MELBOURNE, Australia – Alexander Zverev and Milos Raonic have both been No. 3 in the world.
But the seven-years-younger German already has more career titles. And he’s currently ranked 13 spots above the 28-year-old Canadian.
But here’s the thing.
Raonic has been in a Wimbledon final. And but for a truly poorly-timed adductor injury in Melbourne in 2016, he might well have been in the Australian Open final that year as well. He’s made five other Slam quarterfinals, and Wimbledon semi in 2014.
So on resumé, in these supremely significant circumstances, he probably shouldn’t be the underdog against Zverev. The 21-year-old German still battles to be considered a Grand Slam contender, despite the brilliance of his early career.
And so it was on Monday at the Australian Open, when form held
For two sets, Zverev was tight as a drum. His second serve failed him. But even Zverev made it competitive in the third set, it was too far gone. And in unexpectedly routine fashion, Raonic is into another Australian Open quarter final after a 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory he wrapped up in less than two hours.
“I played bad. The first two sets especially I played horrible. Yeah, I mean, it’s just tough to name on one thing. I didn’t serve well, didn’t play well from the baseline. Against a quality player like him, it’s tough to come back from that,” said Zverev, whose racket destruction at 1-6, 1-4 was arguably the most havoc he created all day.
Zverev remains stuck at one career Grand Slam quarterfinal (or better) appearance – last year at the French Open.
For Raonic, it’s No. 9.
From a tight quarterfinal loss to Daniil Medvedev in his season opening tournament in Brisbane a few weeks ago, Raonic came into Melbourne with a fresh mindset.
“I think it was all really emotional and mental. I believe I had eight break chances in those first two sets against (Medvedev). So I had more than enough opportunities to make the most of it. … But then I got a little bit too down on myself, and I think that sort of shined a light on something that I really have to do differently at this event,” Raonic said.
“And I think I have worked on that, and I think I have also had to play against top players where I couldn’t afford to be undisciplined in that regard.”
Tough draw turns into good draw
After coming up against the dangerous Nick Kyrgios in the first round, and the dangerous Stan Wawrinka in the second round, Raonic got a (relative) breather against the unseeded Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Drawing Zverev, when the possibilities for the No. 16 seed in the round of 16 were Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Zverev, also qualifies as a break.
So does getting No. 28 seed Lucas Pouille. The Frenchman is his first Slam quarterfinal since the 2016 US Open.
For Pouille, just getting there after five first-round losses in his first five trips to Melbourne is a victory. One of those defeats, in 2016, was inflicted upon him by Raonic,.
The Canadian is 3-0 in his career against the Frenchman. And that includes two victories in Australia.
It’s hard to accurately convey how devastated Raonic was after that Murray match, especially compared to his generally composed demeanour in defeat.
Even his hair was drooping.
Normally strong on eye contact, he looked down disconsolately between responses He avoided anyone’s direct gaze as he tried – only somewhat successfully – to keep his emotions in check.
“Probably the most heartbroken I felt on court, but that’s what it is,” he said then.
Through three years of trials and tribulations since then, the Canadian feels he’s a better player now. But he admits that many aspects of the competitive environment seemed easier in 2016.
Raonic played spectacular tennis that year. And it was crowd-pleasing tennis, too.
Your average tennis fan would posit that’s a factual impossibility. But the crowd reactions proved otherwise.
” I think back then I just found some situations a little bit easier to deal with, because I had three or two good years from 2014 to 2015 before that, and it was sort of — you don’t have to think about things as much. Instinct takes over when you have played that many matches consecutively,” he said.
“Now you always have to think about things a bit more because you’re always trying to search for that rhythm, that – sort of – what should you do. Whereas in those situations I don’t think I was really asking myself. I was trusting a lot more.”
We’ll see what the rest of the 2019 edition holds for him.
Until that moment – a key moment in the ATP Tour Finals semi between Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev – the decidedly pro-Federer crowd at the O2 had mostly behaved itself.
There were a few cheers here and there when Zverev missed a first serve on key points.
But it was ably kept under control by veteran chair umpire Carlos Bernardes, who has been around the “home-crowd” phenomenon block a time or 10.
But then, with the German serving at 3-4 in the second set tiebreak, and Federer taking control of the point, it got a little cruel.
And the result was a tough, tough moment for Zverev, whose diffidence and confidence often belie his tender years, but who at heart is just a kid still trying to navigate his way among the greats of the game.
A ballboy at the back of the court lost control of a ball during the point, and it rolled into the field of play. He probably should just have let it roll, until Bernardes – or even Federer himself – saw it and stopped the point. But he tried to sneak into the court, unobtrusively, to collect it.
Zverev saw him and immediately stopped play.
The boos rained down upon Zverev, who was well within his rights to stop the point. But he was taking a risk in doing so.
A few minutes later, after Zverev had sealed the win with a bravura performance against a fairly in-form Federer, he heard a few boos again.
It wasn’t a huge portion of the crowd. But it was evident, and loud enough.
The rest of the crowd – the more knowledgable tennis fans, who grasped the situation and didn’t let their emotions rule – quickly began to cheer to try to drown it out.
Zverev apologizes to crowd
Emotional as he reached the biggest final of his young career, Zverev didn’t quite know what to make of it at first.
Then, he quickly realized why the fans were booing.
And he immediately addressed the crowd during his on-court interview with Annabel Croft.
“First I want to apologize for the situation in the tiebreak. The ballboy dropped the ball, so it’s in the rules that we have to replay the point,” said Zverev, who added that Federer accepted his apology at the net.
Croft then lectured the crowd. That, of course, is not in her job description – not that she was wrong.
“I’m not sure why you’e all booing, because he’s telling the truth. The ballboy did move across the court, and it disrupted play. And those are the rules,” she told them. “I think you have to be a little more respectful.”
Even the tournament director weighed in.
Astonishingly disappointing reaction from the crowd.
Huge credit to Sascha Zverev for reaching his first final here at the #NittoATPFinals.
Zverev was clearly upset. The look on his face – equal parts emotion, confusion, and hurt – wasn’t something we’ve seen from him. But there can’t be too many worse feelings than being blamed by 15,000 fans for something that’s not your fault.
The crowd paid copious pounds for their seats. So if they’re thus inclined, they can cheer for one player and root against another. But when it happens, it still goes against that admittedly thinning veneer of sporting fan behaviour that still coats the game.
You know this wouldn’t have happened at the All-England Club, even with Federer playing.
But this is a different crowd – more of an event crowd, less awed by the surroundings and the tradition.
The German completely understood the situation he found himself.
More than a “true Brit”
In London, Federer is almost more than a true Brit. He’s like a “super Brit”. Many of the tennis fans in that city probably embrace him more than they do their own because of his reverence for – and success at – The Championships.
“I understand the frustration. It’s just unfortunate circumstances. These things happen. Booing, I never like it. We see it in other sports all the time, but in tennis it’s rare. So when it happens, it gets very personal and we take it very direct,” Federer said afterwards.
“Sascha doesn’t deserve it. He apologized to me at the net. I was like, ‘Buddy, shut up. You don’t need to apologize to me here. … So he shouldn’t be apologizing. He didn’t do anything about it. He just called it how it was, and he felt it affected play. There is a rule that if something like this happens, obviously you replay points.”
More apologies from Zverev
What a learning moment for the young star.
He had to process beating his friend, mentor and idol on such a big occasion. And then he had to deal with a wholly unexpected situation.
He did so with impressive maturity and not an insignificant amount of grace. In the end (and it doesn’t hurt that he won), he’ll be a better competitor for it.
“I want to apologize to the crowd, obviously there’s a lot of Roger fans here. As he deserves. From what he’s achieved and what kind of guy he is, he should have the most fans in the world. In London especially, how much history he has here,” Zverev said. “The crowd has been amazing. The crowd has been absolutely fair the whole match. Again, I’m very sorry that this happened. I didn’t mean to upset anybody.That’s all I can say, Sorry.”
When he came into his post-match press conference, Zverev admitted that the situation shook him up a little.
“I was very emotional afterwards. The booing went into cheering kind of afterwards, which kind of helped me, as well. Obviously a lot of emotions going on through my head. I was really upset afterwards in the locker room, as well. I’m not going to lie. I had to take a few minutes for myself,” he said.
Risky move by Zverev
There was no major fault to Bernardes for not spotting the wandering ballboy. The chair umpire is following the ball in play, not the one in the ballboy’s hands. Often they see these things. But sometimes they don’t.
As with anything else that happens on court, in a sport lacking the oversight of an extra official on the sidelines as a spotter for any unusual issues, if the umpire doesn’t see it, he might well not call it.
And if he doesn’t see it, he might not order up the point to be replayed.
Zverev would have had no recourse in that situation. In this case, having stopped play, he would have lost the point and been down a crucial mini-break, at 3-5 in that second-set tiebreak.
‘I’m not questioning Sascha’s sportsmanship in any way. Like I said before, it’s a bold move by Sascha to stop the rally because the umpire can just say, ‘Sorry, buddy, you’re in the rally. I don’t care. You lost the point. I didn’t see it’.
“It was just totally an umpire’s decision with the ball kid and the lines person, as well, just making sure they got the facts right” he added. “I don’t know what the rule says. I always thought it was an umpire’s decision, not a player’s decision. In practice we stop rallies all the time when balls come flying from the second court.”
Getting it right the priority
Bernardes did the right thing.
Given he didn’t see it, if we apply the protocol for an unofficiated match to this situation, either player can call a let and stop play when a ball rolls onto the court.
The only case where you wouldn’t would be if the player waited too long to call it – i.e., waited until he or she was in a convincingly losing position, or even after they lost the point. Zverev called it immediately.
Bernardes’s priority was getting it right.
He asked the line umpire over in that corner to confirm what happened. And it was confirmed.
Federer, who by then had gone up to the chair to get an explanation, asked the ballboy (who was back to his position near the net) to confirm it. The kid nodded. And Federer accepted it.
And so the Swiss went back to receive serve again. He got a good first serve back (Zverev averaged 135 mph on his first serve Saturday). But that one was called a let.
On the third try, Zverev hit an unplayable ace out wide, clocked at 137 mph.
Three times unlucky for Federer
‘I mean, it’s a very difficult call. I didn’t see it. The umpire didn’t see it. But, you know, once the ball boy said that’s what happened, linesman confirmed, the umpire believes them, which is obviously true, what is there to be done? It’s normal to replay the point from that point on,” Federer said.
“It was obviously a big call. Instead of being in the rally in a decent position, you get aced, yes, it makes a difference. It could have made a difference. That’s all hypothetically speaking now, at this point.”
It was bad luck – three times – for Federer on a crucial point. But that’s the sport.
If it seems as though it always happens in crucial situations, that’s probably because when it happens at 1-1, 15-15 in the first set, we quickly forget.
In the end, Federer didn’t play badly, But Zverev played a virtuoso match. He went 9-for-10 at the net in the second set, and closed out the victory with a swinging backhand volley winner.
“I’m unbelievably proud. Me and my team have been working so hard for this,” Zverev said. “I’m a little upset now about the whole situation, how it all ended. Because it’s not how I wanted it to end.”
He’ll play the winner of Saturday night’s semifinal between the unbeatable-looking Novak Djokovic and his opponent in the Wimbledon final earlier this year, Kevin Anderson.
“I played Novak a few days ago, and it didn’t go too well for me. I don’t hope he’ll lose, but a slight preference maybe in the opponents,” Zverev said. “But it’s the finals, so I’m just happy to be here.”
But the launch of the 2019 Hopman Cup already has targeted the big day: New Year’s Day 2019.
That’s when Team Switzerland takes on Team USA.
And that means that two of the best of all time, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, will square off on court in mixed doubles.
Those are two pretty big gets for the exhibition event, which could well be in its final edition if the new ATP team event starts up, as planned, in 2020.
So if this is the finale, that’s quite a way to go.
Federer will again team up with Belinda Bencic to defend their 2018 title. Williams will pair with young countryman Frances Tiafoe, making his first appearance.
Young, attractive field
If the field appears, at first glance, to lack a little star power (having those two legends is already enough), tournament director Paul Kilderry did point out that it includes four Grand Slam singles champions (Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza are the others), three top-10 players (Federer, Zverev, Kerber) and eight top-20 players.
Already announced was the new “it” tennis couple from Greece, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari.
From Great Britain, no Andy Murray or Johanna Konta. Instead, they’ll have the duo of Cameron Norrie and Katie Boulte – an impossibly good-looking combo.
With Muguruza will be … David Ferrer. And you thought the 36-year-old, currently ranked No. 147 and playing a Challenger in Monterrey, was done? Apparently not.
You’d have to think, if he’s going all the way Down Under, that Ferrer plans to play one more Australian Open as well. Perhaps that’s why he’s still out there on the Challenger circuit this week, trying to squeeze into the Melbourne main draw.
Barty and Ebden for Australia
Our thinking was that the most glam matchup for the home team would have been the off-field couple, Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanovic.
It’s always an extra bit of fun when real-life couples play mixed doubles together.
Absent that, they’ve come up with top Aussie woman Ashleigh Barty and 30-year-old Matthew Ebden, who’s ranked fourth in the country behind Kyrgios, young Alex de Minaur and John Millman.
The French team of Lucas Pouille and Alizé Cornet, who won the event in 2014 with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, are in the field.
Kerber and Zverev, last year’s finalists, also team up again and have by far the best combined ranking in the field.
Draws already done
To be able to start promoting Serena vs. the Fed, you had to have the round-robin draw done.
And so it is. Looks like Group B is the tougher group. But only one of those tandems can make the final.
Dec. 29 kickoff with the Greeks
The schedule is here. The proceedings kick off with Great Britain vs. Greece on Saturday, Dec. 29 (coming up before you know it).
There is no session on New Year’s Eve evening or on New Year’s Day. The event always has a pretty fantastic New Year’s Eve party – and they definitely have the field to gussy it up. (Remember when Marat Safin showed up after a rough night back home in Moscow, his face all bruised up?)
The USA vs. Switzerland tussle will be New Year’s night.
New this year at the event, it’s free kids’ ticket day for all day sessions.
You hope this isn’t really, truly the last-ever Hopman Cup. The event has been around since 1989, when Czechoslovakia’s (!!!) Helena Sukova and Miloslav Mecir defeated Australia’s (!!) … Hana Mandlikova and Pat Cash in the final.
(Mandlikova’s Aussie citizenship didn’t last nearly as long as the event).
It’s built up a lovely tradition. And the players seem to have a blast playing it. No doubt this year they’ll have a lovely tribute to Lucy Hopman, the wife of the legendary Aussie coach for whom the event is named. Hopman passed away during the US Open, at the age of 98.
A Florida resident, she made it to Perth every year until 2018, when she was 94.
If you wanted to hear from ITF president David Haggerty – the Hopman Cup is under the ITF umbrella – here is his requisite press release quote.
“We are delighted once again to see such a strong entry for the 2019 Mastercard Hopman Cup, the ITF’s mixed team competition, at the start of the new tennis season. The ITF team competitions, which also include Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, give players a special opportunity to represent their countries, one that they value long after their playing days are over,” Haggerty said.
“Hopman Cup also offers fans a unique chance to see some of the game’s biggest names team up to play mixed doubles, which remain some of the most popular matches of the week. I would like to recognize our title sponsor Mastercard, and all the other sponsors and partners who continue to support the Hopman Cup.”
Looks like he got ALL the sponsors covered there. As one does.
But even last week in Cincinnati Zverev, while complimentary towards Lendl and his wealth of knowledge, said he wasn’t planning any changes to his team. At least not “right now”, but possibly down the road, he said.
It seems the future for Zverev is … right now.
The new collaboration with Lendl became official Tuesday when Zverev posted it on Instagram.
The two-time coach of Andy Murray has joined Zverev’s team, complementing his regular coach, father Alexander Sr.
Nothing from Lendl directly. But his business associate Jerry Solomon passed this along.
#IvanLendl on @sascha_zverev: “Sascha has a unique set of skills and a great work ethic so I am looking forward to helping him achieve his goals.”
The former champion had said “no” to fellow Czech Tomas Berdych, when Berdych solicited his help a couple of years ago.
Perhaps with Zverev, still just 21, he felt he could have more of an impact.
Or the money was right. Or both.
Lendl sits his way through practice
It doesn’t appear as though Lendl, who is 58, is starting this new collaboration in the best of health.
Throughout Zverev’s hit with Evgeny Donskoy of Russia in the brand-new Louis Armstrong Stadium, he sat – literally, about 99 per cent of the time.
Best guess, from the way he was carefully sitting down: his back was acting up on him (back woes were what essentially ended his career).
Here’s what it looked like.
(Zverev may well have been the first player to officially hit a ball out of the new stadium. He wasn’t in a particularly cheery mood. And Donskoy – who has a wise old sage as a coach in Boris Sobkin – was playing very well).
Lendl wasn’t shy about getting right in Zverev’s face. But it doesn’t seem as though the kid is quite invested in this yet. Or perhaps he’s still a little intimidated. He rarely made eye contact with his new mentor.
Zverev Sr. and Lendl are very close in age – Lendl is actually six weeks younger. Both were born in 1960. They never met on the tennis court, though.
For the second consecutive year at the Rogers Cup, a teenager with a one-handed backhand is the surprise of the tournament.
Last year in Montreal, it was 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who upset Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal on his way to a shocker of a run to the semis.
This year in Toronto, it is Stefanos Tsitsipas’s turn to shine.
The 19-year-old from Greece (he turns 20 on Sunday, the day of the Rogers Cup final) has now upset three consecutive top-10 players in his own run to the semis.
Tsitsipas is youngest to defeat three top-10 players in a single tournament since Rafael Nadal at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2006.
First came No. 8 Dominic Thiem, who didn’t look either fresh nor ready for the hard courts. On Thursday, Tsitsipas upset No. 10 Novak Djokovic in their first career meeting.
And on Friday, he pulled victory out of the jaws of near-certain defeat in upsetting 21-year-old Alexander Zverev, the world No. 3 who routined Tsitsipas in straight sets last week on his way to the title at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
Zverev seemed ready to do it again. He led 6-3, 5-2, and served for the match at 5-3 in that second set.
And then, it all unraveled. The end result was a 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-4 win for the younger man.
“I was just walking the ball back and making him play every single ball. And at that moment, he wasn’t into it. He starts missing. And he got tighter, I think. He understood that’s his chance to close the match,” Tsitsipas said. “And I just did things right and, yeah, I broke him. That’s how you break, if you play things right and you play clever. And I did that, and I was back in the match again.”
As he played with house money, Tsitsipas just hung around until it was definitely, indubitably over and the two shook hands. His more-accomplished opponent did not.
Hang in, and good things can happen
The world No. 2 from Germany had two match points in the second-set tiebreak. And he was up a break in the third set, as well. And after he coughed that up, it was as though his mind just left the court. Beyond one angry firing of the racquet that was betraying him, it was almost as though he was merely a bystander observing his own demise.
He went 1-for-9 on break points in that third set, after going 4-for-5 in the first two.
Notably, Tsitsipas earned just four break points over nearly 2 1/2 hours. But he made good on all of them even if his own first-serve percentage never went over 50 per cent in any of the three sets.
A Challenge left undone
A case in point: as Zverev served to stay in the match at 4-5, leading the game 30-15, he crushed an inside-out forehand that landed plumb on the sideline.
Except the linesperson called it out. And Zverev didn’t even question it. He barely even reacted.
Within a matter of moments, he tried a best-left-undone serve and volley. And then on match point, Zverev double-faulted. Badly. You could see that coming a mile away.
Tsitsipas also had his spidey senses tingling.
“Well, yeah, to be honest with you, I kind of suspected before he even start his motion that there’s going to be a chance for me to close it straight away. And I was not expecting a double fault, but I was at least expecting something more in my terms, let’s say,” he said.
Tsitsipas appeared stunned with it was over, and with good reason. He was absolutely down and out. And suddenly he was holding his arms up in the air in victory, and looking ahead to his first Masters 1000-level semifinal against No. 4 seed Kevin Anderson on Saturday.
“Pathetic”, said Zverev
Zverev may have come into the press conference room a little too hastily, because he’ll probably get some heat for his … honesty.
He thought they were both horsebleep.
“I don’t think today he played that well. I think the match was absolutely pathetic on all levels. You know, returning, he started to return. I mean, he was serving 125 (mph) to my backhand, and I was missing them. That does not happen,” Zverev said. “I mean, I’m very honest with you guys. I always say when the opponent play(s) better. I’m probably one of the most honest guys on tour. Today was a pathetic match from -– I don’t even think he played well.
“He started putting some balls into the court. I think before he was playing really bad. And I actually thought I was playing bad the whole match,” Zverev added. “So I lost a little bit of concentration. I lost a little bit of rhythm, but it wasn’t – I mean, even if I would have won, it wasn’t a good match.”
Zverev wasn’t necessarily wrong, even if the delivery left a little to be desired.
Tsitsipas had clearly been tipped off about that comment before coming into press nearly 90 minutes later. So he had his response ready.
“I’m working with a sports psychologist that’s really good. And he told me something, and I remember it since like four or five years. That a good player can be seen in his bad day. And I completely agree with that. The level of tennis today, in my opinion, was not the highest. It was all right. People seemed to love it, love the show and everything,” Tsitsipas said.
But I played – I would say I played okay. He seemed … I don’t know. The conditions are different here. So it’s really tough for me to compare with Washington. Because Washington, you know, with the conditions and everything was completely different. Speed, surface, it was slightly faster there,” he added. “So I would say I played more clever this time. I kind of fooled him when I was on the court and did some things that he didn’t expect me to do. And I changed my plan since last week. And as I said, I got lots of experience last week and managed to pull it out today in the match.”
It was a dramatic match because of the turnaround in fortunes. And it was an attractive matchup because it involved two of the best young talents in the game. But from a tennis perspective, it left a lot on the table.
The Geman felt he should have won it 6-3, 6-3. And he also felt that the third set should probably also have been 6-3.
Except, it wasn’t. And Tsitsipas, who began the 2018 season ranked No. 91, will jump into the top 20 on Monday for the first time. If he can beat Anderson on Saturday, he would jump into the top 15.
On to Cincinnati
By failing to defend the title he earned last year in Montreal, Zverev will drop a spot in the rankings, to No. 4.
And that will allow del Potro, who did come to Toronto but withdrew before the event started with pain in right wrist – a worrisome development, given his history – will move to No. 3 for the first time in his star-crossed career.
The lanky Zverev, who doesn’t yet have the physical maturity he’ll enjoy a few years down the road, has played a lot of tennis over the last week. The run to the D.C. title was five singles wins plus a doubles match. The conditions were brutal, and he also had to play his big brother Mischa for the first time in what was an emotional affair for the entire family.
In Toronto, more heat, rain, humidity and late nights, and three more singles matches. So the defeat, as tough as it might be to swallow, might have a silver lining.
“Look, at the end of the day, I played a lot of matches and physically I’m quite tired,” he said. “So I’m actually quite happy to have few days off before another Masters (in Cincinnati, another event where heat and humidity are on the order of play) and then a Grand Slam (at the US Open).”
Zverev lost the first set he played on the week, to countryman Yannick Hanfmann. But he wasn’t troubled the rest of the way. His four victories included an impressive 7-5, 6-2 dispatching of fellow youngster Hyeon Chung of Korea.
This time, the white one
It’s pretty much a first-world problem to already have one major sports car, so the biggest concern is not getting another one in the same colour.
If you thought they just stored away the lederhosen for a year until the next edition of the tournament, think again.
Zverev now boasts two pairs, similar, but not identical.
The best part is how the winner did the quick-change right on the court before thousands of fans, and tournament director Patrick Kuhnen peeking over the makeshift change room.
The new tradition of the lederhosen began in 2015, when Andy Murray (who’d probably fancy a kilt, to be honest) needed three hours to defeat Kohlschreiber 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 7-6 (7-4) to win his first career clay-court title at age 27.
It was also the first clay-court title by a Brit in nearly 40 years. So it was certainly worth a pair of lederhosen.
At first glance, it looks like Monte Carlo’s powerhouse men’s interclub team all went out en masse for a hit and giggle.
Novak Djokovic, the Zverev brothers, Marin Cilic, David Goffin, Grigor Dimitrov were on hand – a powerhouse lineup. All went out and did their part for La Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco. The Monaco sovereign’s charity is devoted to the environment and sustainable development.
But there were some non-resident exceptions: Dominic Thiem (still a resident of Austria) and Lucas Pouille (Dubai) also took part.
(Some celebs most of us in North America have never heard of also participated).
Meanwhile, some pretty high-level qualifying matches were going on on the outside courts. Seppi vs de Minaur, Troicki vs Stakhovsky and Delbonis vs Mahut toiled as the stars took over the Court Central.
TennisTV streamed the charity event on Facebook:
As well, Djokovic went out and had a little hit with his son, Stefan.
The best thing about Davis Cup is that its rich history is so full of career-making moments.
It can be a relatively obscure bench player who does something spectacular, as Germany’s Tim Puetz did Saturday in the doubles tie against Spain.
Or it can be a player who’s had a fine career , but never ever quite had that moment to shine.
For David Ferrer, in his Valencia home, charged with winning a fifth and decisive rubber for the first time in his career, this was such a moment.
Ferrer, who turned 36 last week, was playing in his 24th career Davis Cup tie. And as sterling as his 27-5 record was, he had never carried the entire tennis nation on his shoulders.
Magic moment, at home, when it counts
But on Sunday, before a faithful home-city crowd, after the return of Rafael Nadal to the competition put the first two points up on the board but the French Open-champion pairing of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez were shocked the day before, Ferrer seized the day.
Overmatched in his first match Friday against world No. 4 Alexander Zverev, Ferrer finally put away a valiant Philipp Kohlschreiber, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-5 Sunday in four hours and 51 minutes.
The victory puts Spain in the September World Group semifinals against France.
The moment put Ferrer in the pantheon of his country’s sporting heroes.
“Very emotional, this competition. I have my best emotions in my career. So I’m really happy,” Ferrer said during an on-court interview after the match. “It’s really difficult to describe the feeling in this moment. Difference was in the final set. I played better than him. I was very focused, and the first set (which Ferrer won) was the key. In the first set maybe he was better than me, and after that it was very very close.
“For me its a dream, playing at home, here in Valencia, have the support of al the people, my family, my team. We’re in the semifinals, so it’s one of the best days in my career, for sure,” he added.
The day began with Ferrer’s teammate Rafael Nadal taking world No. 4 Alexander Zverev to school in a clinical 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win. It evened the tie at 2-2 in the wake of Saturday’s doubles defeat, and gave Ferrer his opportunity to shine.
Tough conditions in the bullring
And it was a day that had everything. Rain. Cool temperatures. Blustery winds that blew the red clay into the eyeballs of players and fans alike. But as the big crowd approached its seventh hour in the Valencia bullring, not many had left.
Kohlschreiber was up 3-0 in the fourth set tiebreak. But he lost it. Ferrer was up a break in the fifth set. But Kohschreiber won three straight games to go ahead again.
Germany had two break points at 3-4 to have an opportunity to serve for the tie. But two Kohlschreiber backhands – one topspin, one careful slice – flew over Ferrer’s baseline as the wind carried them a little too far.
At 5-5, 30-all, Kohlschreiber got an awkward bounce on the clay-deprived court, missed a forehand, and gave Ferrer an opportunity to break.
And then, on an epic point that sums up Ferrer’s career and heart, he ran down at least three near-winners, one after another. After more than 4 1/2 hours on court, he made Kohlschreiber hit just one more ball.
It was a backhand volley, near the net. And Kohschreiber couldn’t make it.
After that, with Nadal still frantically cheering from the sidelines, Ferrer was able to close it out. He fell to the court in exhausted ecstasy.
And then, to no one’s surprise, after shaking the chair umpire’s hand and hugging his captain briefly, he immediately headed over to his vanquished opponent, as Kohlschreiber sat disconsolate on the German bench.
A consoling moment with him, hugs and handshakes for the German squad. And only then did he head over to get mobbed by his teammates.
“I feel so emotional because … the match the both played was unbelievable. Also very special for David, that we love, one of the greatest person on the circuit. I think he deserves a match like this one, Davis Cup, in front of this crowd,” captain Sergi Bruguera said in an on-court interview.
“Philipp, he played an unbelievable match, one of the best matches I ever saw him play. … All the match was an incredible level of tennis, incredible intensity, for five hours.”
Ferrer didn’t even want to think about France, about September, about anything but the moment.
For me it’s one of the best days of my life, and I want to enjoy it,” he said. “Maybe one glass of red wine.”
You can tell the 2020 Summer Games are coming up sooner than we realize.
Because some of the big players are looking to get their Olympic criteria met by playing Davis Cup (and Fed Cup, in a few weeks).
One interesting thing that is going to come out of this weekend is that there is going to be a LOT of public comment about the proposed major changes ITF president Dave Haggerty floated in February.
Some of the intrigue in terms of nominations and lineups has gone, with the change to a five-man roster.
But the surprise after the draw ceremonies Thursday is that Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t played since the Australian Open, is on tap to play No. 1 singles Friday in Valencia against Germany. That’s best-of-five, on clay.
Here are the details on the four World Group quarterfinals going on over the next three days.
Among the ones to watch are Argentina vs. Chile (they don’t like each other too much in the sporting sphere). Austria v Russia, and the Czech Republic vs. Sweden feature two former Davis Cup powerhouses, now relegated to the zonals and trying to climb back up.
There are Group II ties as well in those regions. Group III round-robin ties in Asia/Oceania and Europe are also going on all this week.
John Isner looked dead after the first set of his Miami Open final against Alexander Zverev.
In fact, after the 32-year-old American pulled off a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4 victory to notch the biggest title of his career, he said that was the worst he felt all day.
“It’s crazy. I was the most tired the whole match in the first set. At the end of the first, beginning of the second, I caught a second wind. I started feeling so much better. I don’t know what happened. But I guess adrenaline helps,” Isner said during a post-match interview with ESPN. “I was just ready for his moment. I’ve been here three other times and I’ve lost, on this stage. I was just ready for it. … “I won my first match in 3 sets, and that’s how tennis goes. You start to gain a little confidence and the next thing you know things start to roll your way. I just kept pushing.”
One 2018 match win coming in
It’s Isner’s 13th career title – and by far his biggest. Of those, 11 have been won in the U.S. – two Auckland titles are the only exception. But all the others have been lower-level ones, 250s.
Isner is the oldest-ever first-time Masters 1000 champion, the first American to win the Miami Open since Andy Roddick in 2010.
Of the American’s 12 previous runner-up finishes, 11 have been in the U.S.
But Isner has had his chances at the Masters 1000 level before.
He had made three previous finals: the Paris Indoors in 2016, Cincinnati in 2013 and Indian Wells in 2012. All were close, but the American just couldn’t close the deal.
“I think it was maybe Wednesday before, you know, when the tournament had just started, we spoke – we had dinner and we hashed out, or I especially hashed out what’s been holding me back, and it’s not more reps on the court. I mean, I’m doing that. It’s not more time in the gym. I have been doing that. It was just mental things and myself being tight and tentative on the court holding me back. That’s the reason why I was losing close matches,” Isner said.
“We cleared that hurdle this week. So I went into every match, you know, super-fresh mentally and loose. We kept, after each match I won, we would have another dinner, have another dinner, have another dinner, and we kept hammering that point, just be loose, and I will be a force if I can play freely, and I was able to do that.”
No pre-Miami momentum
Coming in, Isner had posted just one match win in six tournaments, plus a win in a fifth-set tiebreak against Dusan Lajovic and Serbia in Davis Cup.
But on a weekend American tennis showed its best, he caught the wave with the help of improved returning, and solid play from the baseline.
And he did it against a player 12 years younger, one who first beat him when he was just a 15-year-old kid on the practice courts at the Saddlebrook resort in Florida.
Zverev, who destroyed one racket in the process, had nothing but gracious words for the man who defeated him.
“I want to thank you for kind of teaching me how to play the game, and practicing with me from such a young age,” he said during the trophy ceremony. “Even though you don’t believe it now, but you’re a big part of what I do on the court.”
Isner was touched.
“I’m 12 years older than you, you’re 20 years old, you’re No. 4 in the world, you have the brightest future ahead, you have the greatest team with you, you do everything the right way,” Isner said. “I’ve been on tour with you the last four years, I see the work you put in. Just keep pushing along and you’re going to be at the very, very top one day.”
With the victory, Isner jumps back into the top 10 in the rankings for the first time since May, 2014. He had been as low as No. 27 in Oct. 2016.
“For me to, having come in here having won one match and to leave this tournament back to top 10 in the world – I think I got there in 2012 and I got back there in 2014, and now I have matched my high ranking in 2018, so I have done it three times. It’s up to me now to keep pushing forward,” Isner said during his press conference.
“This is a big hurdle for me, mentally more than anything, to get over the hump in a tournament like this. I will have many more tournaments like this and see if I can maybe give myself another opportunity.”
Too many missed balls
Zverev rued all the errors he made, errors that he said he hadn’t made all week. But he didn’t have a smooth path to the final. The 20-year-old needed a third-set tiebreak to beat Daniil Medvedev in his first match, and he got past No. 28 seed David Ferrer 6-4 in the third set in the third round.
“I think I missed more shots today than I did the whole tournament. Yeah, I played bad from the baseline. But, you know, it’s not easy against John, because you always feel the pressure that if you get broken you’re not going to win the set. That’s maybe a factor,” he said.
Both now head to Davis Cup next weekend, which is not a fun turnaround.
Zverev must travel to Europe, and change surfaces. Germany will face a powerhouse Spanish team that includes Rafael Nadal on red clay in Valencia.
Isner, whose American team will be equally loaded against an undermanned Belgian squad missing David Goffin, only has to travel to Nashville.