Federer, Bouchard to hit Hopman Cup

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There’s still a long way to go in the 2017 season.

But let’s talk about the start of 2018 already, shall we?

One of the first events of the year is the Hopman Cup exhibition, a long-standing event held on the west coast of Australia in Perth.

This year’s dates are Dec. 30, 2017 to Jan. 6, 2018. There’s usually a rocking New Year’s Eve party involved, too.

The biggest thing about the 2017 edition was that it was where Roger Federer began his comeback, after six months away. 

It was a perfect choice – matches against quality opposition, but with no pressure, to gauge his form. It worked out well for him a few weeks later in Melbourne at the Australian Open.

The good news in Perth this year, as the event announced the field on Wednesday, is that Federer is back.

That was actually the event’s first official announcement, all the way back in June. And it’s a major coup with no less than three ATP Tour events – Brisbane, Doha and the Maharashtra Open in Pune, India (formerly the Chennai tournament) no doubt vying for Federer’s $ervices.

Joining Federer on Team Switzerland will be Belinda Bencic, the 20-year-old who has had injury issues of her own. So this time, it will be her comeback.

Bencic has won just one match all year on the WTA Tour. And she was sidelinedwith a wrist injury from early May, until her return at an ITF event last week.

Federer did have an epic – a 7-6 (1) 6-7 (4) 7-6 (4) loss to his occasional practice partner Alexander Zverev.

But Switzerland didn’t actually win; France (Richard Gasquet and Kristina Mladenovic) defeated them in the round-robin portion and won the whole thing.

France isn’t among the eight teams for 2018. Neither are Great Britain, the Czech Republic or Spain – all of which took part in 2017.

Joining Federer and Bencic will be Zverev and Angelique Kerber for Team Germany.

Zverev played with Andrea Petkovic last year; this will be Kerber’s first appearance in Australia.

As well, Canadians Vasek Pospisil and Genie Bouchard will team up. Bouchard played with countryman Milos Raonic back in early 2014 – shortly before Bouchard’s big breakout result at the Australian Open.

Bouchard teamed up with Pospisil the following year in 2015. She defeated Serena Wiliams there, and then reached the Australian Open quarterfinals a few weeks later.

Russia’s Karen Khachanov will team up with Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Hopman
Bouchard and Pospisil faced Serena WIlliams and John Isner at the Hopman Cup three years ago.

For Australia, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Daria Gavrilova will represent.

David Goffin and Elise Mertens will play for Belgium

For the USA, Jack Sock and Coco Vandeweghe will fly the flag.

And, last but not least, Naomi Osaka and Yuichi Sugita of Japan fill out the field.

Switzerland, USA, Russia and Japan will be in Group B. Canada, Germany, Australia and Belgium will be in Group A, for round-robin purposes. They’ve already made the schedule, so fans can pick and choose what matchups they want to see well in advance.

Canada plays during the Sunday, Wednesday and Friday day sessions.  Federer will play Saturday (vs. Japan), Tuesday (vs. Russia) and Thursday (vs. the USA) evenings. 

That means Nick Kyrgios, the top Aussie, won’t be there.

But it’s a pretty interesting field nonetheless, with plenty of high-profile players on both sides.

The format is two singles, and then mixed doubles. Last year, they used the “Fast Four” format for the mixed.

Federer reiterates “plan” to play French

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Roger Federer hit Seattle this weekend, giving more than 16,000 fans at the Key Arena Saturday night a dose of his magic and re-iterating his plan to play the French Open.

He also raised $2 million for his foundation, which has given more than 600,000 kids in Africa the opportunity to get an education.

During an interview with the Tennis Channel, which broadcast the event and also streamed it live on its affiliated Tennis.com website, Federer re-iterated his intention to play the French Open. The declaration came without some the caveats he’d included when discussing it in Miami.

Of course, back then he had just going through back-to-back Masters 1000 tournaments, and won them both. The body and mind were exhausted.

“Yes, I’m entered in the French (Open), and my plan is to play the French. I knew I needed to pace myself at some stage. Last year the clay-court season was a difficult one for me and my knee,” Federer said. “I thought about that one long and hard, and just came to the conclusion to skip it (the clay-court season) entirely and just play the French, I would have time to do everything I wanted to do – as a dad, as a husband, as a tennis player, for my foundation…”

Federer said he was “eager to achieve something over there, and not just show up and make people happy.”

Mid-season exhibition time

While the 35-year-old has officially been off the court since winning the Miami Open nearly a month ago, he has kept in shape enough to play two Match For Africa exhibitions. The first came in Zurich, Switzerland against Andy Murray April 10.

French
It’s arguably the dorkiest laugh in pro tennis. But it reminds you that Federer, like us, is just a big kid at heart. Of course, he also has a lot more reasons to laugh than most of us.

In this one, Federer’s straight man was John Isner, who played despite having had some health issues in the last few weeks. The American was a respectful foil who got into the spirit of the thing admirably. He reportedly got sick in the quick turnaround from the U.S. to Australia for Davis Cup, and straight back to the U.S. for the clay-court tournament in Houston, and lost more than 10 pounds in the process.

Federer spent a lot of time over the two days gladhanding VIPs and fulfilling all of the various duties connected with these types of things. But his tennis, as it has been all year, was off the charts at times.

One particular combo stood out. First came the tweener, hit hard right at Isner at the net. He followed it up with a running one-handed backhand passing-shot, flicked at last minute, that would make any highlight reel.

Click here to see some of the interviews and hot shots on Tennis Channel’s Facebook Page.

It’s astonishing to think that most in the sellout crowd, which was right into it, likely have never seen Federer play live. And even though he’ll be 36 in a few months, it’s hard to argue that they’re not seeing vintage Federer. He’s done so many of these that he knows exactly how to play them – and the crowd – by now. And his level is crazy good.

Theoretically, whenever he’s done, he could probably play these one-nighters for many more years to come and rake in more millions for his foundation. The whole idea came together in less than two months, after he met with Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates at Indian Wells. These are guys who can make things happen in a hurry.

French
                                   How good is it to be Roger Federer right now? Pretty good.

As a bonus, Gates got to play a doubles exhibition with Federer, against Isner and Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready. It took place before the main event; Gates and Federer won 6-4.

The two amateurs acquitted themselves well. The furthest thing from a natural athlete that you’ll ever see, the 61-year-old Gates got the ball in court and didn’t hesitate for a second to try to lob Isner. McCready showed surprisingly good hands at the net. Everyone was very nice to each other.

Quiet Bill, chatty Roger

Gates might have said 10 words the entire time. It was hilarious to see Federer try to engage him in conversation, and just have him stand there and smile. But you know he had the best time.

Federer had a good time, too. As serious as he is on the match court, when he’s playing these things, “Giddy Fed” comes out. The dorky laugh, so unexpected when it erupts, humanizes the superstar perhaps more than anything else he does.

At the end, though, he got a little emotional. “I flew around the world for this, so it means a lot. I left my kids at home,” he said. “So thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Federer told Tennis Channel’s Mary Carillo that he’s been practicing on hard courts … with Wimbledon balls. Cheeky answer, but he only plans to hit the clay courts two weeks before Paris. That means about two weeks from now. It will be during that training block that he’ll make his final decision.

(Oh: Federer won the match against Isner, 6-4, 7-6 after coming back from 2-4 down in the second-set tiebreaker).

Roger Federer beats Andy Murray in Match for Africa 3

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Roger Federer is on a break. But he’s still playing the kind of tennis that won him the BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open over the last few weeks.

Federer hosted Andy Murray in Zurich Monday night, for the third of his “Match for Africa” charity fundraising exhibitions.

Not that it matters, but Federer defeated Murray 6-3, 7-6 (6).

The hit-and-giggle show featured some of the usual exhibition moves: a Tweener from Federer, a serve hit from … the service line and ballkid substitutions.

Pressed into action at match point, this ballkid was ALL over it.

Murray offered his racquet to one of the ballboys at match point against him. Not only did the kid take him up on it, he insisted on taking a look at ALL the tennis ball on the court before selecting two.

Just like the pros do!

(He picked the wrong two, because he double-faulted. But the pros do that as well).

It was announced at the conclusion of the match that the evening had raised 1.4 million Swiss francs to that point (that’s roughly the same in US dollars).

FEDTWEENER!

Supporters can still continue to donate on the event’s website until April 18.

Federer will return the favour to Murray Nov. 7 when they have a rematch in Murray’s hometown of Dunblane, Scotland. The proceeds will go to UNICEF.

That’s the week between the Paris Indoor Masters 1000 event and the ATP Tour Finals in London. So it works out well.

Federer will be back in action against John Isner in Seattle April 29 in Match For Africa – 4. The one Monday night was, No. 3. Originally scheduled for last fall, it was postponed because of Federer’s injury issues.

In an interview after the match, Murray said he was hopeful his bad elbow was progressing enough that he can play the Masters 1000 Monte Carlo event, which starts in a week. “If not, I’ll have to be patient and wait until the following week,” he said.

Federer re-iterated that he didn’t plan to be back on the match court for awhile.  “I should be back for the French Open. That’s the plan,” he said.

(Screengrabs: Eurosport)

When you’re Roger Federer, you can get Bill Gates to do a cameo

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When Roger Federer mentioned after winning the Miami Open that he was still going to be practicing on hard courts for quite awhile, this was one reason.

Federer will headline the fourth edition of his Match for Africa charity exhibition in Seattle on April 29. And in the promo for the event, a special guest star (and doubles partner at the exhibition) is slowly revealed.

Those are some of the bluest blue-chip corporate sponsors so you know the event, with the proceeds going to Federer’s charitable fund and his foundation, is going to be a big money-maker.

The tickets go on sale Thursday; (presale begins Wednesday). Federer and the “mystery guest” above, clearly a ringer, will team up against John Isner and a celebrity player to be named later in a set of doubles. That will be followed by Federer vs. Isner in a best-of-three set singles match.

Seattle doesn’t get much world-class tennis – much less a Federer appearance. So this is big stuff for the area. Key Arena seats 17,072 for basketball, 15,177 for ice hockey. So the actual available seating should lie somewhere in between.

Federer will have two such exhibitions in a three-week period in April. “Match for Africa 3”, which was to have taken place last November, was postponed and will take place in Zurich April 10. His opponent will be Andy Murray in that one, and the event will be televised across Switzerland in French (with Stan Wawrinka’s brother Jonathan, a former player turned coach, on the commentary), Swiss-German and Italian.

Sampras vs. Henman as Greenbrier exhibition returns

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KEY BISCAYNE – The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. has hosted tennis exhibitions for a years, in various incarnations and with amateur tournaments and clinics attached.

This year, the resort’s first Tennis Professional Emeritus is back to face Great Britain’s Tim Henman as the centrepiece of a four-day event June 2-5.

That’s probably interesting to people in the area, or those who fancy a trip to the fabulous resort and will get to see some good tennis as well.

But as part of the promotion for the event, a key was dropped on my desk at the Miami Open. Oooooh, anticipation!!! Meh, not so much.

The key contained an interview with Sampras conducted by the ubiquitous Andrew Krasny, who is the stadium announcer at both Indian Wells and here at the Miami Open and will be the emcee for that match as well.

It’s worth a look, especially because Sampras doesn’t do that many interviews.