Wawrinka and Norman end partnership


It’s that time of the year, when coaching relationships end and the game of coaching musical chairs begins.

On Wednesday, Stan Wawrinka announced the end of his fruitful four-year collaboration with Magnus Norman.

They made a very effective team.

Wawrinka’s best career results – and they’ve come relatively late in his career – have been with Norman by his side.

Wawrinka won three Grand Slams: the 2014 Australian Open, the 2015 French Open and the 2016 US Open.

Norman was named ATP Coach of the Year in 2016.

Unfortunately, the Swiss star has been sidelined since Wimbledon this year, and called it a season in early August before undergoing knee surgery.

Typically, the player will initiate these things. But in this particular case, it appears to be Norman who is taking his leave, for family reasons.


Mutual decision? Maybe not

The Swede, still just 41, coached Thomas Johansson and Robin Soderling before joining Team Wawrinka.

“After much thought I have decided to dedicate my future to my family. With two young kids at home, now is the right time for me to be with them. I could not have had a better player to work with and this has been one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make”, Norman said in a statement.

“I’m really honoured to have worked with Stan who is a great tennis player, but more importantly a fantastic person. I want to thank the whole team behind Stan for all the work over the last four years. It’s been a teamwork and a privilege from the first day.”


Here’s the statement from Wawrinka, per his management.

“I would like to thank Magnus for the amazing four years we had together. I will always be grateful for the work and the time he spent on me to make me improve and become a three-time Grand Slam Champion. He was not only part of my team but also part of the family. For now I’m focusing on my rehabilitation and I will take time to decide with my team the necessary next steps,” Wawrinka said.


Berdych, Kyrgios end their seasons


It became a trend some time ago.

On Thursday, the latest to join the “end your season early” gang were Tomas Berdych and, later in the day, Nick Kyrgios.

Kyrgios had appeared hobbled by a number of issues in recent months – his shoulder and his knees. But mostly, a hip issue he has carried since Queen’s Club, just before Wimbledon.

He said awhile back that he would probably need surgery on it some day.

But he doesn’t want that day to be now.

“I have played a huge amount of tennis since coming back from my hip injury in Washington and unless I want this to escalate to an injury that requires surgery, I need to listen to my body and my team,” Kyrgios said in a statement released on Twitter.

“This year hasn’t been as successful as I would have liked, especially at the Slams although it has been positive in some other areas. It’s been no secret that I have had some sad moments to deal with away from the court which have added to my disappointments throughout the year.”


Berdych’s back woes

Berdych, who began the season in the top 10, is currently down at No. 18 and announced  he’s skipping the final two weeks of the season because of persistent back pain.

It had been fairly evident in recent months that he was a mere shadow of his former self.

“I have been playing matches with back pain since Wimbledon and in my last match in Beijing I felt like it was not getting better,” Berdych wrote on Twitter.

“And I was advised by my medical team to give it a few weeks of rest, and to have treatment, in order to be completely (healthy) and pain free and to be ready to compete at the start of 2018.”

Early-birds club membership full

The two players join an ever-larger group of top-20 players on the men’s side who have called an early end to their season.


Novak Djokovic: Retired after the first set of his quarterfinal match against Berdych at Wimbledon, announced July 26 he was shutting it down for 2017.

Stan Wawrinka: After reaching the French Open final, lost first round at both Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. Announced Aug. 4 he was having a procedure on his knee and would be out for the remainder of 2017.

Kei Nishikori: Lost his first match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, then felt a “pop” in the wrist while practicing in Cincinnati. Announced Aug. 16 he was out for the season with a wrist issue, but was opting not to have surgery.

Andy Murray: Lost to Sam Querrey in five sets – the last two went 6-1, 6-1 – in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Pulled out of Beijing and Shanghai Sept. 6, and out of the Paris Masters Oct. 13, which basically ended his season.

Milos Raonic: Lost his first match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, pulled out of Cincinnati and the US Open. Underwent a procedure on his wrist, then returned for the ATP Tour event in Tokyo. Won his first match with a one-handed backhand, then withdrew before his second match with a calf issue. Raonic  withdrew from the final two events of the season earlier this week.

Wawrinka calls it quits for 2017


WASHINGTON – It is now officially a trend.

Not only is Stan Wawrinka skipping the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati to heal his injured knee, he’s skipping the rest of the season.

So the reigning US Open champion will not defend his title.

He’s having a “medical intervention” on his knee.

“I am sad to announce that after talking with my team and doctor I had to make a difficult decision to undergo a medical intervention on my knee. This was the only solution to make sure I will be able to compete at the top level for many more years,” Wawrinka said in a statement.

“This is obviously extremely disappointing, but I’m already looking ahead and planning my recovery. I love this sport and I will work hard to get back to my top level and play many more years. And I also want to take this opportunity to thank my fans for sending plenty of messages of support during the last couple of days. I will see you all in 2018.”

Both 2016 US Open finalists out

Wawrinka, ranked No. 4, joins current No. 5 Novak Djokovic on the sidelines for the rest of the season.

That means that the two players who reached the US Open final a year ago will not be there for the final Grand Slam of the season later this month.

Djokovic and Wawrinka, seen here practicing at the Australian Open last year, are both out for the rest of the season. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Will Andy No. 1 Andy Murray, who withdrew from the Rogers Cup next week, be next?

It wouldn’t be all that shocking, at this point.


Wawrinka out of Montreal and Cincy


WASHINGTON – Reigning US Open champion Stan Wawrinka has been awfully low-key in recent months, hasn’t he?

His results have definitely been affected by the struggles with a knee injury. That included a first-round loss to Daniil Medvedev at Wimbledon.

So the Swiss star has decided to skip Montreal and Cincinnati. The two Masters 1000 series tournaments, which take place on back-to-back weeks, are a major grind.

“After much backwards and forwards and consultations with my doctors and my team unfortunately I have decided to skip Canada and Cincinnati to be on the safe side, even though I’ve been battling hard to make these events,” Wawrinka said in a statement.

“Hugely disappointing for my fans and myself that I have to make this decision. But I need to be 100 per cent confident before I resume competition (until) the injury that plagued me in Wimbledon has been resolved. My team and I are doing everything possible to make this a speedy recovery.”

Rogers Cup tournament director Eugene Lapierre got some great news Tuesday as Wawrinka’s Swiss compatriot Roger Federer confirmed his participation. But he nevertheless was disappointed.

One Swiss in, the other out

“Stan has always been loyal to our tournament and we’re obviously disappointed he won’t be here this year. He is one of the best players in the world and we wish him a quick recovery and best of luck for the rest of the season,” Lapierre said in a statement.

Wawrinka is ranked No. 4, with Novak Djokovic (who also won’t be at either event) down to No. 5. The top three players in the rankings are still in both events.

Come to think of it, Andy Murray also has been pretty quiet lately. Let’s hope that’s a sign of good news, not bad news.

Martin Klizan of Slovakia also has pulled out of the Rogers Cup. Which means American Donald Young, who gave Kei Nishikori such a tussle late Tuesday night at the Citi Open, is promoted into the main draw. 

Next in with Wawrinka’s withdrawal will be Kyle Edmund of Great Britain.

A shocker of a day at Queen’s Club


It had been nearly a year since the last shocker like this, when the top three seeds at an ATP Tour event all lost their opening matches.

But in that case, on clay at a small tournament in Kitzbuhel two weeks after last year’s Wimbledon, we weren’t talking about three of the top six players in the world – including last year’s Wimbledon champion and runner-up.

On Tuesday at Queen’s Club, the seeds went three, two, one – out. It’s the first time in the Open era that has ever happened there.

No. 3 seed Milos Raonic was the first to take the court, and the first to bow out. After reaching the final a year ago, the 26-year-old Canadian lost 7-6 (5), 7-6 (8) to 21-year-old Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis. He had eight break points in the first set, and converted none. He led the second-set tiebreak 6-3, and lost it 10-8.

Following them onto the court was No. 2 Stan Wawrinka, not a champion grass-court player but still the No. 3 player in the world. He lost to the unseeded 35-year-old Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (4), 7-5.

Kokkinakis had been out nearly two years with an assortment of injuries. He couldn’t have expected such a big win so early on in the process.

Both had 16 aces. Both had 88 per cent success rates with their first serves. But the Spaniard Lopez – unusually, by the standards of his countrymen, an aggressive customer on the grass – handled Wawrinka’s second serve far better than the Swiss did his. And by the finest of margins, he got through.

Murray shocker

Then came No. 1.

For all the British hand-wringing over the last few months about Andy Murray’s form – all of it, months ahead, pre-doom and gloom for The Championships – he played well in Paris. Murray reached the semifinals and it took former French Open champion Wawrinka more than 4 1/2 hours to beat him.

The defending champion came to Queen’s Club with some momentum. But less than 24 hours after announcing he would donate his prize money from the tournament to the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy – he went out.

Murray hadn’t lost at Queen’s since 2014, and won it three of the last four years.

He did not, as expected, play fellow Brit Aljaz Bedene, whom he defeated 6-3, 6-4 in the second round of the same tournament a year ago.

Bedene withdrew with a wrist injury Tuesday morning. The lucky loser, Aussie Jordan Thompson, was ranked more than 30 spots below Bedene. But Murray had never faced him. And Thompson came in with a little grass momentum after reaching the final of a Challenger the previous week.

Nick Kyrgios, forced to retire in his first-round match, stuck around to cheer on his Aussie mates on a very good day for them.

But still … Murray went out 7-6 (4), 6-2 and dealt his Wimbledon title defense preparation a bit of a blow. He hadn’t lost at Queen’s Club since 2014. Thompson played great tennis. But it all went downhill when Murray was up a mini-break in the first set tiebreak.

First, a double fault. Then, one of the worst drop-shot attempts he’ll make all year. Suddenly, he lost both points on his serve. The rest was not pretty to watch.

“This tournament has given me great preparation in the past. When I have done well here, Wimbledon has tended to go pretty well, too,” Murray told the media in London. “But, if I play like that, I certainly won’t win Wimbledon. I can play better than that.”

Worst British effort in 34 years

Murray has won at Queen’s Club five times, including three of the last four years.

He was the headmaster of a seriously futile effort by the British contingent this year. All five of them – Murray along with Kyle Edmund, wild cards James Ward and Cameron Norrie and lucky loser Liam Broady – lost first round.

According to the ATP, it was the first time the Brits went winless at Queen’s Club since 1983.

The carnage in Kitzbuhel a year ago was a blip compared to this.

Top seed Dominic Thiem, at No. 9 ranked just one spot higher than he is now but not nearly the player he has become this year, had played every week but three since the Australian Open. He fulfilled a commitment to his home-country event, but lost to his far more experienced countryman Jürgen Melzer in a tough combination of circumstances.

The No. 2 seed was Philipp Kohlschreiber. The No. 3 was Marcel Granollers.

This was in a totally different league. 

Terrible Tuesday takes the zip right out of a superb event, which added 2,000 seats to its stadium court this year and boasted a terrific field.

Now? The top half is wide open for No. 5 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who does have an in-form Gilles Muller playing the best tennis of his long career ahead of him in the second round.

The bottom half? A Grigor Dimitrov vs. Lopez semi-final would be an attractive grass-court matchup. But it lacks the glamour that the tournament deserves.

(Screenshots from TennisTV)

Coaching shuffle just in time for the grass


American Coco Vandeweghe lost in the first round of singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles at the French Open.

The obvious solution: fire the coach.

Craig Kardon is done with Vandeweghe, as reported by Jon Wertheim. But it took no time at all before he was picked up by another American, Donald Young, for the grass-court season.

Young and Taylor Townsend are coach by Young’s parents, Donald Sr. and Ilona. But it’s a good sign that they’re looking to add extra expertise.

ALSO READ: A lot of new coaching alliances in 2017

Vandeweghe’s next move is an intriguing one: she has hired 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, an arrangement we’re told is scheduled to last at least through the US Open.

Cash looks set up to be the John McEnroe of this year’s Wimbledon: a former champion, a television pundit, someone the British tennis media will be all over and – of course – will get outsized credit if Vandeweghe does anything of note at the Championships.

We’re told that Cash had been in negotiations with Milos Raonic for the grass-court swing. But that didn’t pan out. Instead, we’re told Raonic has added Mark Knowles. That hasn’t yet been confirmed by Raonic, though.

Knowles, 45, reached the top 100 in singles but is best known for his doubles exploits. He won 55 career titles; interestingly, he never won Wimbledon although he did win the other three majors. He also won the Queen’s Club title twice with Canadian Daniel Nestor.

Knowles, seen here at Wimbledon in 2012 when he was working with Mardy Fish, may be working with Milos Raonic this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Raonic parted ways with Richard Krajicek a few weeks ago.

Wawrinka also makes an add

In another grass-court move, French Open finalist Stan Wawrinka has added the experienced Paul Annacone for the grass-court season.

Annacone has worked with a couple of Wimbledon multi-champions in Pete Sampras and Roger Federer (seen here with Annacone in Montreal in 2011) (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Annacone, who has coached both Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, was a relentless serve-volleyer-chip-charger during a career that saw him get to No. 12 in singles and No. 3 in doubles. He did win the Australian Open doubles back in 1985, when it was on grass.

A year ago, Wawrinka added Krajicek during the grass season, for similar reasons. It is the only Slam the Swiss has yet to win.

He was a quarter-finalist in 2014 and 2015, but lost in the second round to Juan Martin del Potro last year in a tough draw for both.

“Décima” means “decimation” as Nadal takes 10


ROLAND GARROS – Purely on a tennis and physical level, it was perhaps the easiest French Open Rafael Nadal has won.

Emotionally, it was on another level entirely.

The 31-year-old from Mallorca pulled off “La Décima” Sunday. And in doing so, he dominated the one opponent most gave at least a puncher’s chance to stop him in 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka.

Wawrinka has the game to beat Nadal. And he was unbeaten in his three previous Grand Slam finals. Nadal’s solution to that was thorough: make sure the man had absolutely zero chance to impose that game.

Who knew? After a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 victory, it turns out “Décima” was short for “decimation”.

“This tournament I have been playing great during the whole event since the beginning. So have been, I think, a perfect Roland Garros for me,” Nadal said. “So it’s not that I am playing more or less aggressive. I am playing well. And when you play well, you have the chance to play more aggressive, no?”

Conditions a perfect “10”

The conditions on Sunday were tailor-made for 10: blazing hot temperatures made for a quick court, just the way Nadal likes it.

Decima It seemed Wawrinka wasn’t running on all cylinders physically after a four hour, 34-minute semi-final victory over world No. 1 Andy Murray two days ago. But he shot down that notion.

Wawrinka said he had completely recovered from the Murray match. It was a case of the mental affecting the physical.

“Everything’s connected. If the mind hesitates about what you want to do, the legs are late and then, it becomes difficult. You’re always sort of in-between,” Wawrinka said. “When you play Rafa, if you hesitate even half a second, or even less than that, it’s already too late.” 

This version of Rafael Nadal might well be the finest version yet. The way he played Sunday – throughout the fortnight, really – it was hard to imagine anyone on the other side of the net having a ghost of a chance.

“For sure he’s playing the best he’s ever played. But not only here. I think since the beginning of the year. You can see he’s playing more aggressive, staying more close (to) the line,” Wawrinka said. “That’s why he’s winning so much again.”

No solutions for Swiss

Wawrinka tried to wake his racquet up by banging his head with it a few times. He made a racquet sculpture that wouldn’t have looked out of place next to the Louvre Pyramid. 

Decima“I was trying to find a solution. Trying to play better. I was trying to play the game I wanted to play. I was trying to do something different. But again, today, as I say, there is not much to talk about the match,” he said. “I played against the biggest clay-court player ever. He won his 10th French Open today, so that’s something huge, also.”

Nadal won nine French Opens and 14 Grand Slam titles overall with a backhand that served more as a placeholder for his big, spinning, powerful forehand than a dangerous weapon on its own. And he won them, with the exception of the 2010 US Open, with a serve used more to start the point than create havoc in and of itself.

New, improved, post-drought Rafa

In this 10th championship run, Nadal’s weaponry was virtually complete. He dropped just 35 games in seven matches. It was clear to all who witnessed it that the best clay-court player in the history of the game actually has gotten better, after a three-year Grand Slam title drought.

The Spaniard spent more than half an hour Saturday just ripping first serves in his final full practice. More often than has been his preference, he broke 200 km/hour. The serving upgrade was long overdue. But as in everything he does, Nadal runs on his own timetable.

The Slam drought was partly health-related, to be sure. But it was also clear through Novak Djokovic’s domination of their rivalry (he held an 11-1 record against Nadal between the 2013 US Open and this year’s Madrid event) that the Spaniard needed to retool for this latter stage of his career.

If the game between the supreme roster in men’s tennis right now is catch up and adjust, the field had caught up – particularly the two-handers with great returns of serve. So Nadal adjusted. He didn’t do it by adding new weapons. He did it by taking the shots he already possessed up a notch.

Wawrinka felt the ire of that French Open dry spell Sunday. As one of the French commentators noted, it was a “monumental and inexorable butt-kicking.” (It sounds even more dramatic in French).

“I try my best in all the events. That’s the real thing. But the feelings I have here are impossible to describe, compared to other places. For me, the nerves, the adrenaline I feel when I play in this court is impossible to compare to another feeling,” an emotional Nadal said after the victory, which took just two hours and four minutes.

Perfect Roland Garros touches

The tournament was well-prepared for this milestone win. That’s always a risk; there’s an opponent there who wants nothing more than for the commemorative banners to stay in storage another year.


The raised stand brought out onto the court for the trophy ceremony boasted a Roland Garros logo with the number 10. There were massive banners that covered the fans in the upper levels of the stadium congratulation Nadal on his achievement.

And in a surprise, the tournament commissioned a full-sized replica of the Trophée des Mousquetaires, one that listed all of Nadal’s victories and the years he won.

His uncle and coach Toni Nadal, for whom this is to be the final French Open with his nephew, brought it out to him.

Nadal nearly dropped it – a rare trophy faux pas for a man who has raised the hardware on this special court so many times.


And after Nadal insisted his uncle stay up on the stand for he photos, they stood side by side. Each was holding a full-sized trophy – twin symbols of a incredibly fruitful, symbiotic partnership that was celebrated on this day as never before.

Doubts erased – for now

“During that three years, I had doubts. Right now, I gonna have doubts even in a few days, because in tennis every week is a new story and that’s part of the beautiful thing of our sport. Life is not that clear,” Nadal said. “The doubts, I think, are good, because the doubts give you the possibility to work with more intensity, with being more humble, and accepting that you need to keep working hard to improve things.”

This was the third French Open Nadal has won without dropping a set. The other two came in 2008 and 2010. As it happens, he won Wimbledon both those years.

There may be more to come.

Last-minute doubles math in Monte Carlo


The fans – and the tournaments – love it when the top singles guys deign to play doubles on the ATP Tour.

But for the doubles specialists, especially those who aren’t ranked in the top 20, it becomes a last-minute scramble just to get in.

The cutoff for the Monte Carlo doubles draw was 57. That’s the combined ranking of the two players and on the ATP Tour, players can use their singles ranking to qualify. That was done to encourage more singles players to play doubles; the WTA Tour has started doing this on a limited basis this season.

It’s why Julien Benneteau of France was able to get in with Lucas Pouille and his singles ranking of No. 17. It’s why the Zverev brothers (No. 20 in singles for Alexander, No. 33 for Mischa) can get into any tournament they choose. Germany’s Philipp Petzschner chose well; his protected doubles ranking of No. 36 might make it tough – but he teamed up with Marin Cilic, whose singles ranking was No. 8. Philipp Kohlschreiber (No. 32 in singles) and Dominic Thiem (No. 9) also got in based on their singles rankings.

With his singles ranking of No. 2, Djokovic can get into pretty much any doubles draw he wants to play. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Notably, it’s why Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki (ranked No. 2 and No. 38, respectively, in singles) were able to get in without needing a wild card.

The 24-team draw has 16 advance entries, six on-site sign-ins, and two wild cards. Monaco’s Romain Arneodo got one of the wild cards with young French player Hugo Nys. So that left one.

Do the math, squeeze into the draw

All of this left a few well-decorated doubles champions – Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi among them – on the bubble and pulling out their calculators for the on-site sign-in.

-Mirnyi and regular partner Treat Huey’s combined rankings added up to 69; not good enough.

-Nestor and new partner Fabrice Martin’s combined rankings added up to 64; not good enough.

-Fabio Fognini wanted to play with frequent partner and countryman Simone Bolelli, who is returning from injury. But at a combined 76 (Fognini’s No. 28 singles ranking and Bolelli’s protected doubles ranking of No. 48), they weren’t close.

-Grigor Dimitrov and Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic, a multiple Grand Slam champion in doubles, were going to miss the cut at a combined 69 (Dimitrov at No. 12 in singles, Zimonjic at No. 57 in doubles).

So …. the musical chairs began.

Almost everyone managed to squeeze in; only Martin and Bolelli were left out in the cold. Also notably left out were Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, the Colombian duo that currently sits at No. 8 in the doubles race to the ATP Tour Finals in London.

-Nestor and Mirnyi, who played regularly together for several years, squeezed in at a combined 56.

Nestor and Mirnyi, who won back-to-back French Open doubles titles in 2011 and 2012, did some match and re-teamed in Monte Carlo this week. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

-Mirnyi’s partner Huey got some help from Germany’s Tommy Haas, whose protected singles ranking of No. 25 did the job.

-Dimitrov and Zimonjic got the second wild card. It wouldn’t be a shock to find out that Djokovic gave the tournament organizers a little nudge in that direction, even if the two have fine credentials on their own.

Singles players prevail in doubles

The most fan-friendly outcome of all was when Fognini ended up teaming up with Stan Wawrinka. Their combined singles rankings easily put them near the top of the sign-in list.

As it happened, they met doubles specialists Nestor and Mirnyi in the first round on Sunday, and came out on the winning side.

It’s a shame, in a sense. All that math on Saturday, and Nestor and Mirnyi’s week is already over. Had they lost, Fognini and Wawrinka still had singles campaigns to look forward to. Often, in these cases, the singles players who advance late into the week in both draws have few qualms about pulling out of the doubles.

But on Sunday, the pair was pretty happy.

(Bet you didn’t know Fognini was a French speaker; he is! Speaks fine Spanish as well).

Buss: Despite notable absences, Davis Cup drama in store


The future of the Davis Cup has been a hot topic of late.

It has become somewhat of an obligation necessary to qualify for the Olympics –  also under the ITF’s aegis. And it has become a bucket-list event for the top players; no career resumé can be complete without a Davis Cup crown.

Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka led Switzerland to the 2014 Davis Cup title and have played only once since then. With the commitment of the game’s top stars sporadic, the event has lost much of its once-formidable cachet.

With the current schedule of mandatory ATP events  so demanding, committing to (potentially) four more weeks of pressure-packed play has been deemed too much by the tennis elite.

Compounding the Davis Cup’s scheduling woes are that at the moment (Ed: the scheduling tends to change every few years, with the ATP having to sign off on the selected weeks) the weeks set aside for World Group ties come the weeks after the Australian Open, Miami Open, US Open, and the year-end ATP Tour Finals.

I’ve been positing for years now that the ITF and ATP need to join forces to find a way make Davis Cup a marquee event that is held all at once, at a major facility, with ATP ranking points at stake (as there were a few years ago) and significant prize money at stake. Hold it in the fall after all the majors have been played; use the weeks freed up on the ATP calendar to slot some of the events displaced from the indoor season.

In theory, it’s a no-brainer. Practically, the details are mighty devilish.

All Davis Cup challenges aside, eight colorful, storied teams remain alive in this year’s World Group. They will square off beginning Friday in four quarterfinals

Let’s take a look.

The popcorn quarter that wasn’t: Spain visits Serbia

Nobody can accuse Spain’s Rafael Nadal of abandoning his home country. Spain has won the Davis Cup four times during his illustrious career.  But Nadal has known since January there would be a need for his services against a Novak Djokovic-led Serbia and he has chosen to sit out Spain’s quarterfinal tie against Serbia this weekend.

Nenad Zimonjic is now a playing captain; Djokovic’s form is uncertain for the weekend, but he’s there. (ITF/Srdjan Stevanovic)

Once again, his absence really hurts the concept of Davis Cup as a premier event. If there has been one thing missing from this golden era of men’s tennis, it has been a deciding Davis Cup rubber between two of tennis’ Big Four. And time is running out. These next couple of years may well be Davis Cup’s very last chance to see the best from this era face off.

No certain Brexit now: Great Britain visits France

With Andy Murray out with a testy elbow, it appeared Great Britain was heading for an early “Brexit” from this year’s Davis Cup. But despite the persistent loyalty of France’s top players to the competition they have never won as a group, the four nouveaux Mousquetaires –  Gaël Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon – are unavailable.

(The last time none of the four were part of a Davis Cup squad, most were still in their teens. That was in 2005 against Sweden, when the team was Sébastien Grosjean, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Arnaud Clément and Michaël Llodra). 

That leaves Jérémy Chardy, Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau to join rising young star Lucas Pouille on indoor clay in Rouen, France.

By far the youngest member of the French squad, Lucas Pouille is expected to lead them to victory (ITF/Corinne Dubreuil)

Pouille, at No. 17, is the only player currently ranked in the top 40 (the other three have reached that level during their careers). So this has the makings of a highly unpredictable tie with all sorts of room for high drama and unexpected heroes. Whichever nation emerges will need its best players healthy to have any hope of advancing to November’s finals.

Entrée and dessert: Italy visits Belgium

Fabio Fognini, who came back from two sets down to win Italy’s deciding rubber against Argentina in January’s first round, will not be able to answer the bell Friday. Fognini is nursing a few sore body parts from his surprise to the Miami Open semi-finals last week, But the Italians are deep; Andreas Seppi, Paolo Lorenzi and Simone Bolelli, who has just returned from injury, have been nominated. Surprise 2015 finalist Belgium is led by David Goffin. He’ll be a tough customer to beat indoors at home.  With only two players in the top-50 competing, and with Belgium’s No. 2 singles player a long step down from Goffin, this one could be unpredictable.

Thunder Down Under: USA visits Australia

Just as the National Hockey League has so-called “Original Six” teams, the Davis Cup have Team Australia and Team USA.

The Americans have won the Davis Cup 32 times, the Aussies 28 times. That puts them No. 1 and No. 2 on the all-time list. But none of those titles have come recently; the USA’s last win came in 2007, Australia’s in 2003.

The two countries played last year with the U.S. coming out on top. A lot has changed since then. Lleyton Hewitt is a full-time captain now, while Nick Kyrgios has become one of the most dangerous players on the ATP tour.

Kyrgios could use his temperamental sidekick Bernard Tomic. But this will not be Bernie’s weekend. After Tomic declined to make himself available for the first-round tie in January, Hewitt decided to keep the winning squad intact for the quarterfinals.

John Isner’s dress shoes may still be in his closet at home, but he’s standing tall in Brisbane. (ITF/SMP Images)

Team USA is as loaded on the singles side as it has been in years with Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, John Isner and Sam Querrey joining captain Jim Courier in Brisbane. Notably, though, longtime Davis Cup stalwarts Bob and Mike Bryan  – once a near-guaranteed point in the crucial Saturday doubles rubber – have retired from Davis Cup play.

The match of the weekend should be Sock vs. Kyrgios, the fourth match of the tie and first up on Sunday (Saturday night in North America). They are two of the hottest players in 2017 not named Roger Federer. And they are are good friends. It will be interesting to see how their loose, engaging styles of play translate to the pressure cooker of a tight Davis Cup tie.

Buss: And then there were two (Swiss) in the BNP Paribas Open final


INDIAN WELLS – When the BNP Paribas Open draw was made last week and the “quarter-of death” section was revealed, there was concern the bad luck of the draw would preclude the event’s two best players from meeting in today’s final.

After watching Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer roll through their respective semi-finals yesterday, those concerns have abated. The two best players in the draw will be vying for the first Masters 1000 title of the season Sunday afternoon.

Federer has been at his GOAT-est best all week. His forehand has been on fire, his backhand has been a human highlight reel. He’s moving freely, attacking at will, he’s even brought the SABR back – for entertainment purposes only.

But it’s his serve that’s been the real story. Federer has faced only one break point all week. To give you some perspective, Federer has 89 career ATP titles: in only four of those did he not drop serve. (two of them came in Cincinnati). Put simply, it’s almost impossible to beat someone you can’t break – especially if that someone is Roger Federer.

Across the net today will be countryman, Davis Cup partner and good friend Wawrinka, whose march to the final was nearly assured after his narrow escape in the round of 16 against Japanese lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka.

The Swiss pair practice together at Indian Wells a few years ago – a regular occurrence, sometimes even before their finals. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Big match Stan has this pattern now. He survives early-round scares, then goes on to win tournaments. At last summer’s US Open he was down match point in an early round tussle with Brit Daniel Evans, only to roar back to win the match and, eventually, his third major title.

Past performances do not predict future outcomes, of course. And for Wawrinka, that might be good thing. He is an appalling 3-19 against Federer in their head-to-head, with his only three victories coming on red clay. He must rely on more recent history; Wawrinka went the distance with Federer before bowing out on the hard courts of Melbourne in a very well played five-set semi-final.

Federer and Wawrinka on the practice court at Roland Garros. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

They’re 6,000 miles from home but to anyone who follows the BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells is a second home for Federer. The crowds have been vociferously behind him every match this week. Today will be no different.

Hopefully Wawrinka will handle the overwhelming support for his opponent. Then again, he’s used to it by now. Even Federer’s wife Mirka hasn’t always kept her cool when the two meet.

These two play great tennis matches. This Sunday afternoon on Stadium 1 should be no different.