The time has come! While Andrea has done a great job breaking down the World Group match-ups, I thought I’d spell out for you the specific reasons why you should set your alarm for 5AM, skip work, cancel all of your social plans, and dedicate your entire Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to the wonder that is Davis Cup.
10. The Newcomers
It’s been 8 years since Canada has been in the World Group. For Japan it’s been 27. In both cases the newcomers, led by youngsters Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori respectively, will be looking to prove that they belong with the big guns. Both teams have uphill battles- Japan hosts Croatia and Canada hosts France, but there’s nothing quite as exciting as fresh blood.
In a giant reversal of storylines, Federer is the only one of the “Big 4″ playing in Davis Cup this weekend. To top it off, he’s playing in Switzerland, against a depleted but still fun-to-beat American squad, and with good buddy Stanislas Wawrinka by his side. Love him or not, it will be fun to see the Legend soak in the well-deserved adoration and play in a team atmosphere on his home turf.
8. Russian Roulette
The Russian Davis Cup Team has undergone a bit of a makeover. Alex Bogomolov, Jr. is not only making his Russian debut, but he’s the team’s #1 player. Dmitry Tursnov and Igor Andreev, team mainstays, are absent while the struggling Nikolay Davydenko and the wildcard Igor Kunitsyn take their place. Mikhail Youzhny is coming off singles and doubles victories in Zagreb, but has been complaining to the press about an injured shoulder. All in all, there’s absolutely no telling what to expect from Team Russia as they travel to Jurgen Melzer’s Austria this weekend, and as always- that’s part of the fun.
7. Veterans Day
Some players have proven time and time again that they adapt to the Davis Cup atmosphere better than others. Whether it’s Melzer leading his Austrian team, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek becoming mental giants for the Czech Republic, or David Nalbandian discovering the game (and legs) of his youth, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing the veteran guys play their hearts out for their country.
6. The Battle of the Misfits
One of the ties I’m most looking forward to is Spain/Kazakhstan. The Spanish Davis Cup stalwarts (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, and Fernando Verdasco) who have dominated the team competition for the past few years are sitting out this year, paving the way for their less heralded countrymen (Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Legend and Former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez). Meanwhile Kazakhstan’s team is full of former Russians (Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Yuri Schukin, and Evgeny Korolev) who migrated over to the neighboring country for a chance to shine. It will be fun to see all of these former “back-ups” take the stage and fight for Davis Cup glory.
5. Tommy Haas
Do I really need to explain this one? The often injured but forever adored German (when he’s not American) is back in Davis Cup action for the first time in five years! How lucky are we? Let’s just sit back and enjoy.
4. The Other Groups
Believe it or not, the World Group Playoffs aren’t the only Davis Cup action happening this weekend. There are some pretty crucial ties happening in “Group I” and “Group II” (don’t you dare ask me to explain what that means). Teams in action that you might be interested in are: Ukraine (Sergiy Stakhovsky! Sergei Bubka- yes, Vika’s boyfriend!) vs. Monaco, Uzbekistan (Denis Istomin- am I the only one interested in him?) vs. New Zealand, Australia (Hewitt! Tomic! You know them!) vs. China, P.R., Great Britain (Murray-less) vs. Slovak Republic (starring recent ATP Zagreb finalist Lukas Lacko). You’d be amiss if you didn’t scavenge for some (surely static) streams for the lesser-known teams this weekend too.
3. The New Heroes
Every year Davis Cup weekend, especially the first round, breeds unheralded heroes. Something about the five-set format, the team unity, and the pressure/invigoration of playing for one’s country brings out the best in some unsuspecting players. Who will it be this weekend? Could Milos lead the Canadians past the accomplished French team? Could the upstart Japanese make Davis Cup history against Croatia? Could the Swedish team find a miracle and cause the Serbian team to sweat? As cliche as it sounds, expect a new Davis Cup legend to be born.
2. Double Trouble
Davis Cup is the time for Doubles to shine, and this weekend is no different. This weekend we have spectacular Doubles storylines: the reunions of fan favorites Fedrinka (Federer and Wawrinka) and Bendra (Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra), the eternal mystery of who the other Bryan Brother will be (Bob Bryan is home playing father duty, so either Mardy Fish, John Isner, or Ryan Harrison will take his place alongside Mike Bryan in Switzerland), and the always delightful Davis Cup return of BerdWorm (Berdych and Stepanek). Whether you’re a fan of doubles, awkwardness, hysteria, or just misplaced volleys, Saturday will be a special day for you.
1. The Cheerleaders
Let’s be honest- Davis Cup really isn’t about the tennis. It’s about seeing the bromance on the benches as the fellow team members watch and frazzle along with us. Nothing is as great as seeing a good cheerleader- whether it be Roger Federer on his feet urging on Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Carlos Ferrero fist-pumping a Nicolas Almagro winner, or John Isner and Ryan Harrison embracing when Mardy Fish gets to set point, there is no better reason to watch Davis Cup than to inspect the camaraderie on the benches.
Rajeev Ram beat Sam Querry 6-7 (3) 7-5 6-3 to win the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Agnes Szavay won the GDF Suez Grand Prix, beating Patty Schnyder 2-6 6-4 6-2 in Budapest, Hungary
Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Caroline Wozniacki 7-5 6-4 to win the Collector Swedish Open Women in Bastad, Sweden
Julia Goerges beat Ekaterina Dzehalevich 7-5 6-0 in Biarritz, France, to win the Open GDF Suez de Biarritz
Karol Beck won the Open Diputacion Ciudad de Pozoblanco in Pozoblanco, Cordoba, Spain, beating Thiago Alves 6-4 6-3
World Group Quarterfinals
Czech Republic Argentina 3-2; Croatia beat the United States 3-2; Israel beat Russia 4-1; Spain beat Germany 3-2
Americas Zone Group 1 Playoff: Peru vs. Canada; Group 2 Second Round: Venezuela beat Mexico; Dominican Republic beat Paraguay; Netherlands Antilles beat Jamaica; Bahamas vs. Guatemala
Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 Second Round Playoffs: Kazakhstan beat Thailand 5-0; Korea vs. China; Group 2 Second Round: Philippines beat Pakistan 3-2; New Zealand beat Indonesia 5-0; Group 2 Playoffs: Hong Kong-China beat Oman 5-0; Malaysia beat Kuwait 4-1
Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 Playoffs: Belarus beat FYR Macedonia 4-1; Group 2 Second Round: Slovenia beat Lithuania 5-0; Latvia beat Bulgaria 4-1; Finland beat Monaco 3-2; Cyprus beat Ireland 3-1; Group 2 Playoffs: Egypt beat Georgia 5-0; Hungary beat Moldova 3-2; Denmark beat Montenegro 3-2; Portugal beat Algeria 5-0
“It’s a beautiful way to celebrate my career. … I wish my dad would have been here today, but I know he’s here in spirit because without him I wouldn’t be sitting here today.” – Monica Seles, on her installation into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“These days don’t come around very often unless you’re (Roger) Federer or (Rafael) Nadal. There’s definitely pressure. … Winning tournaments is not normal on the tour for 99 percent of us.” – Rajeev Ram, after beating fellow American Sam Querry in Newport to win his first ATP title.
“I’m sorry I spoiled your (birthday) celebrations, but I promise I will buy you something instead.” – Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain, after beating Caroline Wozniacki on the Dane’s 19th birthday.
“For the first time I have absolutely nothing to say, usually I just can’t stop talking, and I started to cry like a little boy.” – Andy Ram, after teaming with Jonathan Erlich to win the doubles and clinch Israel’s first semifinal berth in Davis Cup competition.
“It was a great fight. At the end I was just fighting like a tiger. That was the difference, I think. It wasn’t about the tennis in that match. I was so close to losing.” – Agnes Szavay, after beating Patty Schnyder in the final in Budapest.
“I was so embarrassed to be with them that I called everybody sir. Those players have won Wimbledon, Davis Cup, Forest Hills, French Open, and I have one trophy, Monte Carlo.” – Andres Gimeno, who joined Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad and others on the pro tour before he won his only Grand Slam tournament title, the French Open, in 1972.
“It shows how important Andy is for the team. Being on the No. 2 spot is less pressure than playing on the No. 1 spot.” – James Blake, losing both of his singles matches after being forced to play No. 1 when Andy Roddick pulled out of the United States-Croatia Davis Cup quarterfinal tie with a hip injury.
SWEET DAY INDEED
In a string of circumstances, Andy Roddick’s hip injury may have been the catalyst that led to Rajeev Ram winning his first ATP title. When Roddick pulled out of Davis Cup with the injury, he was replaced by Mardy Fish, the top seed at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. Knowing he would get a spot in the main draw because of Fish’s leaving, Ram withdrew from his final round of qualifying, then became the tournament’s “lucky loser.” With rain curtailing play on Tuesday and Wednesday, Ram played eight matches over the last three days of the tournament as he became just the third player on the ATP World Tour this year to win both singles and doubles at the same event. He downed fellow American Sam Querrey 6-7 (3) 7-5 6-3 for the singles title, then teamed with Austria’s Jordan Kerr to beat Michael Kohlmann of Germany and Dutchman Rogier Wassen 6-7 (6) 7-6 (7) 10-6 (match tiebreak) in the doubles. Ram, playing in his fist ATP final and ranked 181 in the world, is the lowest ranked player to win a tournament this year. Until the Newport tournament, he had won a total of six career ATP matches.
In the biggest shocker of the Davis Cup weekend, Israel advanced to the semifinals of the World Group for the first time by upsetting Russia 4-1. The Israelis clinched the tie when Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich bested Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn to win the doubles and give their side an unassailable 3-0 lead over the two-time Davis Cup champions. “I actually can’t describe how I feel. … I am so proud to be an Israeli today, to be a part of this team, so proud to be part of this sport and Davis Cup tennis, it was a classic tie,” said Israel team captain Eyal Ran. Israel took a surprising 2-0 lead on the opening day when 210th-ranked Harel Levy upset Igor Andreev before Dudi Sela beat Mikhail Youzhny. Israel will take on defending champion Spain in the semifinals on September 18-20.
The other semifinal will pit two other surprising teams against each other. The Czech Republic edged Argentina, last year’s Davis Cup finalists, 3-1, while Croatia defeated the Andy Roddick-less United States 3-2.
The singles winners at the US Open will pocket at least a record USD $1.6 million. The two champions also can earn an additional USD $1 million in bonus prize money, which could help in building a new garage on their home since they will also receive a new 2010 Lexus IS convertible vehicle. The USTA announced that the total US Open purse will top USD $12.6 million, making it the third consecutive year that the prize money has increased by USD $1 million. In addition to the base purse of USD $21.6 million, the top three men and top three women finishers in the Olympus US Open Series may earn up to an additional USD $2.6 million in bonus prize money. And just in case that’s not enough to make ends meet, the US Open winners – like all the other players in the field – will receive per diem payments to help with the cost of accommodations and other expenses during their New York City stay.
Andre Agassi is returning to the US Open. Twice a champion in the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, Agassi will headline the opening night ceremony on August 31 as the US Open celebrates charity work by athletes. Agassi, who began the Andre Agassi Foundation in 1994, ended his 21-year career by retiring at the end of the 2006 US Open. His foundation has a charger school in Las Vegas, Nevada, which graduated its first senior class in June, sending all 34 students to college.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
The marathon Wimbledon final in which Roger Federer outlasted Andy Roddick was the most-watch All England Club men’s final in the United States in 10 years. NBC said an average of 5.71 million people tuned in to watch Federer win his record-setting 15th Grand Slam title, the most since Pete Sampras beat Andre Agassi in the 1999 final. The 3.8 rating and 10 share was the best for a men’s final since Sampras defeat4ed Patrick Rafter in 2000, and surpassed last year’s five-set battle between Federer and Rafael Nadal by nine percent. The fifth set of the Federer-Roddick match was the longest in major final history.
While in Newport, Rhode Island, to attend his colleague Donald Dell’s induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Ray Benton told the story about how he once advised Ivan Lendl that if he showed how much he enjoyed playing tennis it could help the bottom line. Benton, Lendl’s agent, theorized that if the stoic-looking Lendl just smiled and acted happy after he won matches, it would result in the player earning an additional USD $1 million dollars a year in endorsements. Benton said Lendl pondered the idea for a few moments, then said, “It’s not worth it.” Lendl, who won 94 singles titles in his career, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
SOMETHING TO PLAY FOR
The top mixed doubles team in the Advanta World TeamTennis Pro League will be playing on the big stage come this August. The mixed doubles team that finishes at the top of the WTT Pro League rankings will receive a wild card into the 2009 US Open mixed doubles tournament. More than 50 players are competing in the Advanta WTT Pro League this month for 10 franchises throughout the United States. “World TeamTennis has long featured some of the best players in the world, especially in doubles,” said WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss. “We are very excited to work with the USTA to provide our players with this opportunity to be rewarded for their high level of play.” World TeamTennis matches feature three sets of doubles – men’s, women’s and mixed – along with one set each of men’s and women’s single. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is a minority owner and promotional partner of World TeamTennis.
Spain reached back into the past to gain a victory in their Davis Cup tie against Germany. When Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer both pulled out of the World Group quarterfinal because of injuries, Juan Carlos Ferrero was added to the team. Then Spanish captain Albert Costa replaced Tommy Robredo with Ferrero in the decisive fifth match, and the former world number one bested Andreas Beck 6-4 6-4 6-4. It was the first time since 2005 against Italy that Spain won a fifth match to determine the outcome of a tie. It was Ferrero that time also who came away victorious. “It’s amazing what I felt on the court today,” Ferrero said. “It’s a long time I didn’t play Davis Cup competition and this tie for me was very special. To come back and play the last point, I felt amazing on the court.”
India’s Sania Mirza is making headlines for reasons beyond her tennis. In the latest incident, two engineering students have been arrested and accused of stalking her. All of this comes as she is being engaged to family friend Sohrab Mirza, whose father owns Universal Bakers chain in Hyderabad, India. The 23-year-old Sohrab is reportedly heading to the United Kingdom to pursue an MBA degree. Police said Ajay Singh Yadva was apprehended as he tried to barge into the tennis player’s house, apparently to profess his love. He was taken into custody when he refused to leave. Yadav’s arrest came a day after another student threatened to commit suicide if the engagement was not called off. Last month, the Andhra Pradesh state government found that a man had secured a white ration card showing Sania Mirza as his wife, complete with photos of the tennis star. White ration cards are meant for people living below the poverty line. The 22-year-old Mirza became the first Indian woman to climb into the top 40 in the rankings. At one time, the Muslim player was assailed by conservative elements of the Indian community for competing in short skirts and sleeveless shirts.
Former junior Australian Open champion Brydan Klein has been banned from the game for six months for racially abusing South African Raven Klaasen during an ATP event in England last month. The 19-year-old Australian also will undergo a racial sensitivity course and was fined USD $10,000 by the ATP. Australian media said Klein called Klaasen a “kaffir” and spat at his coach and another player. Klein earlier had been fined USD $13,290 by Tennis Australia, which suspended him from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and cut off his funding grants. “I sincerely regret my error in judgment in using the language I did and I am deeply sorry for the offense caused,” Australian Associated Press (AAP) quoted Klein as saying in a statement. “I am accepting the ATP’s ruling and am now looking to put the whole incident behind me. I will undergo a racial sensitivity course and am determined to learn from this mistake.” The suspension covers all ATP World Tour and ATP Challenger Tour events. The final two months of the suspension and extra fine will be waived if Klein successfully completes the racial sensitivity training course.
Jelena Dokic’s ailment has been diagnosed as mononucleosis. The illness has plagued Dokic since the end of the French Open. Blood tests taken after she lost at Wimbledon revealed the illness. She was told by doctors to do nothing but rest for at least two weeks. “I am disappointed to have to pull out of a couple of events, but I am also relieved to finally know what was wrong,” said Dokic, who once was ranked as high as fifth in the world before dropping off the tour with personal problems. “It has been so frustrating since the French. My natural work ethic is to get on court and train hard with intensity. I just haven’t been able to do that, and until now I didn’t know why.”
Todd Woodbridge is Australia’s new Davis Cup coach. A 16-time doubles Grand Slam tournament champion, Woodbridge has been appointed national men’s and Davis Cup coach in an expanded full-time role. Tennis Australia made the move in an effort to reverse the country’s flagging fortunes in the competition, which they have won 28 times, second only to the United States. Woodbridge is Australia’s longest serving Davis Cup player and was a member of the 1999 and 2003 Davis Cup winning teams. The country currently has only one player ranked in the top 100 in the world, Lleyton Hewitt. It ended its 2009 campaign by forfeiting a regional group tie against India earlier this year, claiming security concerns on the sub-continent.
SOME HELP NEEDED
Being that tweeting while playing is against the rules, Justin Gimelstob needed help to tweet during his doubles match at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. Gimelstob would write notes and give them to a ball girl who would run over to the side of the court where another person would post them on Gimelstob’s Twitter account. Some times he would mouth a few comments for the intern to post in between points. Most of the twittering was standard play-by-play recaps. “There’s so much competition for the entertainment dollar,” Gimelstob explained. “Fans want to know what goes on behind the scenes. Fans want to know what goes on in the players’ heads.”
The death of French tennis player Mathieu Montcourt has been attributed to cardiac arrest. Montcourt, who had just begun a five-week ban from tennis for gambling on other players’ matches, was found outside his apartment in Paris after he spent the evening at the home of Patrice Dominguez, technical director of the French Tennis Federation. Ranked 119th in the world, Montcourt was cleared of influencing the outcome of any of the matches he had bet on. He also had been fined USD $12,000 for the offense, which he called ridiculous since he had only bet a total of USD $192.
NH Hoteles has extended its sponsorship of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas for an additional three years. Originally a Spanish brand, NH Hoteles has grown to 348 hotels in 22 countries in Europe, Africa and the Americas. The International Tennis Federation (ITF), in making the announcement, noted that since NH Hoteles joined the Davis Cup family in 2004 as an international sponsor it has added 106 hotel properties to its portfolio.
Newport: Rajeev Ram and Jordan Kerr beat Michael Kohlmann and Rogier Wassen 6-7 (6) 7-6 (7) 10-6 (match tiebreak)
Bastad: Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta beat Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-2 0-6 10-5 (match tiebreak)
Budapest: Alisa Kleybanova and Monica Niculescu beat Alona Bondarenko and Kateryna Bondarenko 6-4 7-6 (5)
Biarritz: Yung-Jan Chan and Anastasia Rodionova beat Akgul Amanmuradova and Darya Kustova 3-6 6-4 10-7 (match tiebreak)
SITES TO SURF
Bad Gastein: www.matchmaker.at/gastein/
Los Angeles: www.latennisopen.com/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$600,000 Catella Swedish Open, Bastad, Sweden, clay
$600,000 Mercedes Cup, Stuttgart, Germany, clay
$125,000 Bogota, Columbia, clay
$220,000 Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo, Palermo, Italy, clay
$220,000 ECM Prague Open, Prague, Czech Republic, clay
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$1,500,000 Bet-at-Home Open, Hamburg, Germany, clay
$600,000 Indianapolis Tennis Championships, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, hard
$220,000 Banka Koper Slovenia Open, Portoroz, Slovenia, hard
$220,000 Gastein Ladies, Bad Gastein, Austria, clay
This weekend’s Davis Cup tie between Argentina and Great Britain was always going to be difficult. Since that glorious weekend in late September when Tim Henman bowed out of the game after sending his country back into the higher echelons of the competition, Argentina have been looming.
The joy soon turned to a knowing dread that all the hard work would ultimately be in vain against a squad boasting one of the most formidable and compatible Cup teams.
Nalbandian, Canas, Chela and Monaco all ranked within the top 25 and all except Nalbandian clay court specialists the surface on which the tie would be played.
Of course, since then the Argentines have also been weakened after the injury/loss of form of Canas, Chela and most recently Monaco who sustained an ankle injury last week in the Movistar Open in Chile.
The revised South American squad now includes lower ranked players like Agusten Calleri (41), Jose Acasuso (50) and 31-ranked doubles player Sebastian Prieto.
As flimsy as this may be against any other team, the GB outfit, without the services of main talisman Andy Murray is now the least impressive set of players in the group. Yes doubles maestro and disgruntled sibling Jamie Murray will prove invaluable but it is Alex Bogdanovic who is ranked the highest of the UK’s competitors. At 188 in the world Bogdanovic rests below no less than 19 Argentine players.
Jamie Baker and Davis Cup debutant Ross Hutchins will play some superb tennis despite being undoubtedly awed by the occasion and stature of their opponents, but the result is a foregone conclusion.
Once again the lack of commitment to an increasingly unimportant tournament and indeed the struggling state of British tennis when compared to every other nation in the world will be agonisingly exposed.