To his credit, Bernard Giudicelli – arguably the most despised man in French tennis, maybe ever, right now – knew he was entering hostile territory and didn’t duck the occasion.
Or maybe he simply was oblivious, in the way the 60-year-old French Federation president has appeared to be oblivious to the wants of French tennis players and fans.
David Haggerty had to know he wouldn’t fare much better with the knowledgeable French crowd. But he was front and centre as well.
He didn’t duck the media, either, trying to convince everyone that despite the death of the Davis Cup, all would be well.
The American ITF president, the man with the 1980s center part who always looks like he wants to tug frantically at the neck of his dress shirt à la Rodney Dangerfield, was Public Enemy No. 2 in this “final” French final.
Or, as the hashtag would have it, “LaDer” (the last).
The embattled Giudicelli is the man many French tennis fans blame for this whole Davis Cup mess. He went against wishes of most with in donating France’s 12 hefty votes to the “yes” side. It was a big reason the sweeping Davis Cup changes in Orlando, Fla. passed last August.
But there he was was at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, in his usual front-row seat in the ITF’s “Presidential Tribune” behind the court. He was suited, booted and with his trademark thin-lipped, slightly crooked smirk set in permafrost.
Unfortunately for Giudicelli, his team went down to defeat. It was another personal defeat for him in recent months. He couldn’t gladhand, take credit or accept congratulations both perfunctory and heartfelt from other dignitaries with similarly posh seats.
Booing the “bad guys”
Some 23-24,000 piled into the Stade Pierre-Mauroy each of the three days of the Davis Cup Final. And they booed.
They booed Giudicelli. They booed Haggerty. There were banners. People tweeted. The fact that the team – an underdog from the start – was losing didn’t help matters.
As the curtain came down on Davis Cup as we all know it, the mood was pretty dark.
Giudicelli not delivering on promises
Giudicelli was elected in Feb. 2017 on a performances and results-based platform (and no doubt no small amount of behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Because that’s usually part of how these elections are won).
So far, on the men’s side, that plan has resulted in not a single French player ending the season inside the top 25 – for the first time in a long time.
Not a single French player made a Slam quarterfinal for the first time since 1980. And, according to former FFT presidential candidate Alexis Gramblat, the number of registered players has dropped below one million.
Now, with the help of his vote, it’s RIP to Davis Cup.
And the irony is, it might all have been for naught.
If Giudicelli thought that going with the flow would buttress his odds of getting the job he really wants – next president of the ITF – those ambitions were dealt a severe blow.
Giudicelli was ousted from the ITF executive and as chair of the Davis Cup committee last month.
He can’t even think of running for president for four years.
When France played Spain in the semifinals, Giudicelli didn’t really have the chutzpah to go into the locker room.
He wasn’t welcome. It looked like his players pretty much ignored him at the draw ceremony, as well.
A few weeks ago at the Paris Masters in Bercy, Giudicelli was booed when his face appeared on the big screen in the arena.
And he was booed again at the Davis Cup final.
Testy moments at the official dinner
The official Davis Cup dinner was scrapped as a concept last year, in an attempt by the ITF to “reduce the number of player commitments”. As if that would somehow convince the top players to compete in every tie.
But at this weekend’s final, with so many sponsors and presidential guests on freebie trips to feed and water, it had to be done.
The gibes are more often playful during the speeches at these things. But at this dinner, on Tuesday night, captain Yannick Noah went rogue. In his final tie as captain, clearly unworried about burning bridges, he was pointed.
He addressed Giudicelli and Haggerty with a few cutting remarks. Per l’Équipe, they included, “You probably scoff at losing my respect”. And, “I’m sorry you can’t sit though a five-set match”.
“Flabbergasted, the ITF members waited for the storm to pass. Until Team France stood up and applauded,” L’Équipe wrote.
There was no sign of Giudicelli when Haggerty was conscripted to hand former French Davis Cup player François Joffret the “Davis Cup Award of Excellence”.
With 35 Davis Cup ties as a player, Jauffret holds the French record.
A two-time French Open singles semifinalist, Jauffret later was the national technical director for the French Federation. The 75-year-old currently sits on the board of directors.
The award is presented, per the ITF story, to an “individual from the home team who has made a lasting impact on that nation’s Davis Cup history and who represents the ideals and spirit of the Davis Cup competition.”
Let’s just say that Haggerty’s presence was duly noted.
Haggerty and the medals – a one-man show
After that little scene, for some inexplicable reason, the ITF decided Haggerty should be a one-man show for the medal and trophy presentations.
It was bad enough that it seemed to take forever – at least a half hour – to set up what appeared to be rather a simple stage.
The delay ensured that many of the fans who might have wanted to stick around to acknowledge their team one last time – the Davis Cup, one last time – might lose patience.
In the meantime, a distraught Pouille was being comforted in the hall as both teams kind of milled around.
The Croats wanted to get back to the earnest celebrations. The French just wanted to drown their sorrows, and perhaps leave before they lost it.
When they were finally ready, surely they could have gotten someone else up there to help Haggerty?
Maybe Giudicelli for the French finalists’ hardware?
Hmmm, okay. Probably not the best idea.
Maybe fabulous Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, also front-row for the whole thing, for the Team Croatia victory spoils? That would have injected a ray of light into a rather shaded situation.
No. Even longtime Davis Cup sponsor BNP Paribas – always a very big presence in protocol-type occasions wherever the competition is played, was conspicuously absent.
There wasn’t anyone from Kosmos Tennis, the Piqué-fronted company that dangled a potential $3 billion payout to burn the old format to the ground and build a new world sporting behemoth.
And so, Haggerty had to put a medal around the neck of each of the six members of Team France and Team Croatia. And in between each, he had to hustle over and get their replica trophies and hand those to them as well.
Mahut has a few things to say
Most of them sort of pretended they didn’t know him. Although, gentlemen to the core, they all shook his hand.
And then came … Nicolas Mahut.
Mahut had a few things to say to the ITF president. And he was intent upon firmly holding onto Haggerty’s hand while he did it – on the off chance the American tried to flee.
It was a pretty long conversation, considering how public it was.
Later, Mahut would only say he was … asking Haggerty what he thought of the quality of the match.
His trophy handoff was a drive-by.
Pierre-Hugues Herbert decided to raise his arm and look up at the crowd while Haggerty was putting the medal around his neck.
Meanwhile, Pouille wasn’t finding any serenity at all.
By the time he got up to receive his medal he, too, preferred to look anywhere but there.
He almost forgot to shake Haggerty’s hand, too. But the light went on just in time and he offered up a cursory effort.
Noah dispensed with the niceties. He just grabbed the medal and awarded it to himself.
The runner-up ceremonies – at home, after such an emphatic loss – were never going to be sweetness and light. (And yet, they still might be more absorbing than those at next year’s neutral venue championship – unless Spain wins it).
Bu add to that the enmity towards the men they perceive as the architects of the Davis Cup destruction, and it was sad, and dark and poignant.
In a final move, as soon as he felt safely out of sight, Mahut wrenched the medal off his neck. He did so as though it were contaminated.
It was a gesture that neatly summed it up.
The Dave and Bernie show
Gerald Piqué, the Spanish soccer star who is so much the face of the “new Davis Cup” that Roger Federer once mockingly said he had little interest in the “Piqué Cup”, wisely stayed away.
He had a game in Madrid Saturday night – at his day job – which helped make that an easy call.
So it was up to the other two to bear the brunt.
It would be surprising if Haggerty and Giuicelli were ever friends. Both are good politicians in their own ways, and share a similar ambition. But they come from completely different worlds.
And it’s been apparent that Giudicelli’s ambitions were not just to be the French federation president, but to ascend to the big job with Haggerty’s first term ending next year.
Their alliance of convenience worked for a year or so. It helped ensure they passed the reforms that both were looking for. For Haggerty, his job security likely depended on it. For Giudicelli, it was insurance that he’d remain close to the centre of power inside the ITF as a board member, and chairman of the Davis Cup committee. From there, he could plot his future course.
But Haggerty had to face the wrath from inside and outside the ITF. There was a perception that he had skirted the bylaws to keep Giudicelli in his post– to ensure he kept his 12 votes. There were stipulations about board member behaviour, and Giudicelli’s defamation conviction back home seemed to require his ouster.
But then, once the vote was secured, Giudicelli was bounced. From both jobs. There is no French representative with the ITF for the first time in … forever.
Installing a court for a one-week arena event always comes with its challenges – especially a clay court.
The installation in Lille for the Davis Cup final produced … a noticeable speed bump on the service line. It was discovered Wednesday morning, after the crew worked from the end of a rugby game in the stadium Saturday to build it.
One of the big powers in tennis, France therefore does not have a representative on the ITF board for the first time in eons.
Was Giudicelli deserting a sinking (Davis Cup) ship? Was this the understanding once the Davis Cup reforms passed?
No doubt it will all eventually come out.
And you thought American politics were full of backroom deals and subterfuge.
ITF does Giudicelli a solid
A clause in the ITF’s constitution stated that members couldn’t serve on the ITF’s board of directors if they have a criminal conviction against them in their own country.
During a March 2017 press conference, Giudicelli said he wouldn’t endorse Lyon tournament director Gilles Moretton’s candidacy as president of a new French tennis league. Moretton, he suggested, was complicit in a ticket-reselling scheme that rocked French tennis.
It was a scandal that also had implicated Giudicelli’s predecessor, Jean Gachassin. Basically, it ended the former rugby player’s longtime reign over the sport in France.
Giudicelli was found guilty in Sept. 2017. He was fined 10,000 euros, plus 5,000 euros in damages and interest to Moretton. Another 2,500 euros were earmarked for the plaintiff’s court costs.
Amidst all that, the ITF’s board of directors proposed a “Giudicelli tweak” to its constitution in July. The motion aimed to only require a resignation from the board if the charge “would constitute a criminal offence in the majority of jurisdictions in which the sport is played”.
Defamantion is only a civil offense in many countries.
The ITF board proposed the amendment to allow it to “have discretion in such matters”. The vote took place during the same August annual general meeting where the Davis Cup’s fate was decided.
As did, perhaps not coincidentally, the Davis Cup vote.
It’s worth noting again that just about every current and past French Davis Cup player stood firmly, publicly against the proposed Davis Cup reforms.
The French won their long-awaited Davis Cup at home in Lille last November. They will play for another next month, also in Lille. The emotions the country’s sporting public has experienced as a result are something that would disappear in the new neutral-venue plan.
Despite that, Giudicelli gave his 12 votes to the “yes” side.
And while he has another 2 1/2 years in his term as FFT president, L’Équipe posits that the naming of a new federation general manager, against Giudicelli’s wishes, speaks to the weakening of his power base on the home front.
Giudicelli’s platform when he successfully ran for federation president was all based on bringing back a “winning” culture.
The “Big Four” of Gasquet, Monfils, Tsonga and Simon are aging out.
And the president has been publicly critical of the mental fortitude of Lucas Pouille. Pouille, the top-ranked French player, literally is the only potential champion in the (male) pipeline at the moment.
The FFT has more than a million registered members. And it’s a huge sport in that country.
Which is one reason all of its political machinations and boardroom deals are so fascinating.
It’s hard for those of us in countries where tennis is more of a niche sport to fathom , for example, why you would stream a debate between three candidates for federation president on Facebook. Or even have a democratic-style election for president, for that matter!
If you didn’t have complete faith in the integrity of the French Tennis Federation, you’d think their decision to host every major recent Davis Cup tie in Lille, near the Belgian border, was a case of … favoritism.