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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Elias throws a ball Bernardes. "If you do the same thing that the other 'unlucky' did… Don't do that. You are not like that, I know you". pic.twitter.com/uLniiMWakh
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.
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.