French Davis Cup supporters take stand

The reigning Davis Cup champions have made their feelings about the proposed “revamp” fairly clear, offering an impassioned defence of the current format.

And the players are not alone. Their merry band of traveling fans unfurled a banner during the playing of the “La Marseillaise”, prior to the start of the country’s quarterfinal tie against Italy in Genoa Friday.

The fans also are wearing black headbands as a symbol of their fundamental issues with the International Tennis Federation’s plan to turn it into a once-a-year, big-bucks event at a neutral venue in Asia.

Mecir out as Slovakia’s Davis Cup captain

As an independent nation, Slovakia has known only one Davis Cup captain.

But after 24 years, Miloslav Mecir is stepping down due to unspecified health issues.

He’s only 53; Mecir was just 26 when his playing career ended because of back problems.

Had he been able to go one more year, he would have become the all-time longevity leader. With his retirement, he remains tied with Australia’s Neale Fraser. 

Slovakia spent seven years in the World Group, and reached the final in 2005. The Slovaks lost at home to Croatia in a fifth and deciding rubber that year.

Unsportsmanlike fine for Clezar

The Davis Cup website described the unsportsmanlike conduct that earned Brazil’s Guilherme Clezar a $1,500 fine Friday in Osaka, Japan as a “gesture” that was reported after the match.

Yes, he went there.

Clezar stretched out his eyes after a Japanese linesperson made an incorrect call against him, later overturned by Hawkeye.  

The Brazilian Tennis Federation posted on Facebook that Clezar “had no intention of being aggressive or prejudiced. Even so, the athlete apologizes to everyone who so understood.” Clezar apologized on Instagram.

No one’s buying that one, bud.

Kyrgios and Kokk tell bad dad jokes

In the leadup to this weekend’s Davis Cup semifinal ties, the players have done a few of these videos (the French and Serbs played “Game of Phones”).

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis (who ended up being substituted for by John Millman shortly before Friday’s kickoff) traded bad dad jokes.

When it comes to those, it’s really all in the delivery.

Here’s an example:

“What’s the difference between a snowman and a snowwoman”? 

The answer: SNOWBALLS!

Get it? (Ask your dad).

Quick stick switch for Laaksonen

When Henri Laaksonen lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the first round of the US Open, he was playing with a Wilson racket. As he had for several years.

Two weeks later, playing No. 1 for Switzerland against Belarus in Davis Cup Friday, Laaksonen has made a major change.

Laaksonen was using Technifibre sticks. It’s likely not a change made for money (no stencil). But the turnaround may have been too quick.

He lost in straight sets to Yaraslav Shyla, ranked No. 390.

Flying to China in between probably didn’t help.

How to be a tennis nation, by France

It takes generations for a country to build a great tennis culture. But it helps if you have top players for them to emulate.

It’s even better if you invite a 4,000 kids to watch them practice, as the French Federation did with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille in Lille ahead of its semi-final Davis Cup tie with Serbia.

They’re playing the tie on (indoor) clay, even if that’s a surface most haven’t played on since the French Open. No Djokovic, Troicki or Tipsarevic for Serbia.

Depleted Argentines head to Kazakhstan

It’s not the only team competing with less than its best this weekend.

But defending Davis Cup champion Argentina headed to Kazakhstan this weekend – a tie it must win to even remain in the World Group – with a less-than-optimal lineup.

Diego Schwartzman is there. But del Potro, Mayer, Delbonis and Zeballos all took a pass. The No. 2 singles player (Guido Pella) is only the No. 6 player in Argentina.

Andres Molteni, a 29-year-old doubles specialist, and Maximo Gonzalez, at 33, will make their Davis Cup debuts in a pretty crucial situation.

Jet-lagged US Davis Cup squad all win openers in Houston

When the top players point to scheduling issues when defending their lack of total devotion to Davis Cup, they’re not just whining.

The US Davis Cup players crossed the world twice in a week to defend their nation’s colours, first to Brisbane to take on the Aussies then back the U.S. to meet their commitment to the only American tournament played on red clay, this week in Houston.

All four played at the Miami Open, and may have had a few days at home before going all the way Down Under to Brisbane for a World Group quarter-final tie last weekend. The U.S. No. 1, Jack Sock, also got sick along the way.

The Americans went down to defeat at the hands of Nick Kyrgios and his squad. They then got right back on a plane Monday to return to the U.S., to the Houston event.

Sock, John Isner, Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey – luckily for them – are the top four seeds at the tournament. Even more luckily, it’s a 28-player draw so the top four seeds all received first-round byes.

Jet-lagged, disappointed but undeterred, the four all took the court Thursday for their second-round matches. All managed to pull out victories although none of them were routine.

Sock will play No. 6 seed Feliciano Lopez in the quarter-finals Friday. Johnson will play No. 5 Fernando Verdasco,  Querrey No. 8 seed Thomaz Bellucci and Isner – who had the toughest one of all in his tournament opener – will play 20-year-old American wild card Ernesto Escobedo.

At some point, it’ll all hit them. But the tournament, which relies heavily on the Americans to generate interest and sell tickets, surely appreciates their efforts.

Late start on the terre battue for all

The American players don’t necessarily run over the Europe for the real clay-court season as early as they could at the best of times. Still, it’s no surprise that none of the four signed up for the Monte Carlo Open, set for next week and designated a Masters 1000 event (with the prize money and points that go along with that).

None of the four will play either of the two clay-court events the week after that, in Barcelona and Budapest the week of April 24. A little recovery time before the meat of the season through the French Open at Wimbledon is a smart move.

Ryan Harrison is the only American in the Monte Carlo main draw, as of today.


Novak Djokovic, the lone top player this week, talks about Davis Cup

The scheduling issues the top ATP Tour players have with Davis Cup are well known. Tennis.Life’s Barry Buss touched on this earlier in the week in his preview.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t care about it.

They do.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic is the only top player in action during this weekend’s Davis Cup ties (Serbia clinched against Spain in Sunday’s doubles). He played at home in Belgrade, even though it’s on a fast indoor hard court and he’s in somewhat of a funk; he probably should be at home in Monte Carlo, practicing on clay preparing for his “home” event, which begins in 10 days.

Djokovic was 16 when he made his Davis Cup debut, in a Group II first-round tie for (then) Serbia & Montenegro, in a dead fifth rubber.

Since then, he has played 38 singles rubbers (31-7) and six doubles rubbers (3-3) and has taken part every year except for 2012 and 2014.

Here he is talking about what Davis Cup means to him.

Injured Davis Cup umpire Arnaud Gabas back at work

KEY BISCAYNE – The Davis Cup incident last month involving Canadian Denis Shapovalov and chair umpire Arnaud Gabas has had a happy ending, as the French umpire is back at work this week on the ITF women’s circuit.

Shapovalov knew immediately that he was in big, big trouble after the Davis Cup incident.

Gabas’ eye socket was fractured after Shapovalov, the 17-year-old who was put in a position to try to win a fifth and deciding rubber for Canada against Great Britain in Ottawa in early February, lost his cool and swung at a ball with all his lefty might.

It might have hit a kid in the crowd, or a teammate. It ended up getting Gabas in the eye. The fallout was that the teenager was defaulted, and Great Britain advanced.

Shapovalov was disconsolate afterwards. The incident made international headlines as the worst possible outcome of the increasing number of ball firing and racquet-smashing incidents.

It even came up last week at the Miami Open, resulting in some input from no less than Nick Kyrgios.

Shapovalov talked to Tennis.Life about the aftermath in late February, at an ITF Futures event held in Gatineau, Que. – just a few miles from the scene of the incident.

Gabas would have worked the Cherbourg Challenger and Marseille ATP event Shapovalov referenced in the interview. But he was at home recuperating. Gabas was also slated to umpire at Indian Wells and Miami.

He made his return this week at the Engie Open de Seine-et-Marne, a $60,000 (US) tournament in France.

His return was noted by Austrian player Tamira Paszek on her Snapchat feed.

Shapovalov himself Tweeted about it.

The eye doesn’t look 100 percent yet, though. And we’re told that he felt some discomfort in the eye during his first match; it may take some time to get back in “match shape” – a notion that doesn’t just apply to players, it seems!

Shapovalov’s ranking had hovered around No. 250 for more than six months after he upset Nick Kyrgios at the Rogers Cup in his Toronto hometown last summer. But he has made a big move since.

After the brief trip to France and a training week in Montreal in company of his frequent doubles partner and good pal Félix Auger-Aliassime, he has been on a tear.

Shapovalov’s singles record since then, as he begins play at a $75,000 Challenger event in Leon, Mexico Wednesday, has been a sterling 17-2.

He took the title at that Futures tournament in Gatineau (although not without losing control of his stick during a second-round match.

Shapovalov was on his way to another Futures title in Sherbrooke, Quebec when a case of food poisoning felled him before the semi-finals. Undeterred, he went up to the Challenger level and took the title in Drummondville, just outside Montreal, the following week. He followed it up with a trip to the finals at a Challenger in Guadalajara the week after that.

He defeated countryman and Davis Cup teammate Vasek Pospisil, as well as former top-15 player Jerzy Janowicz of Poland in Guadalajara.

Shapovalov’s once-stagnant ranking has now risen nearly 80 spots in a few weeks (there was no official rankings list Monday, as the ATP is in the middle of the Miami Open. Unofficially, he stands at a career-high No. 172.

The progress will be more than enough to earn Shapovalov a spot in the qualifying at the French Open in May. That comes less than a year after he won the juniors event at Wimbledon and wrapped up his junior career. A rise like this happens infrequently in the men’s game; typically it takes players a few years to get into the top 200 after making the transition.

As for Gabas, well, we’d expect to see him in Paris as well. If somehow they ended up assigned to the same court, that would truly be full circle – the happiest of endings.