French No. 2 Simon twice in three clay meetings last year, which could offer the Argentines an edge if the tie reaches a fifth rubber. To do so, and circumvent French No. 1 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, they likely would have to win the doubles match with their seasoned pair of Horacio Zeballos and David Nalbandian. Those two have played many a Davis Cup thriller before and usually rise to the occasion, but Benneteau and Llodra usually do too, so the doubles could be the highlight of the weekend.
Kazakhstan vs. Czech Republic: If this regularly overachieving group of Kazakhs stunned a Czech team in their native Ostrava two years ago, they must feel sanguine about their chances against the Czechs in Kazakhstan. More important than the location of the tie, moreover, is the absence of Czech #1 Tomas Berdych, which leaves a massive void in the visitors’ singles lineup. Stepping into the gap, Lukas Rosol hopes to recapture the magic that he found on a single day at Wimbledon but that has eluded him since then. Neither Rosol nor the other Czech singles entrant, Jan Hajek, boasts much experience of success in Davis Cup. In contrast, this same Kazakh team has delivered surprise after surprise against favored opponents in this competition. Lurking in the doubles and perhaps in the Sunday reverse singles, Radek Stepanek must fill the leadership role for the defending champions, but the 34-year-old’s energy is limited and skills fading. Without a single man in the top 150, the home team should reach the World Group semifinals for the first time. Whether this reflects poorly or well on Davis Cup is open to debate.
By Romi Cvitkovic
March 14, 2013 — The U.S. Tennis Association said Thursday that they are working closely with the Serbian media outlet Sportska Centrala to sort through miscommunications regarding media credentials for the upcoming USA vs. Serbia Davis Cup series April 5-7 in Boise, Idaho.
Multiple USTA media representatives reached out to representatives of Tennis Grandstand Thursday to communicate that procedures for applying for the media credentials were not handled properly, thus the application for reporter Nebojsa Petrovacki was denied. Petrovacki is a former editor-at-large for Sportska Centrala, has covered dozens of ATP and WTA events over the last ten years, and is currently at the BNP Paribas Open as credentialed media.
While the Serbian Tennis Federation had stated in a correspondence with Sportska Centrala’s editor in chief, Alex Krstanovic, that only one Serbian journalist was credentialed for the series to their knowledge, the USTA said Thursday that at least four outlets were approved to cover the matches. According to the USTA, of those credentialed, only one applied as print media while the rest were internet or television applications.
Krstanovic, in an email on Thursday, said that in the media outlet’s original application for the Davis Cup tie, the Serbian Tennis Federation supported their reporter’s request for a credential, and had followed up with the International Tennis Federation on Thursday morning regarding the situation as well.
However, the USTA detailed that initial proper steps were not fully executed by the media outlet to warrant approval of the credential request upon original review.
The USTA has reached out to Petrovacki, and pending that proper steps are taken by the media outlet, the USTA “foresees (Petrovacki) getting re-credentialed” for the Davis Cup event in April.
With world No. 1 Novak Djokovic scheduled to participate as well as the soon-to-be named US team of John Isner, Sam Querrey, and Mike and Bob Bryan, the Davis Cup quarterfinal between the two tennis powerhouse countries is selling out fast. Secure your tickets here.
This article is a follow up to Wednesday’s piece on the denial of reporter Nebojsa Petrovacki’s credential request for the Davis Cup.
By Maud Watson
Rafael Nadal’s comeback officially commenced earlier this week in Chile, and it’s already been a success with the Spaniard winning both his opening doubles and single matches by identical score lines of 6-3 and 6-2. There were a few anxious moments at the start of his singles match. Nadal had to shake off rust and nerves to bounce back after falling down an early break, but he quickly found his footing. It wasn’t his most dominant outing, but after seven months out of the game, only a fool would have expected him to put on a clinic. The important thing is that he got the win, and he’s moving beautifully. The only negative for Nadal this week is his own insistence, and even more so his Uncle Toni’s, on discussing the knees in too much detail. The narrative changed from the knees being 100% before the Aussie Open to now being a potential liability through the end of February. It’s the classic strategy of the Nadal camp to downplay his chances and lay the groundwork to explain away a loss, and it’s getting old and completely unnecessary. Few will be surprised if he suffers an odd loss in the initial stages of his comeback. Just once it would be nice if they would let Nadal’s tennis do the talking. He’s too talented and accomplished of a player to continually use such tactics.
Leading the Charge
Murray probably didn’t make too many friends in the locker room, but you have to applaud his willingness to take the helm regarding tennis and PEDs. The Scot has been very outspoken about keeping the sport clean and recently suggested players should consider donating some of their prize money to help the cause. Presumably he was referring to having the prize purses reduced in order to allow the ATP to provide additional funding to cover more frequent and various types of testing. Though it’s easy for a top player like Murray to make such a suggestion, it’s unlikely his line of thinking will be popular with his peers, especially the lower-ranked players who don’t rake in the big bucks. But Murray is right to keep the issue in the spotlight and demand greater efforts be made to keep the sport clean. The fallout from the Lance Armstrong scandal cannot be ignored, it’s naïve to think that such a thing could never happen (or isn’t ongoing?) in tennis.
For the first time in its history, Canada has reached the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup, and the Raonic-led Canadian squad did so by knocking out powerhouse Spain. The win is much bigger on paper than in reality. Spain was missing many of its top players, but as the saying goes, you can only beat who’s in front of you. It’s a tremendous accomplishment for the boys from Canada. They’ll face Italy in the quarterfinals, which means they’re in with a real opportunity to keep the momentum going. Davis Cup also has a history of acting as a springboard for young talents, so perhaps the success from last weekend will help Raonic begin to realize his full potential and post better results.
John Isner continues to endure woes in 2013, with his latest coming in the form of a five-set loss to Belucci in the Davis Cup this past weekend. Querrey stepped in to save the US from embarrassment by coming through in the fifth and deciding rubber, but the victory must have felt a little hollow to teammate Isner. Not only did he fail to close out the tie, but his loss to Belucci marked his six consecutive five-set loss. Isner only made his situation worse when he complained about the Brazilian fans. He’s entitled to his opinion, and it’s refreshing when a player is honest. But really? It’s Davis Cup for crying out loud. There were undoubtedly plenty of American fans yelling and disrupting the Brazilian players, and even Bob Bryan got a little overzealous and upset the Brazilian bench. Isner’s complaints came off as nothing more than sour grapes. His issue is between the ears and lack of a return game. Until he addresses those two liabilities, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
The Indian Wells event and ATP are once again butting heads over a potential prize money increase, and this time, the folks at Indian Wells have issued an ultimatum – if the ATP doesn’t approve the desert tournament’s proposed increase, it will revert back to 2011 levels. The issue was previously voted on last December by the ATP Board of Directors, and it resulted in a deadlock 3-3 with ATP CEO Drewett opting to abstain. Not surprisingly, it’s the three tournament directors who voted against the increase, and Indian Wells Tournament CEO Raymond Moore has had less than kind words to say about those directors. In defense of the tournament directors, however, you can see where they’re coming from. Some tournaments could definitely afford to be more generous with the prize purses, but many don’t have access to the same kind of money that’s backing Indian Wells and never will. It’s only natural to want to avoid seeing one event substantially outdistance the rest of the non-majors. But if the players want it, Indian Wells is willing to pay, and the WTA Board also approved the increase, the ATP Board of Directors should seriously consider falling in line. They’re apt to have a bigger mess on their hands if prize money at the year’s first Masters event reverts to prize money levels lower than in 2012. We haven’t heard the last of this, and it’s likely to only get uglier before it’s resolved.
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
Davis Cup is one of the most exciting tournaments in the tennis world. However, it is also one of the most enigmatic and frustrating. It does not even come close to the Slams in terms of importance of prestige. But for some fans, a Davis Cup match can be so much more meaningful than any Grand Slam match.
First of all, Davis Cup actually allows the fans to get involved. All of those fan-kept “rules” about etiquette and niceties go out the window in Davis Cup. You are the fans of the home team, and that means you do whatever you can to help your team win. An opponent makes an error, you cheer loudly. The opponent double-faults, you can clap. The opponent begins to argue with the umpire, you never allow him to live it down. It might be a competition of countries, but the basis of this tournament really is the fans.
And that, above all else, is why this tournament can be so incredibly frustrating for the fans. Often, the matches mean more to the fans than to the players themselves. We often don’t see the top players compete, whether due to fatigue (since Davis Cup always follows shortly after a big tournament) or due to an unwillingness to risk injury. Sometimes it just isn’t feasible for these top guys to play Davis Cup on top of the rest of their schedules.
This creates a curious case where Davis Cup doesn’t really represent the best countries in the world. We’ll leave aside, for now, the fact that one player can essentially win an entire tie by himself (by winning two singles matches and carrying his doubles team, as Bjorn Borg was famous for doing). But often, we just don’t get the best of a country actually being represented.
Take, for example, the first-round match of Spain vs. Canada from this year. On paper, this match is a blowout. Canada has three players in the top 100. Spain has 4 in the top 25 (3 if you don’t count a recovering Nadal). Now, this match could have been interesting anyway. Canada was the home country and chose a fast indoor court that suited their players much more than the Spanish. Milos Raonic’s massive serve can make any match close. Canada was the upstart country looking to pull off a massive upset against world power Spain. There were plenty of storylines and a good amount of intrigue to go with this match. Unfortunately, none of that is what we got.
Most of the top Spanish players in the world just couldn’t be troubled to play this tie. Spain brought in 3 singles players for this tie. They were, respectively, the #5, #8, and #11 ranked Spaniards at the moment. None of Spain’s current or former top 10 players (Nadal, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, and Fernando Verdasco) could show up. I’m sure they all had good reasons and won’t go into individual ones here. That’s not the point. The point is that this is indicative of the lack of importance many top players give Davis Cup.
We were supposed to have a blowout here with some upset potential for Canada. Instead, what we got was a blowout by Canada. In the three live singles rubbers, the Spaniards won exactly one set—Albert Ramos took the first set off Raonic in a tiebreak. After that, it was all Canada. Frank Dancevic slaughtered Marcel Granollers, the top Spanish player competing, to the tune of only losing 5 games. And Raonic finished things off in the first rubber on Sunday, beating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets as well.
Most of what comes out of this tie is the great story of an up-and-coming tennis country using home soil to beat the #1 seeded country. But let’s be fair and clear. The Spanish team that competed this past weekend was not the same team that earned that #1 ranking. And that, above all, is the enigma of Davis Cup. It means so much to the fans, but circumstances keep the players from being able to give it their all. Would better Spanish players have shown up had the tie been in Spain? Almost definitely. But now the Spanish fans won’t get to see their team in later rounds. Davis Cup is an incredible opportunity for the fans, but can only remain that way if the players have enough incentive to actually compete.