Fed and Nadal … then Fed and La Monf’ (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Roger Federer is feeling so good, he scheduled a practice doubleheader Thursday at Indian Wells.

And the first leg, at 10 a.m., was a special treat for the fans – many of whom would rather watch the big guys practice than take in a terrific, actual match in one of the stadiums.

It doesn’t happen that often that Rafael Nadal and Federer practice side by side. But it happened on Thursday.

It was unfortunate for Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, who was playing his first-round match at 11 a.m. inside the main stadium. Let’s just say that the number of fans just outside around Practice Courts 1 and 2 was exponential compared to those who went inside to watch one of the game’s rising stars.

Nadal was hitting with everyone’s favorite practice partner, Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

Federer was hitting with a player who took some time to place. It was the Italian Thomas Fabbiano, another undersized player who lost in the first round of qualifying.

Two Goliaths, and two Davids

Fabbiano, age 29 and listed at 5-foot-8, is currently ranked No. 83.

And no, while he and Federer seemed to know each other, we don’t really know how that came about. They probably don’t hang out at the same restaurants.

Like two ships passing in the night

The funniest thing about these meetups on the practice court is that for the most part, the players everyone would like to think are great buddies generally ignore each other. 

That’s true even when they are sitting back to back on the benches during the changeovers. It’s not like they’re gabbing like besties during water breaks.

That would be SO amazing, wouldn’t it? But they’re working. It wasn’t the time for two of the game’s giants to talk about the ousting of their CEO, Chris Kermode.

Even better? That some day, they’ll actually practice together. Obviously their practice pace and methods couldn’t be more opposed. But still, it would be a major occasion.

Or, barring that, play dubs together at Indian Wells or Madrid – or somewhere that’s not an exhibition where the main purpose is drumming up ticket sales.

The “nightcap” with Monfils

At 2 p.m., Federer was back out on the practice court with another unusual practice partner.

It was Gaël Monfils, who is having a great 2018 so far.

Now these two go way back. But we don’t recall ever seeing them practice together. Although surely it must have happened before.

On the next court were Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem. 

So it was another nice meeting of top tennis talent in the same area code. 

These are moments that happen regularly on the men’s side at Indian Wells. For the most part, the boys don’t seek refuge on some of the back practice courts (No. 8 and No. 9, notably), where the security cordons off the fans and they try not to let anyone in there.

Serena Williams, sister Venus and Maria Sharapova are fairly notorious for choosing to be back there.

It’s just one reason the men have a higher profile than the women do at a joint event like this one.

But it’s not as though anyone is going to go to the women and say, “Hey, it would be great for the WTA if you guys would practice right up there, front and centre.”

The return to the locker room from those practice courts basically takes all the players right by the big bullpen, where fans wait for autographs. It’s harder to walk right by them and not sign than it is when you leave the courts at the other end of the player’s field and stay wide of the area.

Enjoy the photos and the videos.

“Djokerer” will premiere Friday at Laver Cup

When the most highly anticipated moment of a three-day tennis event is two top players teaming up in doubles, you know you’re not on the ATP Tour.

And Team Europe won’t make the fans wait too long.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will team up for doubles Friday, the second match of the night session on Day 1 of the Laver Cup.

There was a similar moment a year ago, at the event’s inaugural edition in Prague. The pairing of Federer and Rafael Nadal was probably even more anticipated, as inextricably intertwined as they have been during a decade-long rivalry.

It was a little awkward, as most first-time pairings are – especially involving two players with radically different playing styles.

How will Federer and Djokovic work together – Federer playing forehand, Djokovic on the ad side? 

Doesn’t really matter. It’s the novelty of the thing.

The two have done a good job joshing and kibbitzing and pretending they’re good buddies in the leadup to the event. Although you have to ask the question: have they practiced together this week?

Three singles, then Djokerer

The opening day session Friday will be two singles matches. The first will have Team Europe’s Grigor Dimitrov go up against Team World’s Frances Tiafoe.

That will be followed by Kyle Edmund vs. Jack Sock.

The night session singles match will pit David Goffin against Diego Schwartzman.

It’s not exactly a star-studded lineup, with Dimitrov (at No. 7) the only top-10 player. But on the plus side, there will be an American in each match during the day session.

“He’s player with a lot of potential, a player who in a few years can win a Grand Slam,” Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg said of the 27-year-old Dimitrov.

When you see that night singles match, and take into consideration how much they’re charging for the tickets, they almost had no choice but to bring out the two rock stars for the doubles.

“I did have an inkling they would play – I am surprised they would play the first day,” Team World captain John McEnroe said.

Djokerer will take on Sock and Kevin Anderson.

Ahhhh, memories. Will we Djokerer re-enact this moment?

So it seems Sock, who didn’t play Davis Cup last weekend because of a hip issue, has recovered well enough to play singles during the afternoon and doubles late night.

Of course, having a match tiebreak in lieu of a third set, compared to the best-of-five format on red clay the Americans were facing last week in Croatia, makes it a lot easier.

Stakes get higher through the weekend

The way the exhibition format works is that the matches on the first day are worth one point each. On Saturday, they’re worth two points each and as they get down to serious business during the single session on Sunday, a win will be worth three points.

Djokerer
Team Europe is breaking out its “dream team” on Day 1 of the Laver Cup. If it goes to a sudden-death doubles set on Sunday, they could play again (Pic: Laver Cup website)

Friday night could be the only appearance by Djokerer during the weekend – unless the teams are tied 12-12 in points on Sunday. In that case, one set of doubles would be played to declare the victor, and they could jump back in.

The lineups for the two sessions Saturday will be announced an hour after play finishes on Friday.

If you’re in the Chicago area and are of a mind to catch Djokerer, there have been a few extra seats released.

As of 5:30 p.m EDT, there are seven of the “cheapest” left in the upper deck, at $132 plus all the charges. Another 203 remain in the lower bowl, at either $420+ or … $600.

(The 46 tickets remaining for the finale on Sunday range from $720 to $840, with one ducat tidily priced at  … $1,080).

Rogers Cup pics: Friday, Aug. 3, 2018

TORONTO – Some of the players were preparing for the qualifying. But most of the players practicing in the late afternoon on Friday were still a few days away from their first-round matches in the main draw.

Diego Schwartzman (The No. 11 seed, who plays unseeded Kyle Edmund) and David Ferrer (who plays a qualifier or special exempt) took the court together.

Dominic Thiem (Bye, then Tsitsipas or Dzumhur) was on the stadium court. While Pierre-Hugues Herbert (the No. 7 seed in the qualifying, vs. Hubert Hurkacz) practiced with doubles partner Nicolas Mahut (No. 12 Tim Smyczek).

Félix Auger-Aliassime had a hit with Grigor Dimitrov, then stayed behind to hit some more serves.

Also on court was Marco Cecchinato, who will face Frances Tiafoe in the first round of the main draw.

Vasek Pospisil practiced with coach Rainer Schuettler. The Canadian wild card drew Borna Coric in the first round. Not an easy task under any circumstances. But Coric has already been here so long, he practically has stock in the place.

Here are a few pics.