New job for Mauresmo: coaching Pouille

One unintended consequence of the new, abbreviated Davis Cup format is that what was once almost a full-time job is more like a one-week guest appearance.

And with that as a backdrop, Amélie Mauresmo is out as new French Davis Cup captain … before she even really got to work.

The former WTA Tour No. 1 and barrier-breaking coach of Andy Murray has opted out of taking that job to start 2019.

She has a more edifying gig: coach of countryman Lucas Pouille.

“I’m convinced that we’re going to do great things together,” Pouille said in a statement.

Potential conflict of interest avoided

Mauresmo
Mauresmo will officially begin her new gig down under in a few weeks. But Pouille has left his training base in Dubai to work with her at home in France. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

After L’Équipe broke the news on Wednesday – confirmed Thursday by all parties – there was much hemming and hawing.

The French Tennis Federation consulted various and sundry on the crucial possibility of the personal coach of one player being the captain to all.

It’s hardly an unusual situation. Victorious Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan once coached Borna Coric even as he led the Davis Cup team. In Canada, Martin Laurendeau juggled (only somewhat successfully) the dual roles of his longtime job as Davis Cup captain and his new job as the coach of the up-and-coming Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

And it might not have been an issue, anyway.

Pouille, a decade younger than the finest French men’s tennis generation, has been the only one of the new breed so far to have had success at the top level. 

He was firm and emotional in his denouncing of the “new” Davis Cup format. And his visible emotion during the trophy ceremony after Croatia beat France in Lille two weeks ago will remain engraved in the collective tennis memory for a long time.

Giudicelli

Changing role of the captain

One wrinkle is that with the diminution of Davis Cup duties, the French Davis Cup captain has found additional responsibilities on his/her plate. In this case, the captain will be in charge of the men’s team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and also to mentor/oversee the up-and-coming prospects ahead of the 2024 Paris Summer Games.

French Federation technical director Pierre Charret has been charged with nominating a new captain.

As it happens, when the decision was made to make Mauresmo the first female Davis Cup captain in French history (in history?) and Julien Benneteau the new Fed Cup captain (not the first male Fed Cup captain in history), Pouille’s vote was for former Davis Cup stalwart Michael Llodra.

As it happens, Mauresmo worked with Llodra one year at Wimbledon. And the two are very good friends, sharing a love for wine among other things.

Mauresmo

On his regular hit on RMC Sport radio, Benneteau said he was disappointed personally. He had been looking forward to collaborating with her on events like the Olympics, in their role-reversing roles. Benneteau said he wasn’t a potential candidate to replace her; he was sticking with the women.

Mauresmo was named last June – months ahead of time – as the successor to Yannick Noah. Noah announced that this year would be his last year leading the team.

Pouille and Emmanuel Planque, the French coach who has had a hand in the development of most of the French male players of the years (going all the way back to Llodra), split last month after six years.

Mother of two will juggle

Mauresmo was expecting and gave birth to her first child, son Aaron during her association with Murray. She also continued as the French Fed Cup captain.

The 39-year-old has since had a second child, daughter Ayla, who is 20 months old. She and her partner also have two dogs. It’s a full house.

According to l’Équipe, Mauresmo has committed to 22 weeks with Pouille.

There is little concern that Mauresmo won’t be up to the task.

After all, this is the superwoman who decided a month ahead of time that she was going to run the New York marathon. And, at 39, she finished in less than 3 1/2 hours.

She bettered her time from eight years ago, when she had just retired from the Tour and before she had two kids.

Another marathon moment for Mauresmo

Murray stint groundbreaking

Mauresmo
Mauresmo works with Andy Murray at the 2015 French Open, shortly before her first child was born that August. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Her stint with Murray raised plenty of eyebrows. In the Brit’s case, he was coached as a youngster by his mother Judy and has long been an advocate for equality on that front.

He made a serious statement with the hire. And he took a lot of flack.

“When it first came out in the press that I may be working with a woman, I got a message from one of the players who is now coaching. He said to me, ‘I love this game that you’re playing with the press; maybe you should tell them tomorrow that you’re considering working with a dog,’ ” Murray said in an interview with Elle Magazine last year. “That’s the sort of stuff that was said when I was thinking about it.” 

Has there been a female coach on the ATP Tour since? There are barely any on the WTA Tour.

And here comes Mauresmo again, with more experience. As well, she’s in rather a more comfortable situation. She doesn’t to be concerned about making nice with male team members. And she doesn’t have to work – teach – in a second language she speaks but can’t be considered fully fluent in.

Rebound year for Pouille in 2019

The notable fall from the top 10 during the 2018 season was American Jack Sock. But Pouille, too, reached the top 10 only to struggle to win a match for chunks of the season.

Mauresmo
After six years, it’s the end of the road for Pouille and Emmanuel Planque. No word on the future of Pouille consultant Tommy Haas in this changeover.

“I think he found the ideal person to kickstart his career again,” Benneteau said on RMC Sport. “I also think that Lucas is sending a strong signal about his ambition by hiring Amélie.”

Pouille reached the top 10 after Indian Wells earlier this year, after a title and two finals during the first two months of the season. His results were up and down after that, and included a loss at the Rogers Cup in Toronto to Félix Auger-Aliassime, the day before the Canadian’s 18th birthday. He won just one match in his last five tournaments of the season.

And then, the season ended in heartbreak.

Giudicelli and Haggerty on Lille hotseat

 

French radio show lifts the veil on Federer

France’s Julien Benneteau is wrapping up a long career.

And so, the 36-year-old veteran is well past holding back. And on a French radio show last weekend, he let loose during a startlingly open discussion about conflicts of interest in tennis – notably the ones revolving around Roger Federer.

The story is on the RMC Sport website, written by journalist Eric Salliot off a very spirited debate he participated in on the radio network’s Grandes Gueules du Sport talk show last Sunday.

Former French player Sarah Pitkowski is one of the hosts.

These are issues that don’t go unnoticed by anyone. But the players rarely are this open about them. No one wants to get on Federer’s bad side.

As Benneteau points out, Federer is a legend of the game, an icon. As he put it, he’s the only one who could attract 15,000 people to Bercy (where the Paris Masters was played last week) at 10 a.m., if they scheduled him that early.

“If he makes all that money off the court, it’s because outside the court he does an incredible job. In Basel, he spends an hour an a half on the court for his match. But after that, he spends 2-3 hours with the partners, with other people,” Benneteau added. “In tennis, The Samprases and Agassis didn’t do all that.”

But …

Laver Cup conflicts

Benneteau said that in the wake of Federer, his management company, and agent Tony Godsick creating the Laver Cup, the conflicts of interests were numerous.

Benneteau

“He has every right to organize an event. But in the middle of the season, it could hasten the demise of some ATP tournaments,” Salliot said, referring to the events in Metz, France and St. Petersburg, Russia that compete directly with the exhibition event.

“And no one said anything. One doesn’t say anything to Roger Federer,” he added.

More notably, when the Davis Cup changes were voted in, Benneteau said Federer didn’t say boo about the late November date that was an issue for so many.

November Davis Cup, September Laver Cup – for good?

But when the players objected and the organizers realized that they wouldn’t get the players with those dates, and then decided they wanted to move it to September after the US Open, then Federer spoke up.

“That’s where I find the international tennis bodies incredibly weak. With all that Federer is, okay. But it’s an exhibition, his thing. The Laver Cup has no sporting legitimacy.  There are no sporting criteria with the selections. There are no ATP points. It’s just financial, Benneteau said. “Because he gives Nick Kyrgios $750,000 to come and play matches that don’t count, the guys say, ‘Okay, those are the rates for the Laver Cup.’ “

Federer
It was definitely worth Nick Kyrgios’s while to travel to Chicago for Laver Cup. Newly-retied player Julien Benneteau said the Aussie’s appearance fee was $750,000)

Scheduling in the heat

Benneteau also pointed out the conflict of interest in having Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley involved in the management of the Laver Cup.  

“He’s the Australian Open tournament director. And on some level, the man is paid by Roger Federer’s agent for the Laver Cup. Over the last two Australian Opens, (Federer) played 14 matches, because he was champion and finalist. And he played 12 or 13 of his 14 matches in the night session,” Benneteau said.

(Benneteau was accurate; Federer played 6-of-7 matches during the night session both in 2017 and 2018. And he played all of his matches on Rod Laver. In 2017, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal playing on the same day, while Federer (seeded No. 17) and No. 1 seed Andy Murray battled it out for the best slots. I

Federer
It was so hot on court when Djokovic and Monfils played their second-round match in Australia this year, Monfils had to put his shoes down on a towel so as not to burn his feet.

n 2018, returning as defending champion, Federer and Djokovic – who would soon have elbow surgery and whose ranking was down to No. 14, but who was the six-time champion – had to duke it out. Djokovic played two of his four matches on Margaret Court Arena).

“On the same day, Federer played Jan-Lennard Struff – I have nothing against Struff, great guy – Novak Djokovic played Gaël Monfils. We’re agreed that on paper, any tournament director  would put Djokovic-Monfils on night session at 7:30 p.m., right?” Benneteau added. “But no. They played at 2:30 p.m., in 104 degrees. And Federer-Struff played at night.”

Federer
Djokovic said the conditions for his second-round match against Gaël Monfils in Australia this year were right on the limit. In contrast, Federer had much cooler conditions against Jan-Lennard Struff.

 Wimbledon favoritism

At Wimbledon this year, the weather also played a major role. And again, as Salliot writes, eight-time champion Federer was prioritized over Djokovic.

On July 9, Djokovic defeated Karen Khachanov on No. 1 Court almost in the dark.  It was a match that likely would have been postponed, had the previous match between Monfils and Kevin Anderson gone to the fifth set.

“There’s one player who has issues with Federer getting preferential treatment. And that’s Djokovic,” Salliot said on the radio show.

“At Wimbledon, Djokovic was fed up with systematically being scheduled on Court 1. After his fourth round, in the press conference, he rocked the boat. For the quarterfinals, the organizers moved Federer to Court 1, because they felt almost obligated. What happened? (Federer) lost.”

The Swiss was beaten, 13-11 in the fifth set by Anderson, after having had match point. 

Men’s quarters spark court assignment debate

No Armstrong for Federer

While Federer downplayed the Wimbledon court assignment in press after his loss to Anderson, Benneteau is convinced that he was not happy.

And he told this story to back up that conviction.

With the US Open inaugurating the new Louis Armstrong Stadium this year – a huge court, Benneteau added – he heard that Godsick went to the referee’s office before the tournament, basically to tell him that if he was thinking about scheduling Federer on that court, he had another think coming.

First test for Louis Armstrong roof

In the end, Federer played all his matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The extreme humidity in there the night he played Aussie John Millman in the fourth round did him in.

“It’s normal that he gets preferential treatment, with everything he’s done,” Benneteau said. “But in some tournaments, there are big differences in the conditions (from court to court). He has no idea what that’s like.”

Federer set against on-court coaching

Pitkowski, a former top-30 French player who is married to French coach Olivier Malcor (Benneteau, Michael Llodra, Nicolas Mahut and Paul-Henri Mathieu, among others), spoke about she considers the undue Federer has on the direction of the game.

“On-court coaching is something that was also considered on the ATP side. But apparently one player banged his fist on the table and said, ‘As long as I’m playing, that’s not going to happen.’ And that’s Federer,” Pitskowski said. “But it goes further. There are things that are not even tried, because Federer is still on the circuit. And that’s troublesome for the development of the game.

“I find it upsetting that he’d have that much of an influence on the development of his sport,” Pitkowski added.

Appearance fees off the charts

Federer
Federer wanted to play Rotterdam this year to try to get back the No. 1 ranking. He did – but at a major price point, according to French journalist Eric Salliot.

Salliot spoke about how the Federer “product”, so to speak, is getting more scarce and more in demand as he gets older. “Every tournament director tries to get Federer in their tournament,” he said.

Salliot also alluded to the recent comments by former Paris Masters director Jean-François Caujolle.

(Caujolle, in an interview with L’Équipe, admitted he was a diehard Federer fan. And, as he tried to cajole (see what we did there?) the Swiss star to come back to Bercy and possibly win it, he spoke to him and his camp about what it would take. They suggested the court was too slow, and to look into the court surface in Vienna as an example of what would be ideal. Caujolle had the court installed, and Federer came back the next year – although he didn’t win).

“He’s very demanding financially”, Salliot said. 

The journalist told the story of the ATP Tour 500 event in Rotterdam early this year, when Federer had an opportunity to get back the No. 1 ranking.

Federer hadn’t entered. So Godsick called up tournament director Richard Krajicek and asked for a wild card. Except, Godsick told Krajicek, the price had gone up. As Salliot tells it, Krajicek told Godsick, “Let me call my bank (which also happened to be the tournament sponsor).

It was handled. Federer won the tournament, and took back the top spot.

Prior to that, Salliot said a similar conversation had taken place with the tournament organizers in Dubai, where it happens Federer is a part-time resident.

In asking for the wild card for the same reasons (Dubai takes place two weeks after Rotterdam), Godsick told them that the price for Federer’s participation was no longer $1 million. It was $2 million.

And Dubai took a pass.

“I heard it was more than that,” Benneteau said.

ATP Rankings Report – Nov. 5, 2018

With Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from Paris, Novak Djokovic was assured of returning to the No. 1 ranking for the first time since Oct. 31, 2016.

With Nadal’s withdrawal from the ATP Tour Finals in London next week, Djokovic also was assured of finishing as year-end No. 1 for the first time since 2015, and the fifth time overall (2011-12, 2014-15).

Not that the 31-year-old Serb wouldn’t have done it anyway. He has been by far the best of the top players on form, and results, since Wimbledon.

Still, it’s a great piece of (gluten-free) cake to end his renaissance season.

Going into the French Open, Djokovic was ranked as low as No. 22. There, he was shocked by Marco Cecchinato of Italy. But since then, the Nole train has been roaring down the track at warp speed.

ON THE UPSWING

Novak Djokovic (SRB): No. 2 ————> No. 1

Kei Nishikori (JPN): No. 11 ————> No. 9 (Back in the top 10 for the first time since Aug. 2017)

Karen Khachanov (RUS): No. 18 ————> No. 11 (The Masters 1000 winner in Paris gets himself just a few hundred points out of the year-end top 10. Something to shoot for in 2019).

Milos Raonic (CAN): No. 21 ————> No. 18

Denis Shapovalov (CAN): No. 29 ————> No. 27

Alex de Minaur (AUS): No. 33 ————> No. 31 (ties his career high).

Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER): No. 43 ————> No. 36

Marton Fucsovics (HUN): No. 42 ————> No. 38 (He bowed out before his Paris match against Fabio Fognini, but the 26-year-old reaches a career high and jumps into the top 40).

Frances Tiafoe (USA): No. 44 ————> No. 40

Malek Jaziri (TUN): No. 55 ————> No. 46 (At age 34, the happy lucky loser in Paris reaches a career high).

Taylor Fritz (USA): No. 49 ————> No. 47 (The Next-Genner also reaches a career high).

Feliciano Lopez (ESP): No. 71 ————> No. 63 (The 37-year-old did yeoman’s work against a couple of kids in Paris, and nearly went further).

Andrey Rublev (RUS): No. 76 ————> No. 68 (A back injury did in his season a little, but the Next-Genner will be back up there before you know it).

Vasek Pospisil (CAN): No. 75 ————> No. 71 (At No. 108 to start the season, and in Slam qualifying, Pospisil has come back nicely).

Jordan Thompson (AUS): No. 87 ————> No. 73 (The Canberra Challenger champion has been outside the top 100 his season. But despite having gone just 1-11 at the ATP level, he has still managed to improve his lot).

Guido Andreozzi (ARG): No. 107 ————> No. 82 (The Argentine sets himself up for a payday in Melbourne).

Peter Polansky (CAN): No. 130 ————> No. 120 (Winning the Charlottesville final over Tommy Paul would have given him five more spots towards that elusive top-100 barrier. But he has two more events to go this year).

Miomir Kecmanovic (SRB): No. 162 ————> No. 133 (The 19-year-old made another big leap to another career high by winning the Shenzhen Challenger).

Blaz Kavcic (SLO): No. 224 ————> No. 197 (Should get him into the Aus Open qualies).

Tommy Paul (USA): No. 277 ————> No. 222 (The American wins his first Challenger title in Charlottesville).

Paul wins first Challenger title

ON THE DOWNSWING

Rafael Nadal (ESP): No. 1 ————> No. 2

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL): No. 10 ————> No. 19

David Goffin (BEL): No. 12 ————> No. 22

Filip Krajinovic (SRB): No. 34 ————> No. 93 (Injured a fair bit this season, the Serb was unable to defend his tremendous result in Paris last year).

Radu Albot (MDA): No. 86 ————> No. 100

Jack Sock (USA): No. 23 ————> No. 105 (Sock will have to sweat it out to see if he makes the Australian Open main draw. Even if he wanted to play a Challenger next week, he’ll almost certainly be playing doubles in London with Mike Bryan).

Jack Sock salvages season in Paris

Julien Benneteau (FRA): No. 72 ————> No. 137 (As Benneteau wraps up his career, he drops his semifinal result from last year’s Paris Masters)

Nicolas Mahut (FRA): No. 169 ————> No. 196 (Unlike his fellow 36-year-old Benneteau, Mahut (a top doubles player) has no plans to stop any time soon.

(For the complete ATP Tour rankings picture, click here).

 

Giudicelli taking ITF to the CAS

It all seemed so civilized at the time, the intention being to demonstrate unity in this turbulent moment in tennis history.

But French Federation president Bernard Giudicelli’s “unifying” resignation from his board and committee responsibilities with the International Tennis Federation Oct. 19 may have been just that – a front.

According to Le Monde, here’s what Giudicelli wrote in an email to ITF board members.

“In view of the major issues the International Federation is currently working on, crucial for its future, it is important to maintain a united front and avoid any controversy or disruption,” he wrote. “I now wish to devote myself exclusively to French tennis and its influence beyond the borders of France. “

But … not so fast.

In a press release on Saturday, The French Tennis Federation announced Giudicelli would take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The appeal will be filed as early as Monday, the FFT said.

The major issues the ITF is facing certainly haven’t been resolved. If anything, the future of the “new” Davis Cup is more up in the air than ever.

So you wonder why the litigious change of heart, the sudden lack of concern about putting on a “united front”.

Defaming = vacating

The backstory on this is that in Sept. 2017, Giudicelli was found guilty of defamation for statements made in an “electoral context”.

Basically, he withheld his endorsement of a candidate for the presidency of a French league as he basically accused the man, Gilles Moretton, of being complicit in a ticket-reselling team that rocked the French Federation a few years ago.

At that time, the ITF’s constitution [Article 21 (k) III]  stated that any member of its board of directors would be relieved of his duties unilaterally, without requiring a vote, if he violated any of the stipulations below. Giudicelli

But the ITF didn’t want to lose the influential Giudicelli from the ITF board of directors. His Grand Slam-nation quota of 12 “yes” votes for the Davis Cup changes, and his support as chairman of the Davis Cup committee, were crucial.

So all sorts of machinations ensued.

We wrote about it in detail a few weeks ago. Click below.

Giudicelli out of ITF board, Davis Cup committee

(Non) Crimes and Misdemeanors

In its press release, the French federation states that defamation is a misdemeanor in France, and not a felony. And that no “custodial sentence” was imposed. And for those reasons, Giudicelli’s defamation conviction in no way violated article III.

(A quick primer on French law below, which should not be interpreted as ANY sort of expertise nor a definitive legal explanation. We will note that the language isn’t “and” in terms of the crime and the sentencing, but “or”).

French criminal law has three categories, typically adjudicated in three different levels of court. Petty offenses carry fines of 3,000 Euros or less. Misdemeanors carry the potential of jail time, but no more than 10 years. Felonies carry more serious potential penalties. As an example, robbery would be a misdemeanor. Armed robbery would be a felony. But unlike the first category, misdemeanors are considered criminal offenses.

Giudicelli
One of the perks of being FFT President is a sweet front-row seat at the big events. Giudicelli retains that post, even if he’s gone from the ITF Board of Directors and the Davis Cup Committee.

When the amendment was passed in August following the “yes” vote on Davis Cup, it stipulated that if a board member was convicted of an offense – but didn’t get any jail time – the member’s eligibility would be be “assessed by an independent expert.”

That was surely in response to a complaint from Tennis Europe, which lawyered up on this and wanted to know why, if the ITF was aware of Giudicelli’s integrity issues in April, it took no action until the late deal in July to keep Giudicelli on the board through the Davis Cup vote.

Fed Cup drama reveals French dysfunction (updated)

The “Giudicelli Clause”

“In Mr. Giudicelli’s case, the independent expert found him ineligible to return to the Board for a four-year period from the date of his conviction. As a result, he is not eligible to stand for Board election before 19 September 2021.”

The FFT claims that the retroactive application of an ad-hoc amendment was legally questionable. And that the assessment of the four-year period of ineligibility was beyond the scope of the “allegedly independent” expert’s mandate.

And so, it says, the two decisions must be litigated.

“Therefore, the FFT’s Executive Committee has asked its President, in consideration of the importance of the representation of its interest and of French tennis’s place in the international governance of our sport, to appeal the expert’s decision.”

Giudicelli touted as Haggerty successor

The internal drama here is that Haggerty’s term as ITF president expires with next year’s annual general meeting.

He can, by the constitution, be elected to serve two more four-year terms. But the American has virtually staked his future upon the successful overhaul of the Davis Cup. The courting of the Kosmos group was to bring significant potential financial resources into the federation’s coffers.

Giudicelli
Everything is awesome, according to Giudicelli’s Twitter bio. Except you can’t Tweet at him any more.

At the moment, that deal is sprouting a few leaks. And it is getting a lot of pushback.

So the next election could be fascinating. 

Before all this, Giudicelli was considered a frontrunner to beat out Haggerty for the presidency. 

But the 60-year-old served his purpose and delivered the French vote for the Davis Cup changes. And now, barring a successful appeal, a significant threat to the presidency has been eliminated.

Giudicelli has not changed his Twitter bio to reflect his change in status. So perhaps he is being optimistic. However he has, in recent months, made it private.

So there’s a lot at stake – for the master politician and operator Giudicelli personally, and for France as an international tennis power. For the first time in memory, it doesn’t have a representative on the ITF’s board of directors.

Giudicelli out of ITF board, Davis Cup committee

Well, you can’t say Bernard Giudicelli didn’t repay the favor.

France had a weighted Grand Slam say in the crucial vote on the radical Davis Cup changes this last August.

And the International Tennis Federation needed his votes.

So the ITF stood by the embattled French Tennis Federation president despite some legal trouble at home.

Mission accomplished.

The ITF passed its proposed Davis Cup reform at the August annual general meetings in Orlando, Fla.

But on Friday, as first brought to public attention by German federation vice-president Dirk Hordorff (also a member of Vasek Pospisil’s coaching team), Giudicelli resigned from his ITF duties.

Giudicelli had been on the ITF’s board of directors for three years, longer than he’s even been FFT president. The Corsican also had been the chairman of the Davis Cup committee for nearly that long.

GiudicelliThe French Federation confirmed Hordorff’s news.

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.

As well, Giudicelli was involved in another situation going back to his days as the head of the Corsican league. He was accused of having limited the call to tenders for the building of a 2.8 million-Euro tennis centre in the small (3,800) town of Lucciana to the league’s website. The rules in such projects, with a certain percentage of government participation, required publishing it in a proper newspaper. In other words, suspicions of favoritism. 

A tearful Guidicelli was acquitted of that in June.

The Giudicelli amendment

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.

It’s unclear how many people actually bought that story.

But, of course, it passed.

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.

RIP Davis Cup, after 118 years

Power base weakened

Giudicelli’s power position within the ITF had been chipped away amid all the controversy. And L’Équipe writes that Giudicelli has shelved ambitions to become the next ITF president.  At least for now.

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.

The Davis Cup team, which includes the top players in his country, pretty much froze him out during the successful semifinal against Spain in September.

The French team didn’t allow Giudicelli in their locker room at the September semifinal against Spain. The players reportedly didn’t shake hands with him during the draw ceremony. And Giudicelli even hired a new PR rep for the weekend to handle any issues. He didn’t grant any interviews.

And he also failed to invite Gachassin to the tie, and to the tradition “former presidents lunch” on the Davis Cup weekend. Gachassin said that was because he publicly condemned Giudicelli’s comments about Serena Williams’ French Open attire.

French results weak in 2018

The last two weeks are the first that France hasn’t had at least one player in the ATP Tour’s top 20 since … 2006.

Fed Cup drama reveals French dysfunction (updated)

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!

Davis Cup final nominations announced

France and Belgium announced their nominations for the Davis Cup final Tuesday morning.

And, for different reasons, there weren’t many surprises.

In fact, they’re the same lineups both squads used in their victorious semifinal ties in September.

For the visiting Belgium squad, which doesn’t have the depth its nearest neighbour does, it’s a matter of all hands on deck and hoping everyone is healthy enough to play.

In the case of undisputed No. 1 David Goffin, it’s “hope that knee holds up through the ATP Tour Finals this week”.

For the French, the attrition of the 2017 season has left captain Yannick Noah with fewer options than he may have had under ideal circumstances. But … he’s bringing six players to Lille, and he’ll decide on the final lineup closer to the tie.

Since this final may well represent France’s final shot at the elusive silver chalice for awhile, as a great generation is limping towards its golden years, Noah also hopes the bodies hold up.

The most secure pick for Noah is the doubles team of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, who also are the No. 6 seeds at the ATP Tour Finals this week and and came back from the brink to upset No. 3 seeds Jean-Julien Roger and Horia Tecau in their round-robin opener on Sunday.

Unlike most doubles picks, the two also are good singles players as well.

Time for Pouille to shine

For the singles, Noah finds himself with a Gaël Monfils whose season is done because of injury. And he also has a Gilles Simon whose ranking is in freefall. Since Lyon, a small tuneup event just before the French Open in May, Simon has won back-to-back matches just once, in Shanghai last month.

(As it happens, the second of those wins was against Goffin, and on a hard court at that).

Noah has gone with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who defeated both Dusan Lajovic and Laslo Djere in the semis against Serbia. The other pick is Lucas Pouille, who lost to Lajovic. That tie, in the same Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, was on red clay.

After a poor summer in North America, Tsonga played very well indoors until an unexpected early loss to countryman Julien Benneteau in Paris.

As for Pouille, he’s had an up-and-down season with some very good weeks and some head-scratching early losses.

Both players, however, remain in the top 20. And Pouille played Goffin three times in 2016, and won all three matches. Tsonga is 4-2 against Goffin. 

The alternates for France are Benneteau and Richard Gasquet, which is a fine bench and given Benneteau’s amazing run in Paris just a week ago, it wouldn’t be crazy to see him on the final roster.

The French, denied so many times despite having one of the deepest rosters over the last decade, are looking for their first Davis Cup title since 2001. 

They won that one over Australia, beating Belgium in the semifinals.

 

All on Goffin’s shoulders

For Belgian captain Johan Van Herck, it all goes through Goffin, who must reverse the trend against both French opponents and win both his singles rubbers.

His second singles player, Steve Darcis, pulled off a nice win against Australia’s Jordan Thompson to seal Belgium’s semifinal win. 

Darcis has never faced Pouille.

His only match against Tsonga came back in 2002, when both were teenagers on the Futures circuit. And it ended in an early injury retirement by Darcis.

And when Darcis takes the court, he won’t have played a match since the home Antwerp event in mid-October.

The other two Belgian players, Ruben Bemelmans and Arthur de Greef, would be the underdog doubles pairing.

Alternate Joris De Loore is ranked No. 279 in singles and No. 344 in doubles and had surgery in mid-September, injuring his knee the week before the semifinal against Australia. He and Bemelmans pulled off impressive doubles wins against both Germany and Brazil and if he appears healthy, de Loore may well substitute for de Greef.

A surprise finalist in 2015, Belgium has never won the Cup. 

France, Belgium, to battle for Davis Cup

You want drama?

French tennis will always oblige.

It seems the country’s celebrated tennis landscape has rarely been more dysfunctional. And yet, France’s Davis Cup squad has earned its best and perhaps final legitimate chance going forward to raise the Davis Cup.

Despite producing generation after generation of talent, France last won the Davis Cup in 2001. It last won it on home soil in … 1931.

But this year, it will have a chance to do it at home, against the plucky but undermanned Belgium in late November.

The French squad defeated a depleted Serbian team 3-1 in Lille, France over the weekend to earn its spot.

Click above to read about how the French federation has already secured a venue for the final.

It began slowly, as No. 2 Lucas Pouille went down to Dusan Lajovic in four sets to open the tie on Friday.

“I have a lot to do with Lucas’s loss. At a certain point, we weren’t really communication any more. I felt, in the end, I was hurting him. That’s not a good feeling,” Noah told l’Équipe afterwards. “I have a lot influence on this group, and when I get it wrong, everyone gets it wrong. So much talk about how difficult the match was going to be; I may have soaked too much of that in. I passed on my stress to Lucas.”

But Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (in his first Davis Cup appearance in 14 months) didn’t drop a set against Laslo Djere. (Noah said he spent most of the first two sets not saying a word, just thinking). The doubles team of Nicholas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won in straight sets,. And then Tsonga came back to win in four against Lajovic to clinch it.

Just 70 miles down the road in Brussels, Belgium, the team of underdogs led by David Goffin was advancing to its second Davis Cup final in three years.

Veteran Darcis the difference

Goffin did his job; he won his singles matches against Jordan Thompson Friday and Nick Kyrgios Sunday in four sets. But it was Steve Darcis, a 33-year-old who reached a career high in singles (No. 38) this past May but has dealt with hamstring and lower back issues the last few months, who was the difference.

Darcis didn’t win on Friday. But he pushed Kyrgios to five sets. And given the top Aussie isn’t in the best of health, no doubt it had an effect on the fifth and deciding rubber Sunday.

Kyrgios took on Goffin – and lost in four. Darcis then took care of Thompson to clinch the tie.

So much goes into making a Davis Cup final these days. And the result is that the best, deepest tennis nation isn’t winning all that often.

You wouldn’t think a one-man team like Belgium could do it twice in three years. But with so many top players taking a pass, if the draw breaks right, an upstart team can take advantage.

Even France, a loaded team, defeated Japan (no Nishikori), Great Britain (no Andy Murray) and Serbia (no Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic or Viktor Troicki) to reach the final this year.

Snakebitten French

France generally has all its top players available – and a deep pool to choose from. But it’s been a tough go despite the fact that the current generation – Tsonga, Gaël Monfils, Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet – all have been in the top 10.

France last reached the Davis Cup final in 2014. But that happened to be the year Switzerland had both Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka on board – at the same time – to try to add the silver chalice to their resumés.

Monfils defeated Federer in straight sets on the first day, which game them hope. But they lost the key doubles rubber. And then Federer clinched it on Sunday against Gasquet.

The 2010 final, played in Belgrade with the Serbs featuring full-form Djokovic, Tipsarevic and Troicki, was a drama all to itself.

As both squads decided who to suit up for the fifth and deciding rubber, captain Guy Forget got played a little. They were all certain Serbia would bring back Tipsarevic. Instead, they got Troicki (who had disappeared off the bench to go warm up seemingly without France’s knowledge, while Serbia was well aware that Gilles Simon remained on the French bench).

Forget was debating whether to put out Simon (who was 4-0 against Troicki) or Michaël Llodra. He chose fellow lefty serve-volleyer Llodra, who got trounced. And there were French tears all around.

Will this be the time they finally do it?

Internal drama starts at top

A long-awaited title this year might be even more sweet to the players, since French tennis is an internal hot mess right now.

By tennis standards, the infighting might even be at West Wing level.

It all seemed to go downhill after a quarterfinal loss to Great Britain in 2015.

Captain Arnaud Clément, who played with many of the current veteran crop, was summarily sacked. And the imposition of rock star captain Yannick Noah (it appeared Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was the strongest voice in his favor) did nothing for team unity.

Rather removed from the day-to-day tennis scene in France, and the instigator of an inconvenient, expensive relocation to Guadeloupe for the first round against Canada a year ago, Noah has come under criticism for being a negligible source of support to the players except for the week they come under his tutelage.

Belgium
Monfils and Tsonga aren’t getting any younger – or healthier. So the window to win a Davis Cup has shrunk to a mere sliver of time in 2017.

His relationship with Monfils reportedly is fairly non-existent. His relationship with Tsonga, once thought to be solid, wavered when Noah called him out during the quarterfinal tie in Rouen back in April.

As for this semifinal against Serbia, L’Équipe reported the players feel Noah didn’t prepare. They never even saw him at the US Open just weeks ago; Noah’s only involvement was two phone calls to his assistant captain.

To be so out of the loop on the players’ current forms and states of mind so close to the crucial tie didn’t go over well. He would also have no first-hand assessment of the players who might dress for Serbie.

And, L’Équipe writes, that may well have shown in the Pouille defeat. The future of French tennis preferred to listen to his own coach’s tactical advice rather than that of Noah.

“We felt he was stressed, negative,” Nicolas Mahut told the media.

Pouille the “GOAT”, then the goat

When he was first elected president, Giudicelli often lauded Pouille for his grit. He even invented a new verb, “to Pouille“, which meant, “Facing and conquering one’s fear to impose one’s game, while drawing energy from the public’s support.”

But when the 23-year-old lost in the third round of the French Open and said that the inability to handle his nerves had led to cramping, Giudicelli turned on both Pouille and his coach.

He said in a radio interview that Pouille’s fitness wasn’t up to snuff and what the French (male) players were missing was “la grinta, an Italian word that encompasses daring, determination, purpose, resolve and everything in between.

Giudicelli said he couldn’t revolutionize French tennis after just 108 days in office. And in the first French Open under his leadership, no French male player reached the quarterfinals. Overall, it was the poorest showing since 2000. Hence the attack on his players’ grit.

But on the women’s side (so often ignored by French Federation suits unless it suits them), two made the singles quarterfinals. That, of course, was due to Giucidelli’s leadership and involvement leading to their increased motivation – despite only being in office 108 days. 

Noah and Giudicelli

As this tie against Serbia neared, Noah admitted there were tensions between the federation and his players and he sided with his players; the message was relayed to Giudicelli that he wouldn’t tolerate the president’s comments “polluting” the players. 

There was some backstory to that, too. Noah’s lifelong friend Gilles Moretton (a former French player) was suing Giudicelli for defamation, after Giudicelli refused Moretton’s candidacy for president of a French league because, he said, Moretton had been one of those involved in the 2011 ticket reselling scheme that eventually doomed Giudicelli’s predecessor, Jean Gachassin.

Belgium
Giudicelli, who never played tennis competitively, has taken his mandate as president to mean he needs to practice “tough love” on the French players to whip them into shape. Or something.

(Giudicelli, a high-level French Federation official, had previously been accused of putting the cone of silence on Gachassin’s alleged involvement, perhaps in the hope that it would help his presidential campaign. That accusation is contained in a report on the scandal by a government body called “The Inspector General for Youth and Sports”. Gachassin is accused of selling some 250-700 French Open tickets – for years – at cost to a travel agent friend who then resold them at up to five times their face value. The tribunal’s decision on this case was postponed, and due to be announced on Tuesday).

His lawyer, speaking in his defense, said Giudicelli was responsible for ending the scam.

OMG, awkward!

 

L’Équipe chronicled an awkward moment Thursday when Giudicelli tried to say hello to Lucas Pouille three separate times, only to be dissed and dismissed.

“Hello, Lucas,” the president said to Pouille – on three occasions.

No answer.

Giudicelli pushed it even further. “So, we don’t say ‘Hello’ any more, Lucas?” 

Pouille, who had been talking to someone else, turned around. “Sure, we say hello. And goodbye.”

Ouch. 

Belgians go quietly along

Among the many things Noah said over the weekend was that he fully expected France to have to travel to Australia for the final. That would have been a rematch of the 2001 final, that was won by the French in Melbourne. And so, full circle.

That, of course, surely sat well with the Belgians, who spoiled that particular party.

As it happens, the last time France played Belgium in Davis Cup was in the first round of that 2001 championship year. France shut them out 5-0.

Où, la finale?

The question now, of course, is where France will host the tie.

The stadium in Lille is huge. And the crowds are nuts. But it’s barely 20 miles from the Belgian border. You’d have to count on a huge Belgian presence to support their underdog team in the big upset.

There’s a bigger problem. The French rugby team has already booked the stadium to play a friendly against Japan on Nov. 25, the Saturday of the tie. 

How about Bercy, which will be the site of the Paris Masters event just a few weeks before? According to BFM.TV, the rap group IAM are booked there that weekend.  

BFM.TV says the French federation has already been in contact with the brand new U Arena in Nanterre, in the French suburbs – finally completed after the usual French bureaucratic delays and set to open next month with three concerts by the Rolling Stones. 

Wherever it is, there’s a great dynamic brewing between France’s Goliath and Belgium’s David – literally.

BelgiumFor all the news about this weekend’s Davis Cup ties (and more great pics like the one above, go to their website.

Fed Cup drama reveals French dysfunction (updated)

You want drama? The French Tennis Federation usually will oblige.

Unlike in North America, tennis is a huge sport in France. This is the federation that live-streamed a formal debate between the three main candidates for its presidency last February. The most entrenched old-guard candidate, Bernard Giudicelli, won the job.

The latest drama is the Fed Cup team, a dysfunctional mess at the moment. And it feels as though three team mainstays are ganging up on their quiet, introverted teammate.

It all began back in February when France’s then-top player, Caroline Garcia, skipped a first-round Fed Cup tie against Switzerland (France lost 3-2). She had already stated after the loss in the final last fall that she wouldn’t play in 2017, choosing to focus on producing better results at the Grand Slam tournaments.

 

After the loss, the outspoken Kristina Mladenovic (with whom Garcia won the French Open women’s doubles title last year) had her say.

“The adventure is more beautiful with real people, people who have values, people who are ready to die on the court and to not be selfish,” Mladenovic said.

Later, she claimed she wasn’t referring to Garcia but to a younger player who expressed an abject lack of interest in playing for France (at least while the team was a tight-knit family under former captain Amélie Mauresmo): 20-year-old Océane Dodin. Uh-huh …

That successful doubles partnership quickly was history.

After defeat, comes bureaucracy

It gets complicated and rather bureaucratic after that. The men of French tennis are bouncing la balle to each other, deciding what the women should do.

We harken back to a time not so long ago when former No. 1 Mauresmo was the captain, and her players were eager to give her their all. They knew that whatever went on, she’d have their backs.

The FFT decided to bureaucratize the Fed Cup and Davis Cup selections, telling some 20 men and women that they were required to make themselves available for national duty in the four years leading up to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. If they refuse, sanctions can range up to five years’ suspension from tournaments, even losing their player license, per articles 110-A and 116-119 of the federations’s charter.

Seriously.

 

On Feb. 27, each player was advised of the new regulations and was sent a registered letter. The FFT has laid down the hammer before – notably with their unwillingness to compromise with former top-10 player Marion Bartoli, who insisted on having her father/coach on hand for Fed Cup. The standoff prevented the 2007 Wimbledon finalist and 2013 champion from playing the Olympic event in London in 2012, on grass. They also suspended players Mladenovic and Garcia, along with Benoit Paire, after some misbehaviour during the Olympics in Rio.

On March 14, Guidicelli said, the registered letter to Garcia was returned unclaimed.

Let the boys handle it

Garcia’s father Louis-Paul, a ubiquitous presence around the 25-year-old. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The new president played middleman to open lines of communication between Garcia’s ubiquitous father/coach Louis-Paul and captain Noah. They spoke by telephone March 14 then a week or so later met in person at the Miami Open. After all the menfolk chatted and patted each other’s backs and got it all straightened out (men are good at this, they tell us), things got soap opera-esque in a hurry.

Here’s a timeline, as outlined to the precise minute by Giudicelli in an audio interview posted by Tennis-Actu.

April 5: Louis-Paul Garcia thanked Giudicelli for creating a “climate of confidence and respect”, and helpfully supplied information about how other Fed Cup teams in other countries operated.

April 8: After France’s Davis Cup squad defeated Great Britain in Rouen, captain Noah told Giudicelli he wanted to select Garcia for the upcoming relegation tie against Spain (which, it should be noted, will be without both Garbiñe Muguruza and Carla Suárez Navarro). Among the reasons stated by Noah were Garcia’s solid performance at a tournament in Monterrey the previous week, the fact that she had entered tournaments following the Fed Cup (namely, Stuttgart the following week), and the fact that they needed her and because the other players wanted her on the team.

Fed Cup
Garcia is still on the list, but she’ll be MIA next weekend. (FedCup.com)

At the end of that day, Giudicelli left a voicemail for Louis-Paul Garcia informing him of the decision.

April 9: A voicemail message was left from Louis-Paul Garcia, telling Giudicelli the issue wasn’t whether his daughter wanted to play Fed Cup or not; that was never in question (this came as a surprise to Giudicelli, he said, given Garcia’s statement late in 2016).

The father/coach provided some medical information about Garcia’s back issues and concluded, armed with all the relevant data, that it was up to Giudicelli to decide if it would be useful to select her.

April 10: Giudicelli informed the players he was submitting the list of four nominations to the FFT’s executive committee: Garcia, Mladenovic, Alizé Cornet and Pauline Parmentier.

He added the message was read at 8:39 a.m. by Louis-Paul Garcia, and at 11:27 a.m. by Caroline Garcia.

At 10:11 p.m. that night, Garcia issued a release stating a “painful inflammation of the sciatic nerve” she had been dealing with since last summer’s US Open was forcing her to withdraw from Stuttgart and that she wouldn’t return to action until May. No mention was made of the Fed Cup selection.

Reaction from her teammates was swift, and coordinated.

Will she, or won’t she? That is the question

Despite that release, the federation announced nominations the next morning and still included Garcia. The Fed Cup website still lists her. But she won’t play.

Giudicelli is now playing hardball with Garcia, saying that refusing the nomination will have the federation’s disputes committee ruling on sanctions.

The highhandedness in this case would be amusing if it weren’t so sad. Legislating patriotism is highly overrated. A caveat in this case is that French players receive major financial support from the federation as they make their way up the ranks. It’s fair enough there be some obligations in return.

Garcia speaks

L’Équipe’s Sophie Dorgan met with Garcia at home in Lyon earlier this week. The story in the newspaper’s Saturday edition reveals a young woman who said the last few months have been the worst of her career. “I’m learning the painful way; that’s not the way I would have wanted it. It’s a hurtful and disappointing period,” she said.

Garcia and Cornet teamed up for doubles at Wimbledon, in the “pre-LOL” era, obviously. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Garcia said she got the impression her teammates think she’s faking the injury, even though the federation physician went to Lyon Wednesday to confirm the sciatic nerve problem.

She’s an easy target. Very much dominated by her father/coach, Garcia’s top-10 talent has always been held back by her emotions and her struggle to handle them.

Garcia’s interview warranted a two-page spread in Saturday’s edition of l’Équipe. The headline reads: “I’m not lying to anyone”.

After the tie against Switzerland, she said what she had to say; the federation knew her intention was not to play this year.

“After that, I read and listened to what’s being said, but I don’t want to get into any controversies. I do my thing,” she said. “They said they understood my decision, that I’d done a lot for the French team, that they respected the fact that I wanted to take some time. They knew I had a back problem.

“Then I read in the press that Noah says ‘there’s no point in forcing a player if she doesn’t want to play.’ There are misunderstandings, obviously. Plenty of them,” she added.

On April 12, the federation announced Garcia’s replacement. It is the previously reluctant Fed Cup participant: Océane Dodin. Dodin is on “the list” as well. She’d better show up – or else.

On Tuesday, Giudicelli will again go on Facebook Live to hold forth on his first 60 days in office. A must-see.

Update: Clearly the FFT doesn’t really ask players if they want to play; they just nominate them and if they say no, they bring the French Civil Code down on their heads.

L’Équipe reports Dodin declined their kind invitation. 

Océane Dodin says thanks, but no thanks, to the FFT’s Fed Cup convocation. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

“Others really like to be there and cheer. Me, that’s not really my thing. It’s not that I prefer being the centre of attention but if I don’t play … Team spirit, the group, that can be important but for me, not so much. … It’s more important for me to concentrate on my singles career rather than on Fed Cup, because I don’t play. I’m not the French No. 1 or No. 2, I’m No. 4.”

She has a point, sort of. But we’re getting the sense she won’t lead the next generation of French women’s tennis. Amandine Hesse, who was on the team against Switzerland in February, will fill that spot.

(Information for this piece was gathered from l’Équipe newspaper, Agence-France Presse, Tennis-Actu and other French-language sources. Translation of quotes are my own; if you want to know more, run the hyperlinks through Google Translate to get the gist; search for more stories. Or drop a comment on this piece via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and I’ll do my best to answer!)