CAA dissolves tennis division

A number of notable tennis players are now free agents, in the wake of big sports agency CAA dissolving its tennis division.

The move happened last month, according to Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal.

The company did not make a public announcement, but issued this statement to Kaplan, who wrote about it here.

“There was not a sufficient opportunity for us in the representation of tennis players, and as such, we made a strategic decision to exit the business.”

Among the players represented by CAA on the tennis side were Marin Cilic of Croatia, currently ranked No. 10.

Canadian Genie Bouchard, who joined CAA a little less than a year ago, also was affected.

Through her career, Bouchard has been represented by Lagardère, IMG, Las-Vegas based PRP, John Tobias/TLA Worldwide and CAA. 

According to Kaplan, her agent Matthew Fawcett (who also represents Taylor Fritz and Ryan Harrison), now is out on his own.

Another agent, Matt Elefant (a former college player who had been promoted to agent less than four years ago), left and now works for World Team Tennis.

CAA
Between Jan. 15 and 16, 2019, CAA removed all traces of its 11-year-old tennis division from its website. (CAA.com)

Scandal hit CAA in 2017

CAA’s tennis business was significantly compromised after an in-house scandal involving longtime agent Amit Naor.

The former agent of Novak Djokovic was hit with a claim of “verbal, emotional and sexual harassment” in 2017. It was filed by tennis manager/agent Stephanie Lopez, a woman who reported to Naor. After a 2 1/2-month investigation, Naor was fired.

Complicating things – especially in the absence of a public statement – was the fact that Naor continued to represent the agency’ hree highest-profile tenni clients.

CAA offered cooperation, but the players no longer were under the company’s umbrella. Those players are Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych.

The tennis division at CAA was basically founded upon the arrival of Naor and partner Allon Khakshouri in 2008 – with Djokovic. The Serbian No. 1 left in 2012.

Report: Milos Raonic’s agent fired, still managing him

Not profitable enough

CAA – full name, “Creative Artists Agency” – has its tentacles in every area of entertainment and sports. Among its other interests are live event production and media and licensing rights.

The company is most known for its representation of Hollywood actors and other artists. Its sports division represents baseball stars, basketball players, NFL players, skiers, snowboarders, figure skaters, gymnasts. But now, no tennis players.

Here’s a list of WTA and ATP players who were represented by CAA in recent years, according to lists obtained by Tennis.Life. (The lists might not be 100 per cent up to date; we apologize for any information that’s not current).

*Roberto Bautista Agut
*Lauren Davis
*Nicole Gibbs
*Ryan Harrison
*Bradley Klahn
*Taylor Fritz
*Fanny Stollar
*Donald Young

Thanasi Kokkinakis and Ashleigh Barty had been represented by CAA agent Rick Montz. Montz was fired, he believes, in connection with the Naor case. As of last summer, had taken his case to the EEOC, per Kaplan. Barty also is represented by fellow Australian Nikki Craig.

Lauren Davis, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Lucie Safarova bad been represented by Lopez. American Coco Vandeweghe had been represented by Naor, then by Lopez.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, managed by husband Justin, also had been listed with CAA.

According to Kaplan, Lopez’s lawyers “were notified this month via email that she also was being let go from CAA as part of the dissolution of the tennis division.” She had been on leave since last May.

So the effects of the company’s issues cut a wide swath through the group of American players before CAA cut the cord completely on the sport.

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.”

Charity Day in Monte Carlo

At first glance, it looks like Monte Carlo’s powerhouse men’s interclub team all went out en masse for a hit and giggle.

Novak Djokovic, the Zverev brothers, Marin Cilic, David Goffin, Grigor Dimitrov  were on hand – a powerhouse lineup. All went out and did their part for La Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco. The Monaco sovereign’s charity is devoted to the environment and sustainable development.

But there were some non-resident exceptions: Dominic Thiem (still a resident of Austria) and Lucas Pouille (Dubai) also took part.

(Some celebs most of us in North America have never heard of also participated).

Meanwhile, some pretty high-level qualifying matches were going on on the outside courts. Seppi vs de Minaur, Troicki vs Stakhovsky and Delbonis vs Mahut toiled as the stars took over the Court Central.

TennisTV streamed the charity event on Facebook:

 

As well, Djokovic went out and had a little hit with his son, Stefan.

Main draw begins Sunday

There is a 56-player singles draw and only a week to get it done. So matches in the Monte Carlo main draw will start on Sunday.

The final round of qualifying also is happening, including Nicolas Mahut vs. Jérémy Chardy. With that quality, sometimes it’s hard to tell the main draw from the qualifying.

Some matches to look out on Monday for involve a couple of wild cards.

Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis (22) will meet Russia’s Karen Khachanov (21) in a battle of young guns.

And 17-year-old Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime will play Mischa Zverev, 13 years older.

No. 20 for Federer opens the floodgates

MELBOURNE, Australia – The moment Marin Cilic missed his final return in the fifth set, Roger Federer burst into tears.

His moment of triumph was delayed, as often happens these days, by one final, futile Hawkeye challenger.

But the deed was done. The 36-year-old from Switzerland had won the Australian Open men’s singles title, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Federer held it together fairly well during the trophy presentations, until the end, When he thanked his team and his family, he lost it again.

The crowd roared.

And every time Federer thought it was over, the noise of the ovation would swell up again, and the tears would swell in Federer’s eyes again.

Federer back in 2009, after he lost the Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal).

Federer has shed tears on this court before. Back in 2009, they were tears of defeat, when longtime rival Rafael Nadal had to comfort him when he just couldn’t hold them back.

Last year, they were tears of unexpected joy.

This year, they may well have been tears of relief after stressing himself into a frenzy for 36 hours before the match.

Which didn’t make that moment any less special, or any less impressive.

No. 20, and a successful defense

It is the 20th Grand Slam title of Federer’s career. That puts him four ahead of Nadal, and eight ahead of Novak Djokovic. He successfully defended a major title for the time since he won back-to-back US Opens a decade ago, in 2007 and 2008.

A decade later, Federer has practically made time stand still. His brand of tennis remains a champion’s brand still.

Federer had help. What looked early on to be a rout – “I got off on a flyer, which was great,” he said – became an intense battle for a significant length of time. Cilic found his rhythm and refused to bow. Federer’s thoughts got the better of him.

Federer comes by the lachrymosity honestly – it’s in the DNA.

“I just think I froze in the tiebreak, end of the second. I just think I got really nervous. And then it got to be a match, it got tight. I think Marin helped me out in the third and in the fifth to stretch the lead a little bit. I couldn’t stop the bleeding almost. It was terrible. He was in control. He was the one calling the shots all of a sudden,” Federer said during one of his myriad post-match television interviews. 

“My mind was all over the place. ‘I’m so close right now. Don’t mess it up.’ It always happens, and it’s crazy. I had to get lucky, to be quite honest, at the beginning of the fifth. I personally don’t think I’ll come back if he breaks me first. But crazier things have happened – like last year.”

A year ago, Federer was down 1-3 in the fifth set to Nadal, down and almost out, and came back to win. This time, Cilic was down 1-3 in the fifth set. But he couldn’t manage to duplicate the feat.

Cilic vs. Federer – and 15,000 FedFans

He was a worthy runner-up, a classy competitor who persevered despite the almost unilateral support inside Rod Laver Arena for his opponent. 

It’s hard to even fathom how quiet it would have been in there, had the Croat found the path to victory.

floodgates
“I couldn’t speak. It was terrible.” – Federer, on keeping his composure after winning his 20th Slam.

When it got to a fifth set, Cilic actually had a superior record. He was 27-12 going in; Federer was 29-20. But as a former champion once said, the fifth set isn’t about tennis.

Well, momentum was on my side from 3-2 or even 3-1 in that fourth set. I came back, won the set 6-3. Plus it was all games that I deserved and earned really well. I played great tennis, started to return really good,” Cilic said. “That first game of the first set, putting a lot of pressure, four break points, I went for my shots and didn’t make them.”

A testy test of nerves

Both players were on short fuses. Early on in the match, Cilic was fretting about the string tension in his rackets. He sent numerous sticks out for restringing and angrily, almost in a panic, gestured at his box about the situation.

floodgates
When a legend takes a shot of you losing your … stuff in front of the world.

For his part, Federer was snarky with one linesman on a call. And he was an absolute cranky pants with chair umpire Jake Garner about making sure he reminded him when they were about to change to new tennis balls.

“Talk to me, talk to me, remind me,  3-0 in the fifth, I can’t do it all by myself,” he told Garner.

Federer said the 7:30 p.m. start for the final was the worst thing in the world. It gave him all those extra hours to think about the match, debate himself about the likely outcome, overthink every little thing.

Long day’s journey into 20

“I think my thoughts were all over the place all day. I was thinking, what if I lost, what if I won, every minute of the day. Thank God I slept until 11. Imagine if I woke up at 7 and was up 12 hours before the match,” he said.

“I think I was going through the whole match like this. I’ve had these moments in the past, but maybe never as extreme as tonight. Getting to 20 is obviously very, very special, no doubt.”

He likened the feeling after it was over to the 2006 final against Marcos Baghdatis.

After losing the first set, Federer went on to defeat Marcos Baghdatis in the 2006 Australian Open final. And all that pressure came out.

“I had a great run to the finals, was a huge favourite going in. Keeping my composure. The matches weren’t emotional going to the finals but I felt so relieved when it was done,” he said.

Just like Sunday night.

“That’s why I couldn’t speak. It was terrible … When I start thinking about what I was going to say, every subject I touch actually is very meaningful and very emotional. Thanking your team, congratulating Marin, thanking the people, thanking the tournament. …  But I hoped over time in the speech I would start to relax a little bit, but I couldn’t,” Federer said.

“It was what it was. I wish it wasn’t so sometimes. At the same time I’m happy I can show emotions and share it with the people. If I got emotional, it’s because it was a full crowd again. (Having) no people in the stadium wouldn’t make me emotional, I’ll tell you that. This is for them really also.”

Federer didn’t even notice the legendary Rod Laver taking video of him bawling on his iPhone. “I didn’t even see it happening because I was crying too much,” he said. “I couldn’t lift my head. And I was just too embarrassed. It was terrible.”

20 Slams? Not terrible

This was Federer’s sixth title in Australia, tied with Roy Emerson and Djokovic for most all time. He has eight Wimbledons, five US Opens (tied for most in the Open era) and that one French Open in 2009.

flootgates
The tears kept coming for Federer, after a day and a half of stressing out over the outcome of the Australian Open final.

At this point, there seems to be no end in sight. Because Federer has everything in place.

“I think by not overplaying, not playing every tournament possible. I enjoy practice. Not minding the travel. Having a great team around me, they make it possible. At the end it’s seeing that my parents are incredibly proud and happy that I’m still doing it. They enjoy coming to tournaments. That makes me happy and play better,” he said. 

“Then, of course, my wife who makes it all possible. Without her support, I wouldn’t be playing tennis no more since many years … I’m happy that she’s super supportive, and she’s willing to take on a massive workload with the kiddies. Same for me, because I wouldn’t want to be away from my kids for more than two weeks. This life wouldn’t work if she said no. Many puzzles need to fit together for me to be able to sit here tonight.”

(All illustrations except 2006 Federer: Channel 7 screenshots)

When Federer last met Cilic …

MELBOURNE, Australia – Roger Federer and Marin Cilic have met under a lot of dramatic circumstances in recent years.

Their last four encounters have taken place either at Grand Slams, or at the ATP Tour Finals.

And when they last met in a Grand Slam final, just six months ago, it wasn’t much of a match because of Cilic’s nasty case of blisters.

But, in fact, their most recent meetings are not listed on their ATP Tour head-to-head. They met under much more relaxed circumstances, while on vacation in the Maldives.

A little hitup in the Maldives

Here’s Federer talking about it.

“I mean, I was there first, I think, and he arrived later on the island. I was told that Marin was coming. And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool”. It’s not that they warned me another tennis player is coming. It’s all good, we’re fine.

When he arrived, I didn’t want to bother him. He didn’t want to bother me. After two days, he wrote me: ‘I’m here, too, in case you want to catch up and stuff, let me know.’

I was like, ‘Sure, let me know if you want to hit.’

He was eager to hit because it’s good to stay in the rhythm for both of us. We also met up later for drinks, met his fiancée. And then we had cake together, my whole family and him. We had a good time. It’s not like we’re hanging out all the time, but our paths crossed a few times. We actually went to practice twice for 45 minutes.

It’s great fun. No coaches, no nothing, just the two of us on the court hitting balls. It was just nice and laid back. To get to know the man behind the tennis player, I guess, even though I got to know him better through the Laver Cup and so forth.”

There was photographic evidence of this – an epic photo Cilic posted on his Instagram.

You know you’re staying in a posh place when someone brings you copious coconut cocktails onto the practice court.

There likely are no official scores to report for the head-to-head; during a 45-minute session, there woulsn’t be any sets played.

So the head-to-head remains Federer 8, Cilic 1.

The last four meetings between Federer and CIlic have been on big occasions – not counting their hitups on vacation in the Maldives last November.

The only win by the Croat was a straight-sets victory in the semifinals of the 2014 US Open – his first and only Grand Slam singles title.

 

Late-season split: Bjorkman and Cilic

It’s the time of the season where nearly all players – even those who played through the Davis Cup final – are getting back to work.

Barely three weeks remain before the start of the 2018 season.

So it’s late in the day for an announcement of the end of another successful coach-player pairing.

But here it is.

Cilic announced on Twitter Friday that he had reached the end of the road with Jonas Bjorkman.

“@BjorkmanTennis and me won’t be working together anymore. We had some great results during 16 months and established an amazing relationship. It was a great pleasure to work with him. Would like to thank him for all his efforts and wish him the best.”

Bjorkman offered the usual lovely words of his own, less than two hours later.

Here’s what Bjorkman wrote on Twitter.

“Thank you for the past 18 months! It has been a great pleasure working and spending time with you both on and off the court during this time. I have such respect for all the hard work you always put in and for being such a gentleman! Wish you all the best for 2018!”

(A little discrepancy there in terms of the length of Bjorkman’s tenure. All moot now.)

Tough end of season for Cilic in London

Bjorkman, a former No. 4 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, worked with Andy Murray for the last part of 2015, as then-coach Amélie Mauresmo went off on maternity leave. 

Bjorkman
Team Cilic at the US Open in September. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He replaced Goran Ivanisevic as Cilic’s coach after the first part of the 2016 season.

It’s been a feature of some of the recent coaching changes that the coaches themselves have gotten out front of the news.

That was especially true in the case of Bjorkman’s fellow Swede Magnus Norman, who abruptly left Team Wawrinka this fall.

But this time, it was Cilic who announced it first.

Cilic only won one ATP Tour title in 2017 (Istanbul). But he reached a career-best No. 4 in October.

Bjorkman’s last tournament with Cilic was the ATP Tour Finals in London, where Cilic lost all three of his round-robin matches in three sets: to Alexander Zverev, Roger Federer and Jack Sock.

History was routine as Federer gets Wimbledon No. 8

WIMBLEDON – With his eighth ace of the match, Roger Federer won his eighth Wimbledon title Sunday.

He turns 36 on the eighth of next month, the eighth month of the year.

And with a game, but hobbled Marin Cilic on the other side of the net, it was the easiest final of his Wimbledon career.

The 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory took just an hour and 47 minutes.

He gave up … eight games. He also warmed up for the match on Court No. 8, if he needed more instances of his lucky number to get him over the top.

“Wimbledon was always my favorite tournament, will always be my favorite tournament. My heroes walked the grounds here and walked the courts here. Because of them, I think I became a better player, too. To mark history here at Wimbledon really means a lot to me just because of all of that really. It’s that simple,” Federer said. 

“Funny enough, I didn’t think that much of it throughout today, throughout the trophy ceremony. I was more just so happy that I was able to win Wimbledon again because it’s been a long road, it’s been an exciting road. It’s been tough at times, but that’s how it’s supposed to be,” he added. “So to be Wimbledon champion for an entire year now is something I can’t wait, you know, to savor and just enjoy. So it was super special.”

Tears on both sides

Federer

If Federer shed some tears at the moment of victory, and again a little later as spotted the arrival of his four children in the player’s box, there were tears from Cilic, too.

Sadly, they were tears of a completely different kind.

The 28-year-old Croat was absolutely beside himself, sitting in his chair down a set and a service break and heaving huge sobs into his towel.

An extended changeover had Cilic attended to by a host of officials, but no one could console the Croat.

The physio, the tournament doctor and Grand Slam official Stefan Fransson surrounded him. But there was really nothing they could do for him.

Later, as Cilic took a medical timeout to have the ball of his left foot retaped, the picture became a little clearer. Cilic said he felt it – a big, oozing blister, to be graphic – during the semifinal win over Sam Querrey.

“Every time I had to do a reaction fast, fast change of movement, I was unable to do that. Obviously was very tough emotionally because I know how much I went through last few months in preparation with everything. It was also tough because of my own team. They did so much for me. I just felt it was really bad luck,” Cilic said.

The medical staff tried to get some of the fluid out after the Querrey match. They even tried to numb the area with anaesthetic, but Cilic said the skin in that area was tough, and they weren’t able to completely numb it.

That sinking feeling

He probably didn’t get the best night’s sleep of his life, as a consequence. And he knew, as early as the warmup when he tested out changes of direction, that he was cooked.

The tears? “It was just emotionally that I knew on such a big day that I’m unable to play my best tennis, in physical, and in every single way,” Cilic said. “That was just a little bit combination of all emotions because I know how much it took for me to get here.”

It would take a heart of stone not to empathize with the gentle giant, who was in his first Wimbledon final and clearly knew that he wasn’t in shape to give it his very best, on the grandest stage in tennis.

Federer could not afford to empathize, though. He had a match to win.

As that changeover ended and umpire Damien Dumusois called “time”, Cilic was still sitting there, a towel over his head. Federer crossed the court right in front of him – not even giving him a sideways glance – and went out to finish the job.

If it seemed heartless, Federer couldn’t afford to take his eye off the ball for a single second. He had history to make.

And when you’re in that position, you can’t let anything or anyone distract you from the task at hand.

“I thought when he called the doctor first, I thought maybe he was dizzy or something. Because I couldn’t tell what it was, it actually made things easier. If I saw him limping around, or if I saw him pull up hurt in some place, I would start to think, Okay, maybe I’ll throw in a drop shot to really check him out, then want more, because that’s what you do,” he said, smiling. “You need to hurt him, you know, where it hurts already.

“Because I didn’t know and I couldn’t tell, I just said, ‘Focus on your game, focus on your match, keep playing’. The good thing is I was already in the lead.”

Sympathetic crowd helpless

The crowd tried to urge Cilic on. He continued with reddened eyes, the tears still coming. And because of the foot, he began trying to compete in any way he could.

But if Marin Cilic is serving and volleying to try to win a tennis match, his opponent has to know it’s just a matter of time.

Cilic, who like Federer has never retired in the middle of a match during his long career, didn’t quit.

“That’s what I did throughout my career, I never gave up. I gave my best, but that’s all I could do,” Cilic said on court.

“I had an amazing journey here, played the best tennis of my life. And I really want to thank my team; they gave so much strength to me … To all my fans in Croatia. It was really tough today, and I gave it all. I’m hoping I’m going to come back here and try it one more time.”

It’s the first time since 2012 that Federer has won Wimbledon. And he now is the only player ever to have won it eight times.

As much as the Australian Open title back in January was a surprise, after Federer was away for the game for six months trying to ensure he didn’t need a second knee surgery and taking one more deep breath, this one was a coronation.

He didn’t lose a set in seven matches on the way to the title, the first to do that since Bjorn Borg in 1976.

No free pass for Federer

The Swiss star’s great rivals were all on hand for this tournament; it’s not as though he jumped through cavernous holes in the draw.

But countryman Stan Wawrinka, who has won every major but this one, was out in the first round.

Rafael Nadal, the other top player in vintage form this season, had a big hiccup in the first two sets of his fourth-round match against Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, and fell just short of a monstrous comeback.

Defending champion Andy Murray and three-time champion Novak Djokovic found themselves betrayed by their bodies.

So all the stars aligned for Federer during this edition of the Championships. And there’s a certain irony in that.

Since his last Wimbledon title in 2012, a common school of thought was that maybe Federer could win one more Slam, the 19th of his career. But everything would have to line up just perfectly. He would need some help from other players to perhaps get some of the other top contenders out of the way. And then, maybe, he could sneak one out.

The way he has been playing this season, it’s not a crazy notion to think that he wouldn’t even have needed any outside help to win this one. Still, in the gilded universe of Federer, he had the path smoothed for him anyway.

No points to defend

It’s a remarkable story, not only in tennis but also in sports. And as Federer exits the first half of the season he seems to be fresh, and healthy – and hungry for more.

“I hope this wasn’t my last match and I hope I can come back next year and defend the title,” Federer said on court.

Later, he clarified.

“Honestly, ever since I had the year I had last year, I do think probably like a year ahead of time, you know, with my schedule, fitness schedule, tournaments I would like to play. So I totally see myself playing here this time next year. But because it’s far away, because of what happened last year, I just like to take the opportunity to thank the people in the very moment, and make them understand, yes, I hope that I’m back. There’s never a guarantee, especially not at 35, 36,” he said. “But the goal is definitely to be here again next year to try and defend.”

Despite the reality that at his age, he’s far less impervious to injury and will need longer to recover from one, does anyone doubt it?