Giudicelli and Haggerty on Lille hotseat

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. 

Make us dream,” Giudicelli wrote the night of the Davis Cup finals dinner as he blocked … somebody in the group shot. (Facebook)

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

French fans’ banner: “118 years, the ITF killed me”. A few meters away, Bernard Giudicelli and David Haggerty”

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.

“Having been around the FFT board members during this final Davis Cup weekend, I can tell you: they’re going to miss it, too. No more day passes from the retirement home, no more appetizers, fewer occasions to feel important …”

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.

Of course, he’s appealing.

Giudicelli taking ITF to the CAS

No, don’t talk to us

When France played Spain in the semifinals, Giudicelli didn’t really have the chutzpah to go into the locker room.

“Giudicelli, you’re a sellout!” yells one supporter.

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.

“Make us dream,” Giudicelli wrote the night of the Davis Cup finals dinner as he blocked the only young(ish) French men’s prospect, Lucas Pouille, in the group shot. (Facebook)

Haggerty booed

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.

Giudicelli
(Photo: ITF)

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.”

Haggerty put on his best used-car salesman smile.

As it turns out, the selection of Jauffret, more than deserving, may not have been so accidental.

Let’s just say that Haggerty’s presence was duly noted.

Haggerty hissed and humiliated … he’s only getting what he deserves. And where was the criminal president of the FFT? Afraid of being humiliated? It will come.
“Thrown into the arena to give an award to François Jauffret, ITF president David Haggerty earns a torrent of boos. A knowledgable public.”

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.  

Giudicelli

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.

Giudicelli

When they were finally ready, surely they could have gotten someone else up there to help Haggerty?

Maybe Giudicelli for the French finalists’ hardware?

Giudicelli

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.

Giudicelli

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

First, France.

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.

Giudicelli

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.

Giudicelli

Pierre-Hugues Herbert decided to raise his arm and look up at the crowd while Haggerty was putting the medal around his neck.

Giudicelli

Meanwhile, Pouille wasn’t finding any serenity at all.Giudicelli

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.

Giudicelli

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.

Giudicelli

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.

Giudicelli

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.

Giudicelli out of ITF board, Davis Cup committee

This weekend, these two perceived bad guys once again had a whole lot in common.

You wonder if they ever even talked about this. If they sat ensconced in their five-star suites at the official hotel, wondering what the future will bring – For them, and for the Davis Cup.

Gentle giant Cilic leads Croatia to victory

With all that has gone on before, around, and is still to come in the post-mortem for this “final” Davis Cup final, the efforts of the 2018 champions may well be consigned to the back burner.

So let it be said, before anything else, that Croatia’s Marin Cilic is a sporting hero to his country. He is an elegant champion and a deserving one.

And the 30-year-old cemented his legacy by leading Croatia to a 3-1 victory over France Sunday in Lille.

He closed it out with a straight-sets victory over Lucas Pouille – a late substitution for Jérémy Chardy.

In six sets, Cilic did not allow his serve to be broken.

And combined with the effort of young countryman Borna Coric Friday against Chardy, he gave the Croats all they needed.

They hoisted the Cup for the first time in this tennis generation, the second time in the country’s relatively short Davis Cup history.

Croatia

“This is a weekend from the dreams, it’s just incredible feeling to play like this in the final, without even dropping one serve in three singles matches. Even today , Lucas played a great match. The first set was really, really tough, probably just one point decided the tiebreak,” a serene Cilic said during an on-court interview shortly after the victory. 

“We had a feeling that Lucas might be on the court. He didn’t have the best season of his life, but still he’s an incredible player, I felt it would be risky to put Jeremy in. And I felt I might play him,” he added. “Still, he played in incredible match. I was just a little bit better, a bit composed, and just played an incredible match.”

Two Cups for a young nation

Croatia

France has played the Davis Cup for 100 years. Its first tie, a neutral-site loss to Belgium at Wimbledon, came in 1904.

Croatia’s first tie as an independent nation came in May, 1993.

It was an inauspicious, rather anonymous debut: a 3-2 win over Zimbabwe in a Group I Euro/Africa zone semifinal in Harare. The nation has only been in the World Group for 16 years.

Back then (as with the French and Belgians in 1904), it was a pair of two-man shows.

The Gorans (Ivanisevic and Prpic) squared off against the Blacks (Byron and Wayne). All four played both singles and doubles. Every match was in straight sets. And it was clinched by Prpic over Wayne Black in the deciding rubber.

Just 12 years later, unseeded, Croatia stunned everyone by beating Slovakia and winning the 2005 Davis Cup.

Although, when you look at the resumés of all the players pictured below, it seems not quite a shock as much as destiny in retrospect.

 

Heartbreak against the Argentines

It seemed meant to be again in 2016. In the quarterfinals against the Americans, Croatia was down 0-2 after Jack Sock came back from two sets to none down against Cilic to win in five, in the opening rubber.

They had to beat the mighty Bryans in the doubles to stay alive. And Cilic and Ivan Dodig did just that before Cilic and Coric rolled to victory in the Sunday reverse singles.

They took care of France at home in the semifinals. But then, in the final – at home again – a tough one.

After a long season, Cilic had expended a lot of energy in almost blowing a 2-0 sets lead to Federico Delbonis, to win in five on opening day. He was then subbed in with Dodig for the doubles, which they won in three close sets.

On Sunday, looking to clinch it, Cilic went up two sets to love against Juan Martin del Potro.

But after 10 sets in about 48 hours, needing just one more set to win, he couldn’t close the door. And then Delbonis became a sporting hero back home in Argentina with a straight-sets win over Ivo Karlovic.

Karlovic had been out of the Davis Cup picture for more than 4 1/2 years, since a losing effort against those same Argentines in the 2012 quarterfinals. But he was pressed into service with Coric unavailable after knee surgery.

A “last” win for Croatia – on the road

Unless something drastically changes in the “new” Davis Cup era to begin in 2019, that turned out to be this fine tennis nation’s last chance to win the Cup at home.

But they did the next best thing – the co-equally good thing – on Sunday. They won it on the road.

“I think this team has done incredibly well through the year, and it’s because of the team that we made it to the final, it’s not because of a chance. Borna came into top form at the right moment and played incredibly well against the U.S., and again here,” Cilic said. “It’s not every day that you become the world champion. And for us it’s a dream come true, and for this nation.”

For longtime captain Zeljko Krajan, that 2016 defeat was tough to swallow

“It’s amazing that we finally crowned it with a victory after the experience of 2016. That was in my mind for a long long time after we lost it,” Krajan, his voice shaking, said during a post-match interview on court. “We are stronger for that experience, even though we lost it. It showed today on the court that Marin was just experienced enough. And you could see that he was mentally very focused, knew what to do.”

Krajan’s dream team came together

Some 25 years after that fairly anonymous debut in Harare, the team was led by Cilic and Dodig – two players of Croatian ethnicity born in the same town in Herzegovina, Medjugorje (and who now call Monte Carlo and the Bahamas home). One of the chair umpires for this weekend’s tie was the Serb Marijana Veljović. The world has changed.

Croatia

“I say we have a dream team finally from the semifinals, Trust your players, and believe in something. We are a long time together, for seven years. They invested a lot of (the) year in Davis Cup. We all know what the format is, and how many weeks you had to skip throughout the year to play. Sometimes we didn’t always have a full team,” Krajan said.

“And finally we had it. They all gave themselves, and it paid off in the best possible way, winning this las – kind of – Davis Cup in this way. The quality was on our side from the beginning of the weekend, and in the end the quality prevailed.”

(Screengrabs from Davis Cup TV)

Decisions loom for French captain Noah

One of the best doubles teams on the planet staved off elimination for France in the Davis Cup final Saturday.

And now, captain Yannick Noah must make the toughest decisions of his tenure, in the final tie of his tenure.

Who to play on Sunday, as France tries to defend its title against a Croatian team that boasts two singles players ranked in the top 12 in the world?

The notable depth the French boast is being sorely stretched in this final. As many players as they have, the cupboard even seems almost bare.

And Noah’s selections – which ultimately have come down to his personal preferences – will be second-guessed for the ages if France can’t pull off a comeback in this final “true” Davis Cup final.

Mahut-Herbert get the job done

Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert came within a point of winning the ATP Tour Finals in London a week ago.

And despite the quick transition to the red clay, and a few nervy moments, they kept their nation alive.

NoahThe duo defeated the occasional team of Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) to give France its first point.

France remains down 1-2 after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (against Marin Cilic) and Jérémy Chardy (against Borna Coric) failed to even earn a set on Friday. Actually, they failed to even convert a break point.

Saturday was a bucket-list moment for Mahut, 37 in January. He’s 4-0 in doubles this year after being left off the (then) four-man squad for the final a year ago against Belgium.

The French team was favored going in. And even with a hiccup on the third set, and the failure to capitalize on a golden opportunity at 4-5, 0-40 on Pavic’s serve in the fourth as the crowd began to get involved, they stood firm.

But on Sunday, there remains no margin for error.

Tsonga? Chardy? Pouille? Herbert?

Noah
It’s a good group. But it’s not a great group. Hence the uphill battle vs. Croatia.

Interviewed on court after the match, Noah said there might be changes. He was going to speak to the team doctor, he said, because Tsonga was “slightly injured” when he played on Friday.

Choosing the 33-year-old for this final, despite his 11-4 career Davis Cup record on clay, was a crapshoot from the get-go.

In last year’s final, Tsonga lost to David Goffin. In the 2016 quarterfinal against the Czech Republic, he lost in five sets to Lukas Rosol after leading two sets to one. But mostly, he was rusty and likely not in tip-top form. Even during the week, there was reporting that he was favoring an injury.

Tsonga hadn’t played a five-set match since beating Canadian teen Denis Shapovalov at the Australian Open in January. And since then, he had been off seven months and had knee surgery. Since his return, he is 1-4 on the ATP Tour.

As well, his last match on clay was during the Davis Cup semifinal against Serbia in Sept. 2017.

As for Chardy, he had a nice run though Indian Wells and Miami. And he had a terrific grass-court season. But other than the grass, he hadn’t gotten past the second round of any tournament since April. He was not coming in with any sort of form after being bounced in the first round in both Basel and Bercy.

Whether or not anyone else could have done better against top-shelf opposition, of course, is an unanswerable question.

Whither Gasquet, Monfils and Simon?

They are the top three French players in the ATP Tour rankings at the moment. Although all of these former top-10 players are outside the top 25.

Gasquet begged off early in the process with an injury.

What about the other two? Well, the best way to term it is probably “captain’s decision”.

Simon, who has been playing club tennis the last few weeks and surely is in shape, just doesn’t seem to be Noah’s kind of guy. That’s been clear from the moment Noah returned to the captaincy early in 2016.

And yet, Simon did play for him in that return tie in Guadeloupe. He also got the call for the first round in 2017 – in Japan. He’s gone to Argentina, and Great Britain, and Germany … and hasn’t played in a home tie since 2012.

Noah’s description of their failure to communicate is that they have “different ways of working.” Simon’s impressive head-to-head results against the top top Croats (albeit not on clay) didn’t score as many points on the selection tote board.

Monfils and Noah: complicated

Frenchmen

From the moment Noah returned as captain and decreed that the team would play its first “home” tie all the way in the French territory of Guadeloupe, it was touch and go.

There was no question of Noah leaving Monfils off the squad. His father hails from the island, and he’s a pretty big deal there. So he played. It was the first and last time he played under Noah.

But he didn’t appreciate the lack of input or consultation. The only player who seemed on board with the decision was Tsonga, who was already on that side of the planet and on that surface, playing the South American clay swing.

Tsonga also was the player most on board with Noah returning – so it’s not a shocker that Noah would return that loyalty this weekend.

But Monfils? As Éric Salliot writes for RMC Sport, there were eight French players on hand for the triumph a year ago against Belgium. Monfils was not one of them.

There’s the story of Monfils in Croatia for the 2016 semifinal. Noah was counting on him, but his knee was barking. There was some sort of … conversation and by Wednesday, Monfils was on a plane home rather than in Zadar to cheer on his teammates on the weekend.

Not reliable, Noah says

Previous captains Guy Forget and Arnaud Clément gave Monfils a lot of latitude, Salliot writes. Early morning practices? Forget about it. He wasn’t ready to play on the Friday in the 2014 quarterfinal against Germany. But he brought home the deciding point on Sunday. Noah was convinced he could “manage” Monfils, get him on the team plan, even though he’d been well-warned.

For the first-round match in Japan in 2017, Noah left Monfils out “because it’s much better for the team’s state of mind” that he didn’t play.”

Monfils has rarely disappointed in Davis Cup. He brought home a point in the final both in 2010 in Serbia, and against Roger Federer in Lille in 2014.

And he’s really good on clay.

You’d think Noah would agree he could use him right now.

The options

First up on Sunday is Cilic against Chardy.

On the bench is Lucas Pouille, who is a Noah favorite but who was left on the bench on Friday.

Noah
Will captain Noah substitute in Lucas Pouille, his highest-ranked singles player, on Sunday?

Pouille won both his singles matches against Italy, on clay, back in April. And he beat Robert Bautista Agut on a hard court, in the same Stade Pierre-Mauroy, to give France a 2-0 lead in the semifinal against Spain in September.

He also happens to be ranked higher than Chardy, which is a luxury you have when you put a lower-ranked player in the lineup the first day.

Herbert raised his hand as available in singles. So did Mahut.

But there’s no point in saving Pouille for a fifth and deciding rubber, if you can’t get there. And you also would have the more explosive Tsonga (assuming he’s good to go) up against Coric in that one.

So it comes down to Pouille vs. Chardy against Cilic.

And if Cilic wins, Croatia wins the “final” Davis Cup.

(All screengrabs from DavisCup.com)

Chardy, Coric open “final” Davis Cup

The final weekend of Davis Cup, as we’ve come to know it over 118 years, begins Friday in Lille, France.

And it will be French No. 1 Jérémy Chardy against Croatian No. 2 Borna Coric to kick it off (8 a.m. EST).

They’ll be followed by Marin Cilic, ranked No. 7 in the world, against former world No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second singles.

Tsonga is currently ranked No. 259 after missing seven months of the season due to knee surgery.

Few tennis nations have more depth than the French.

They have nine players ranked in the top 100 (Spain currently has 10, the U.S. 11).

But despite a relative embarrassment of riches, there is always drama in the selections.

And as their golden era of French players ages, there always seem to be injury issues that limit the options.

The other X-factor is that even though their home Grand Slam is played on red clay, there are few – if any – among the current crop of French players who can be considered highly accomplished on that surface.

So putting the final on clay is a crapshoot.

Gasquet, Monfils, Simon not chosen

No. 1 Chardy is currently the fifth-ranked player in his own country.

And he’s getting a bucket-list opportunity to become a national hero.

So much so, he even postponed his honeymoon.

Davis Cup calls, honeymoon postponed

The best of them, Richard Gasquet (No. 26, but a former No. 7), bowed out due to injury. Same for the current French No. 2, Gaël Monfils. Monfils is 3-0 against Cilic, and 2-0 against Coric.

As for the French No. 3, Gilles Simon (the top three are separated by only four spots in the rankings), well, that’s … complicated.

Captain Yannick Noah told l’Équipe there were two reasons.

“The first is that Gilles has a way of working that’s fairly far from mine. We discussed it, before and after my selection,” he said. “The second is that I think Gilles is much better on a hard court than on clay. I looked at his statistics. He has very good statistics against the Croats, but poor ones in Davis Cup on clay. I put all that together and I made my choice.”

Great record vs. Croats for Simon

Coric

Simon is 6-1 against Cilic, although their only clay-court meeting came in 2007. Notably, he took him to five sets twice – winning in Australia in 2014 and losing in five at the US Open that year, which Cilic won. He is 2-0 against Coric.

His record on clay in Davis Cup isn’t great, although most of those matches came five or more years ago. More recently, he defeated Canadian Vasek Pospisil in straight sets during France’s “home” tie in Guadeloupe in 2016.

The hard-court winning percentage is superior to his clay efforts. But not in a decidedly lopsided fashion. He has never played a match on indoor clay.

Noah also benched Lucas Pouille for Friday in favor of Tsonga. Pouille, who has been the highest-ranked French player the last few years, has fallen back after a difficult 2018.

 Rusty Tsonga takes on Cilic

Coric

The second singles rubber Friday will tell the French most of what they need to know.

Tsonga has played just five matches since returning to action in September after a seven-month absence. He’s been competitive in all of them – they’ve all gone three sets – but he has won just one of them.

That was a victory in a third-set tiebreak over No. 65 Guido Pella of Argentina in Antwerp.

Tsonga’s last five-setter came at the Australian Open in January, where he prevailed over Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

His last match on clay came in Sept. 2017, in the Davis Cup semis against Serbia in the same stadium, on the same surface.

It’s a big ask – a crapshoot – to hope for a throwback miracle from Tsonga. But it’s Davis Cup.

French edge in doubles

The downside of qualifying for the ATP Tour Finals – an making the final, losing a heartbreaker – is that Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won’t have had much time to adapt to the change of surface.

The positive side is that they’re match-tough and, despite that loss, confident.

They have won five of their six Davis Cup doubles rubbers together. Notably, that one defeat came at the hands of Croatia (Cilic and Ivan Dodig) on a hard court in Croatia during the 2016 semifinal tie.

Croatia doesn’t have the same sort of established doubles team, although they do have Mate Pavic, who is ranked No. 3 in the world and forms the second-ranked pair (behind Americans Jack Sock and Mike Bryan) with Oliver Marach of Austria.

They have Dodig, the 33-year-old former No. 4. And that pair did win a smaller ATP Tour event in Chengdu together in September. Pavic and Dodig won Hamburg together on clay in 2017. They could also substitute in Cilic, as they have done before – notably, as mentioned above, against the French.

The court

There have been some issues with the indoor clay court laid down in 60 hours for this tie.

Davis Cup final hits a speed bump

That’s a short turnaround, and clay courts needs time to settle and cure

To that end, the French Federation had players of various ages do a sort of a tennis marathon on the court overnight Wednesday to Thursday, according to RMC Sport.

They’ll do it again Thursday night.

Director of operations Sébastien Hette played down that service-line bump. “Nothing too nasty,” he told RMC. It’s something pretty classic for a clay court; it wasn’t even brought up at the captains’ meeting.”

Mid-tournament, little Federer comment on Benneteau

Roger Federer will be fighting to make the weekend Thursday when he plays Kevin Anderson at the ATP Tour Finals.

So he had little reaction Tuesday night when asked, after an impressive victory over Dominic Thiem and a fair preamble, to comment on the radio show chat that had him as the central topic.

I know about the comments, yeah. But I don’t really feel in the mood during a World Tour Finals to discuss that topic, to be honest. In all fairness, I hope you understand why. Because this is a bit of a celebration for tennis. For me it’s the year-end finale. I love playing here,” Federer said after the 6-2, 6-3 victory over Thiem.

The quick win allayed speculation about Federer’s health and mindset, in the wake of the desultory defeat to Nishikori Sunday.

“The radio interview that happened over a week ago that surfaces now, in French, Julien – who is a nice guy, I know him since the junior times – I think all of this has been totally taken out of context,” he added. “I don’t feel like I need to comment on this. I’d rather put it to rest rather than adding to it so you guys get something to write about.”

French radio show lifts the veil on Federer

You ask, sometimes you don’t get

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Federer agent Tony Godsick, courtside for Federer’s match, has not had any comment so far on the comments of Federer contemporary Julien Benneteau (TennisTV)

Federer did point out that he, and agent Tony Godsick, often are asked about his scheduling preferences. And sometimes, he’s told that certain markets have asked him to play at certain times.

“I get asked, ‘Would you like to play Monday or Tuesday’ sometimes. Sometimes I get asked, ‘Do you want to play day, or night?’ Sometimes they go ask the agent. And sometimes they ask me, you know, ‘Asia wants you to play at night’. Yes, sometimes we have our say,” Federer said.

“But I asked to play Monday at the US Open. I played Tuesday night. It’s all good, you know. I’ve had that problem for 20 years in the good way. Sometimes I get help, sometimes I don’t.  Yeah, sometimes they come ask, sometimes they don’t,” he added. “But a lot of the facts are not right, just to be clear there, from what I heard.”

Thiem struggles with hard-court tactics

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Nishikori struggled against Federer before pulling it together. Against Kevin Anderson Tuesday, it took him a full hour before he even won a single game – thus staving off a double bagel. (TennisTV)

If Federer and Nishikori both played horribly in the first set of their round-robin opener, that match eventually got better.

On Tuesday, Thiem appeared unsure as to what strategy to use on the indoor hard court.

Nothing really worked. And one thing’s for sure, his efforts to move forward and take the net did not pay dividends.

That the loss to Federer ended on a makeable forehand volley that went impressively awry sort of summed up the Austrian’s evening.

Australian Open’s Tiley addresses Fed fallout

Thiem now is 0-2, with one more round-robin match against Kei Nishikori remaining.

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Federer reminded himself that he was lucky to be in London playing in November, and tied to turn his negative attitude around. (TennisTV)

“Feels good, I’m very happy that I showed a reaction after last match against Kei. No match is easy here, and maybe something I’m not that used to, to lose and come back and play again. But it was a good exercise, great challenge for me,” Federer said on court after his win.

“I’m happy with my attitude, and happy with how I played. And it was good fun playing against Dominic.”

Turning his frown upside down

Federer admitted he got very negative against Nishikori, mostly because of the quality of his play in the opening set.

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Federer was uber-grumpy during the Nishikori match. A code violation for firing a ball into the stands was, while not a weekly feature in 2018, hardly a rare occurrence. Notably, he changed his shorts on Tuesday. Perhaps it was that fashionable piping on the bottom. (TennisTV)

“Against Kei it was 4-4 the first set. And we were both playing very, very badly. We can’t play much worse than that. But instead of seeing it positive, I saw everything quite negative. Just, I guess, one of those days sometimes where you wake up, you feel good, but you can’t come out and produce what you’re maybe used to,” Federer said. “But it happens, and Kei actually played very well at the end, played a great breaker. As we both picked up our  games, he had a better attitude, and just played a little bit better.

“Today I was more positive, more happy on the court. I love playing here in London. I reminded myself of what a privilege it is playing in the O2, and I hope it showed a little bit,” he added.

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(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Meet the new, chill Benoit Paire (maybe?)

(Update: Paire has been chuntering – great British word – up a storm against chair umpire Carlos Bernardes during this third-round match against Juan Martin del Potro Saturday. Totally losing it).

WIMBLEDON – At age 29, in his 12th year as a pro, mercurial Frenchman Benoit Paire says he’s finally figured it out.

And he pointed to a moment, early in the second set of his eventual 06 62 64 76 (3) victory over No. 26 seed Denis Shapovalov Thursday when the “old Benoit” would have lost it.

Paire had lost the first seven games of the match (the sixth, with which Shapovalov closed out a bagel first set, was a particular masterpiece of the genre).

And then, he was called for a time violation.

Not being a fellow who takes a lot of time between points – ever – he felt that the “two seconds” he went over because the ball boy was slow to send him the extra balls he asked for probably deserved a mulligan.

“That’s where I feel like I’m progressing,  I’m losing 6-0 1-0, and three or four years ago I would have been insulting everyone – my whole box, saying ‘it’s over, it’s total s**t’. These last few years I have had a lot of support from the people with me. which has done me a lot of good, and made me aware of a lot of things. I would have liked to figure it out earlier, of course, but I’m happy to do it now,” Paire said.

Told him, and told him again

The first thing you hear if you ever ask someone about Paire – especially other players – is how talented he is. The second thing is how nuts he is. Or sometimes it’s the “crazy” first, and then the “crazy talented.”

More often than not, he has gotten in his own way. His meltdown resumé is lengthy.

(Just three of dozens; click here for more)

It’s not as though Paire wasn’t aware. And it’s not as though everyone around him hadn’t constantly been telling him he was only hurting himself.

But he just couldn’t help himself.

“I talked to Edouard (close friend Édouard Roger-Vasselin), Jean-Charles (Diame, a former Fresno State player who often travels with him) other coaches in the past, my girlfriends – there have been lots of discussions on this subject. And I finally realized that it just had to click inside, if I just kept repeating it over and over again,” he said. “I knew they were right. I think back on it now and I think, “Damn, you were right. But I didn’t feel able to do it at that time. And now I really feel like I can.”

Paire said the light bulb went on this year, in Madrid, where he celebrated his 29th birthday.

“I don’t know. It seems natural now to be that way now – and it seems idiotic when I see people who get all annoyed (on court),” he said. “It’s weird. It’s like when you talk about the serve, you make one or two adjustments. But it took years for me to tell myself, all of a sudden, ‘C’mon Benoit, stop.’ “

Paire said it’s something that, to his surprise, comes naturally. He’s not telling himself to calm down. He’s not urging himself to be positive. He just does it.

nIf he’s down (as he was against Shapovalov), he said he’s trying to find solutions, to encourage himself.

The “Eureka” moment came at the end of a tough period for Paire. He was traveling alone – which he hated, because it left him alone with his thoughts. His back was an ongoing issue. He felt lonely. And he said in an interview with l’Équipe that he’s the kind of guy who, if he’s unhappy in his personal life, he’s unhappy in his tennis.

Direct, proportional correlation

Paire said there’s nothing better than sharing the great moments with the one you love. But either she has to make the sacrifice and put her career on hold to support him, or she can’t be with him all the time and you have to try to make a long-distance relationship work.

In Madrid, he had a catharsis. He bought a sketch pad, and even had one of the designs he drew tattooed on his forearm. He went with the drastic color change on his hair.

And he started reading a lot of books.

“I was trying to find (the stories) of people who experienced some of the same things I have. Not necessarily very happy topics, but they did me some good,” he said.

Somehow, he says he got there.

“Since Madrid, I’m really different, and I’m happy about it,” he said.

Newly-minted grass aficionado

And now, Paire is in the third round of Wimbledon, on a surface he was convinced for so many years that he hated.

“It’s a surface I like now, and enjoy it. Even if I took a (bagel) today. I enjoy hitting some little trick shots, some serve-volley. And on top of that I do this on other surfaces. So I don’t know why from the beginning I said I didn’t like it, because I have a game that adapts well to grass,” he said. “I don’t know. I was young, I was stupid at times.”

From his typically French, encyclopedic memory of the match against Shapovalov, Paire pointed out that a double fault to start the eighth game was particularly untimely.

But when he got to 30-15 … “It was like I’d already won the match. I screamed, just to relax myself a little bit, to find a rhythm,” he said. “When I’m feeling good, I feel like it’s easy to serve. But in that first set, I felt like it was tough to serve. I was throwing the ball too far in front. I was questioning myself.”

Paire said two or three words from Diame, from former coach Thierry Champion, did a lot of good, “got his head back on straight.”

“Even if it’s one word. The confidence came back because I know I can serve well,” Paire said.

(And no, we pass no judgment on the fact that this would be considered on-court coaching).

We’ll see if the “new” Paire can keep his momentum going in his third-round match Saturday, which will be against No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro.

Paire gets a two-cheeker hello from countryman Richard Gasquet, the Saturday before the start of Wimbledon on the practice court. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Mahut, Benneteau left out as DC draw made

Yannick Noah, the captain of Team France, brought six players with him to Lille.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille were pretty much locks to play the singles. The burning question was, who would he line up in doubles?

That question was answered at the draw Thursday.

And the two oldest members of the team, Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau, will be on the sidelines cheering as Noah selected Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert for the other two spots on the four-man roster.

For Mahut, it has to be a major blow. Mahut and Herbert were 3-0 this season in Davis Cup, defeating Japan, Great Britain and Serbia with the total loss of only one set.

For Belgium, there wasn’t the same embarrassment of riches.

David Goffin will be expected to win both his singles matches, with Steve Darcis playing No. 2.

The two other Belgian players are Ruben Bemelmans and Joris de Loore.

The Belgians will be counting on David Goffin to post two good singles wins – a big ask after a very long season on the ATP Tour.

The best, most accomplished doubles tandem on the French side is Herbert and Mahut. The pair qualified for the ATP Tour Finals together last week, and Herbert had a lower back issue there that hastened their withdrawal from the event.

Doubles experience lacking

Still, during the three days of practice this week, Mahut and Benneteau were playing doubles together. The logical conclusion was that the two might be the two selected for the crucial doubles rubber on Saturday.

They also have a lot of experience together.

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But no; Herbert and Gasquet are the selections for doubles (although it’s always possible Noah may make substitutions before Saturday’s rubber).

Gasquet is not exactly a doubles guy. He did reach a ranking of No. 45. But that was nearly 10 years ago. He has two career titles: Metz with Fabrice Santoro in 2006, and Sydney with Tsonga in 2008.

He has played just two doubles matches all season, both with Lucas Pouille.

Herbert has never teamed up with Gasquet, or Tsonga, or Pouille. Which has to mean Noah is confident that it won’t come down to a pickup doubles team.

Or that he has health concerns with Tsonga or Pouille, and wants to have a third top-shelf singles player if he needs one.

Benneteau

The action begins Friday, 9 a.m. EST. Same start time for Saturday’s doubles. The Sunday reverse singles begin at 8:30 a.m. EST.

“La bise de la réconciliation” for feuding Frenchwomen

ROLAND GARROS – In the end, despite the well-documented off-court drama, it was about tennis for Frenchwomen Alizé Cornet and Caroline Garcia.

At stake on Monday was a spot in the singles quarter-finals of their home Grand Slam. And it was Garcia, the recipient of so much criticism amid the public airing of some internal French Fed Cup dirty laundry, who had the last laugh.

Garcia defeated Cornet 6-2, 6-4 to reach her first career quarterfinal. It was also the first time Garcia had ever won a match on the main stadium court, Court Philippe-Chatrier. 

That, combined with an extra-time, third-round win over Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei that very easily could have gone the other way, may have have exorcised a few Roland Garros demons for the talented 23-year-old.

Just here for the handshake

If you were just there for the handshake, it far exceeded expectations. And that’s probably in part due to the graciousness of the loser, Cornet.

The bookmakers had 300-1 odds against the two exchanging kisses. And yet, it happened.

Frenchwomen

“I don’t know, I’m not the one to ask about how we got there, I don’t know. But it’s the truth!” Garcia said, laughing. “I’ll admit, it wasn’t really thought out. I was just so happy and everything. I shook her hand and after, I think I we kissed on the cheek. But it was natural.”

“I’m sure that everyone looked at this match to see how was it going to happen.Frenchwomen Everyone was surprised, maybe it’s going to be a battle or whatever. But, I mean, I just tried to stay like a professional player. I play tennis because I enjoy it, and I don’t want to get any fight with anyone. What happen, happened. We never forget about it. Tennis is a game. I play to enjoy and that’s it,” Garcia added.

Cornet’s first reaction was that it was the coldest exchange of kisses she’d ever had. “But it was a kiss,” she laughed. “It’s a good point already, and I was actually also surprised. I was not expecting that she wanted to give me a kiss. And I liked it. I mean, it was good to finish on this note, you know, like I wouldn’t have liked like just a handshake, like very cold.

“I’m not this kind of person. I’m a very nice person. I don’t like the conflict. So I told her good luck, and I mean it,” she added.

Next-day reflections

On French television Tuesday, Cornet said she hoped all the drama was behind them.

“I said, ‘Bravo, Caro. and good luck.’ And gave her a bit of a shove in the shoulder. Let’s hope that said it all. I hope we move on, because there are worse things in life,” Cornet said. “Obviously I wish it were me (winning), but I’m sincerely happy for her. And I hope we can stop talking about it. It’s getting heavy, and people hear the about the controversy. It’s really not worth it.”

Asked about the cheek kisses, Cornet smiled and agreed. “La bise de la reconciliation!”

Frenchwomen

Solid French women’s content

It was the deepest into the French Open that two Frenchwomen had met in several decades.

And it also was the first time Cornet and Garcia had met at the WTA/Slam level. They have only played once, in 2010 at the Marseille ITF tournament (that actually is going on this week), when Garcia was 16 and Cornet, 20.

Garcia resolved before the French to keep her distance from the opinions of others – at least, as much as she could. “I say it, and I’ll repeat it, having people around you who support you, who cheer you, that’s great. But sometimes, people have bad intentions and when you’re a little fragile, it can really hurt,” she said.

Meanwhile, another Frenchwoman has her shot at making the semifinals Tuesday, as No. 13 seed Kristina Mladenovic takes on No. 30 seed Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland.

Mladenovic’s doubles run with Svetlana Kuznetsova ended Monday with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to the No. 1 seeds, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova. She has spent more than nine hours on court in singles, plus the doubles, while Bacsinszky is significantly fresher.

So all the focus is on singles. But Mladenovic’s quest to do Garcia one better and make the semifinals is a challenging one against Bacsinszky, who was a semi-finalist here two years ago. 

Garcia will take on No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic Wednesday, in her bid to do the same.