spanish armada

Spain’s Davis Cup Future; Judy Murray as New Fed Cup Captain – The Friday Five

by Maud Watson

Familiar Territory

The Spanish Davis Cup team was back to its winning ways as it captured the coveted trophy for the fifth time since the year 2000.  Despite an uninspiring display from their doubles duo, the singles performances by the Spanish Armada could not have been better.  What a difference a surface makes as Rafael Nadal, who sealed the victory for Spain with his defeat of Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth match, looked a far cry from the fatigued and insecure player that lost in London.  But as great as the performance from the Spanish No. 1 was, the biggest props should be going to his compatriot and Spanish No. 2, David Ferrer.  Often overshadowed by the man from Mallorca, it was Ferrer who came back from 2-1 down against a fresh del Potro to give Spain what turned out to be a crucial 2-0 lead going into Saturday’s doubles rubber.  It was also Ferrer who got Spain past arguably the biggest hurdle in their quest for the cup by single-handedly taking out the Americans on a hard court on their home soil to keep Spain in the hunt.  All in all, a great effort by the squad and congrats to Spain for yet another historic win.

Uncertain Future

But as the dust settles on another joyous Davis Cup win for Spain, Spanish fans will have much to be apprehensive about concerning their Davis Cup chances for next year and possibly beyond.  Nadal has already announced he won’t play for the team next season, and Ferrer appears to be hinting he won’t be either.  Ferrer is not only citing a focus on the Olympics, but his age as well, which means his pullout could be a permanent one.  Nadal is also said to be focusing on the Olympics, which means he may return to the team competition in 2013.  How many of Spain’s veterans may be willing to answer the call in 2012 remains unknown.  Couple that with the fact that some of Spain’s younger players may not be ready to step up to the plate, and a sixth title in the near future seems less certain than ever.  But Spain continues to develop great players, and still has a depth of talent to choose from.  Excluding France, it’s hard to name a nation in a better position to fill the void of missing its top stars.

Spare a Thought

Even the most hardcore Spanish fan would have to be heartless to not feel some sympathy for the player who seemed to take Argentina’s Davis Cup loss hardest, Juan Martin del Potro.  He left it all on the court in a devastating five-set defeat to Ferrer on the opening day of the tie – a loss that was all the more gut-wrenching since it was practically a must-win point with Nadal waiting to play the third singles on Sunday.  It was del Potro who also had that unenviable task of playing Nadal on Sunday to keep his country’s hopes alive, and what an effort he put forth.  He came out guns blazing to absolutely stun Nadal in the first, and up an early break in the second, it seemed the unthinkable might actually happen.  But then his game started to go off, Nadal settled into his own, and though he fought back from a break down multiple times in that fourth and deciding set, the Spanish Bull proved too tough.  The Argentine’s tears were completely understandable, but hopefully after he’s had time to recover, his coach is going to be able to spin his two losses into a positive.  He made great strides in his comeback this year, and perhaps had he been fresher, his offense a little sharper, he could have taken Nadal down in his own backyard.  If he continues on this path, Nadal is right.  Juan Martin del Potro could easily crack the Top 4 in 2012.

New Voice

We may never know the identity of Caroline Wozniacki’s mystery coach who was assisting her at the end of this past season, but we do know she has officially hired Ricardo Sanchez to coach her along with her father in 2012.  Wozniacki is happy to have Sanchez aboard, stating she feels comfortable with him and knows that he already knows her strengths and weaknesses.  One of his most recent charges was Jelena Jankovic, which makes the pairing seem even more perfect.  Wozniacki has a similar game to Jankovic, is less prone to injury, and most importantly, has a better attitude.  The Dane is ultimately going to have to develop some bigger weapons and get mentally stronger if she’s to capture that elusive first major, but hiring Sanchez has more than likely moved her one step closer to that goal.

New Role

She was the Scottish national coach for nine years, as well as the coach of a handful of other British players, including her two sons Andy and Jamie.  Now Judy Murray will take on her newest and most prominent coaching role as captain of the British Fed Cup Team.  She’s replacing previous captain, Nigel Sears, who left the job to coach former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.  Ultimately, a team’s chances of success are determined by the amount of talent that is on the squad, but with her no-nonsense approach to the game, Judy Murray may just prove the shot in the arm that British women’s tennis needs.  It’s one more change to look forward to in 2012 as we all wait to see what surprises next season will bring.

The Weekly Debrief – Top Moments of the Week

In the week following any Grand Slam, and especially right after the Spring slam combination of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, news is usually sparse. Even for us dedicated tennis devotees, it can feel like tennis overload at this point in the season. However, this week was an exception with Davis Cup action, an ATP 250-level tournament in Newport, Rhode Island, and a small soccer tournament you may have heard of in South Africa, the World Cup. Here is my Weekly Debrief of the Top Moments of the Week.

Top Four

1. The World Cup of soccer was played in South Africa between Holland and Spain yesterday. “How is this significant to tennis?” you may ask. Well, be not dismayed. After Rafael Nadal held up the winner’s trophy at this year’s Wimbledon, he announced he would skip the Davis Cup quarterfinals, receive platelet-infusion treatments on his knees, and fly down to South Africa to support the Spanish team in the Finals.

Rafa with one of the biggest smiles in tennis. Here, with women’s Wimbledon winner Serena Williams.

Rafa must have been a good cheerleader as Spain won 1-0. After the win, he was quoted as saying:

“I cried like a baby. We have to celebrate for a whole year, because this is unbelievable. It is very difficult to repeat this.”

2. Rafa wasn’t the only Spaniard in action this week. The entire Spanish Armada consisting of Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, and Nicolas Almagro took part in Davis Cup this week in France. Spain was the defending champion so their 0-5 loss to underdog France was a shock. But it seems that tennis may not have been the primary sport on their mind. Should we still be surprised that they lost given this?

3. In other Davis cup action, Argentina defeated Russia 3-2, Czech Republic took out Chile 4-1, and in the most controversial matchup, Serbia beat Croatia 4-1 in a fiery environment in the coastal city of Split, Croatia. The sign below was found near the Spaladium Arena were the event took place. It roughly translates into “Hang the Serbs. Never forget. Never forgive.” in reference to the political and cultural differences that have plagued this region of Europe for decades. Having myself been born in Split, Croatia and raised with the Serbian language in the United States, it is heart-breaking to hear that such anger is still existent between the two nations.

Despite the atmosphere in the Spaladium Arena, Serb Novak Djokovic ranked #2 was just happy that he won:

“It’s sensitive circumstances that we play in and considering the situation between the two countries that they had 20 years back and, of course, it’s still very fresh [in the mind],” he said. “We are professional athletes and tennis players and we don’t involve politics in sport. We want to perform our best for the country and win; that’s what I did today and in the end I got a nice appreciation from the crowd for what I have done today so this is what I remember from the match.”

Croat Ivan Ljubicic ranked #16 and a good friend of Djokovic’s said he was also annoyed by the chants from the crowd:

“They affected my concentration just as they did his,” he said. “It was strange to see guys, the crowd, whistling on Serbian anthem and the players and so loud on ours. You could feel the tension; you could feel the emotion so it was really difficult for me to play the first couple of games.”

4. Back on US soil, a newly-fit Mardy Fish won his fourth career title in Newport yesterday at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships.

But the tournament wasn’t without controversy. The first-round matchup which saw #552 Richard Bloomfield take out #160 Christophe Rochus drew suspicion of a betting scandal. A UK-based agency, Betfair, reported unusual betting changes in the hours just prior to the match and a rather hefty wager of $1.5 million riding on the match. Bloomfield, who had only won one tour-level match before this week, found himself in the semifinals before he lost to eventual champion Fish. Whether Bloomfield had any part in the scandal or was even aware of it is unsure at this point. He did, however, have the run of his life rising 260 spots to sit comfortably at world number 292 in today’s released rankings.

Another memorable moment from Newport came at the beginning of the tournament. Remember that 11 hour marathon match at Wimbledon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in the first round? Even though Mahut lost that encounter, he was granted a wildcard into the main draw here. He also stopped by the Hall to give a piece of tennis histroy: a signed shirt that he wore during that memorable Wimbledon match.

BONUS
Players usually drink electrolyte-infused water or some other liquid concoction to replenish their bodies on changeovers. On the Champions tour, they have come up with something quite different … beer. Watch as retired pro John McEnroe takes a few swigs before serving an ace to Goran Ivanisevic. If that’s the secret to serving in tennis, I’ll take a lifetime supply.

That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by at the beginning of every week for a recap of the ATP tour. We’ve got you covered!