Photos: An all-Swiss blast on AA

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – A few observations from a practice match on Arthur Ashe Stadium between Roger Federer and longtime friend and fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

The first, and most notable one, is that Wawrinka appears to have all of his speed back. 

Maybe it’s happened at some point earlier this season.

But it was our first real close-up view of him at work in a (fairly) serious practice session. And he was quick, and explosive. Impressive.

The level at which these two fellows do things is truly off the charts – even well into their 30s. Which is probably why Wawrinka, a late bloomer, is a multiple Grand Slam champion and Federer is … well, Federer.

Still. They hit the ball SO hard. And they move SO quickly from side to side – and up and back. The pace was literally furious. And the conditions seemed pretty quick, too.

Here’s what it looked like (as always, we’d have shot video if we could. Rightsholders rights and all, to be respected).

Wawrinka MIGHT have won

On this day, Federer had some issues getting onto Wawrinka’s serve. But since we don’t keep score when watching practice matches, we can’t tell you who won (plus, we didn’t watch it all).

It appeared that Wawrinka broke Federer when he was serving for the first set. And then, he won the tiebreak.

We do know that Federer looked fresh as a new rose despite the conditions in Arthur Ashe Stadium when the roof is closed. It’s a looong, long way from the way he looked during the last match he played in there, against John Millman at last year’s Open.

In that one, the conditions got the better of him for one of the rare times in his career.

Sweaty Stan

Meanwhile, the opposite was true of Wawrinka.

The man was a dripping hunk of sweat – until he finally changed his shirt after that first set.

We kind of like that about him, actually.

Anyone who’s not as naturally gifted as these top players (that is to say … everyone, basically) can appreciate someone who appears as though it’s at least hard work to play at that level.

Wawrinka

Small crowd for Fed-Stan

Arthur Ashe Stadium is open to the public before the first official day of play for the first time this year, during “Fan Week”.

But there was a surprisingly small crowd to see these two play. It was astonishing, really.

It’s not all that easy to get in; you have to know which gates are open (there are only a couple, both leading to that one side of the court across from the sit-down chairs. A lot of entrances are locked. The main entrance at the front of the stadium, through which thousands enter, was blocked by the “Fan Week” stages.

And it appeared they were doing a little crowd control outside all week, to limit the number of fans in there.

But as you can see, there were loads of empty seats.

Wawrinka

Later that night, on the shuttle bus back to the city, we might have solved that mystery.

A fellow passenger, who works in TV but whose son was at the tournament, said that her son had been told, when he went to try to watch, that they weren’t allowing anyone into the stadium.

To bad for the fans who missed it.

But it was good for Jenson Brooksby, who was playing his final-round qualifying match around the same time.

The 18-year-old American had a pretty massive crowd to watch him make the main draw. Great atmosphere, too.

Wawrinka

 

11 years later, Fedal renew at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON – It is a fact that the first of Friday’s men’s singles semifinals, between world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and world No. 22 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, is the forgotten story of the day.

Would it be different if, say, the defending champion were playing Juan Martin del Potro? Or if it were one of the young guns “finally breaking through?”  Or even if anyone thought Bautista Agut had a shot?

Probably not materially.

It’s not equitable. But the biggest reason it’s relegated to the opening act is because of … the history.

Eleven years ago, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played a final on this same court – into the night, almost into the dark. A book and a film were done about it. And it remains among the most iconic matches in tennis history.

It was also an incredible tennis match – extending over the afternoon and into the evening because of several rain interruptions. Those only added to the drama.

And so, the very fact that Federer and Nadal have not played in this hallowed venue since then – crazy thing, that – means that the buildup has been 11 years in the making.

And, of course, it’s Roger Federer at Wimbledon. He’s practically more “British” than an actual British champion.

First Wimbledon coverage

That 2008 edition was my first Wimbledon working as a journalist. And hey, you think it’s always going to be like that. Of course, it isn’t.

Mostly, it was a crazy day. The first memory I have is of the two finalists out on the practice court – when the first downpour of the day came.

It’s a funny memory, perhaps the opposite to what you’d expect of the two players. I remember both of them stopping the practice and hustling back to the locker room.

First came Nadal – annoyed with the rain, frantically draping a towel over his head to not get the hair too wet. Then, a few minutes later, came Federer. Despite the rain, Federer was just strolling down St. Mary’s Walk, unconcerned about the coiffure.

If felt like an insight into their mindsets before the big final. But in the end, it was more just a reflection of their personalities more than anything.

The cardigan

Federer

My memory of the cardigan is that after one delay, Federer warmed up with it on as they resumed play. But when he removed it, he didn’t unbutton it, as one would. He just pulled it over his head (not too gracefully, it should be said).

Last week, I spotted a fan walking around the grounds wearing “the” cardigan. The gold-trimmed piece of fashion that Federer sported.

I should have grabbed a photo of the fellow. But I confess it didn’t click that the cardigan meant … 2008, and the last meeting between these two, in this place.

At that point, the semifinals still seemed a long way away. And I have a tendency – just like many players claim as well – to take it round by round and not look ahead too much.

But it’s Friday, and here we are. They both made it.

Here are some of the photos I took back in 2008. They give you a better idea of how dark it really was, as compared to how it looked on television.

Federer made a few fashion statements at Wimbledon back in his Nike days. And seeing that big “RF” logo on the cardigan brings them back. There are still plenty of “RF”s on ballcaps when you walk around at tournaments. But these days no one talks much about what Federer is wearing. It’s dull as dishwater, and it doesn’t seem to matter.

In 2008, Nadal still wore the sleeveless tops, although the pirate pants had already gone in his gradual morphing into a model for Nike kits that people over 30 wouldn’t look silly in. All part of growing up.

So much has changed

If you look at the replay of that match, it’s amazing how much has changed.

The wear pattern on Centre Court back then still showed the efforts of players to transition to the net. That, sadly, has gone the way of the dodo bird.

But they both look so YOUNG.

That’s probably because they were young.

Nadal was still a boy of 22, baby-faced and earnest. Federer was just 26, having been through a four-year period where he practically beat everyone with one arm tied behind his back.

Federer

They both had more hair, even if it’s still basically the same color. For everyone around them, that has changed.

Nadal’s father Sebastian had unnaturally jet-black hair then. We wondered who he was kidding. These days, Sebastian’s hair is a beautiful snow-white. And he looks a whole lot better.

Federer coach Severin Luthi looked like a baby. Uncle Toni’s hair, then also jet black then, is speckled through with gray now. 

Federer

And Gavin and Gwen – BFFS of the Federers – looked like a loving couple. Gwen, then 38, was expecting their second child – REALLY expecting their child. Zuma Nesta Rock was born little more than a month later. They have since long split.

(Okay, we do wonder occasionally who got custody of the Federers).

Bjorn Borg? Dammit, he looks even better now.

Federer

Will the tennis live up to the history?

What we do know is that Friday’s 40th meeting between Nadal and Federer won’t have the same drama and stunning backdrop that the 2008 final had.

The addition of the Centre Court roof the following year means that matches no longer have to fight the battle for daylight.

I remember so vividly all the flashes going off in Centre Court, with all of the lights from the scoreboards standing out. If you were watching on television, as the cameras open their apertures to the max, you couldn’t get a sense of how dark it really was. 

Federer

And the last thing I remember was dashing over to No. 1 Court. 

Because, believe it or not, as dark as it was on Centre Court – there was still a match going on over there.

The unheralded mixed doubles final, which pitted Bob Bryan (with Samantha Stosur) against Mike Bryan (with Katarina Srebotnik), finished much later than the singles final. Bob Bryan and Stosur won it, 7-5, 6-4.

It was so dark, you only hope that they handed the champions’ trophy to the right twin.

ATP boardroom drama far from over

It is a drama that is being followed closely in tennis circles, the British tennis media and on Twitter, if not too many other places.

But the departure of the embattled Justin Gimelstob from the ATP Tour of board of directors, the election of his successor and the future of CEO Chris Kermode remains an ongoing drama.

Until this weekend, only Rafael Nadal had weighed in among the top players, because of the fact that he played in Barcelona. He preferred to keep his opinion to himself publicly and share it with the relevant parties only.

Stan Wawrinka Tweeted. And he published a well-edited letter in the Times of London. But he has not been through the media gauntlet.

And what about Player Council president Novak Djokovic, whose opinion carries the most weight on the Council?

And … what about Roger Federer?

Federer weighs in

boardroomPrior to Gimelstob’s resignation, we’re told Federer was none too pleased that upon his return to the clay for the first time in three years, the focus might be on boardroom business. 

But on Sunday, he addressed it.

Notably, while these comments made news in the U.K., a story out of the press conference in the Spanish-language newspaper Marca didn’t even reference it.

Diario AS limited the mention to a paragraph.

The French sports daily L’Équipe also doesn’t even mention it.

The return of Kermode? Don’t discount it

As has long been expected within the game, Federer floated the idea of a revisiting of the decision not to renew Kermode’s contract for another three-year term. That call was made by vote during a meeting at Indian Wells in March.

“Yeah, I haven’t thought about it really a whole lot, about Chris’s situation because I saw it in isolation.  … For Justin (Gimelstob) … I don’t know exactly the process, when the votes are happening, when the new CEO, all this stuff gets decided. But he’ll probably … anyway it maybe should be put back into the thing, you know – I don’t know what you call that – in the mix, good word,” Federer said during his pre-tournament presser in Madrid Sunday (quotes here from the Metro UK story).

“But then again I don’t know if (Kermode) would want to be after everything that happened. Sometimes when these things happen, it is like, ‘Okay, I had a good run, and it’s okay to go’. So I don’t know what – I haven’t seen Chris for some time now. I only saw him briefly in Indian Wells and I haven’t spoken to him at all, so I don’t know where he stands.”

The former president knows the drill

Federer, of course, is likely to know exactly how these things are done. He was the president of the ATP Player Council for three terms, from 2008-2014. The current boiling pot might have gotten widespread social media attention because of the Gimelstob situation. But plenty of boardroom machinations have occurred over the last decade – even if they passed unnoticed by most tennis fans.

During Federer’s tenure as president, it was never dull.

Federer holds up his No. 1 trophy at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai 2005, with de Villiers to his right.

First came the departure of the controversial Etienne de Villiers. De Villiers shook things up quite a bit during his time. In March 2008, 20 ATP players signed a letter addressed to the board of directors insisting the South African’s contract should not be renewed until the board interviewed other candidates.

Federer and Rafael Nadal were among those vocal in their objections to the direction in which de Villiers was taking the sport. So much so that both of them, along with Djokovic, ran for the Player Council in 2008 to have more of a say.

One-term CEOs

In the end, de Villiers didn’t return. The next CEO, Adam Helfant, a former Nike executive (!!!!) and a rare American in the role, also served one term.

Helfant left the ATP at the end of 2011. There had been talk that he had asked for a big raise to return for another term, rumours he firmly denied. Helfant said he left for “professional reasons”, even though he had no firm direction already planned.

Aussie Brad Drewitt was named CEO in 2012. And then, after Drewitt’s tragic ALS diagnosis, Federer was there when Kermode was first named interim CEO, then voted in to the position permanently for 2014.

So yes, Federer knows how these things are done.

On Gimelstob, and the “silence”

boardroom
Federer and Nadal take part in a salute to the retiring David Ferrer in Madrid.

The most unproductive scoreboard over the last two weeks has been the parlor game of “Who commented? Who won’t comment? How come so-and-so hasn’t said anything – or said the ‘right’ thing?”

The early comments of Player Council member Vasek Pospisil, who lauded Gimelstob’s effectiveness on behalf of the players but wouldn’t comment on the court case and the effect of his actions on the Tour’s optics, set the tone. There were quite a few landmines around for anyone who dared not to toe the established, acceptable public line.

Justin Gimelstob pleads “no contest” in battery case, gets probation

Federer said Sunday he was happy Gimelstob made the “right” decision to “go back and figure things out.” He also said that he had spoken to some of the Player Council members to get a sense of their position (although he couldn’t quite pin down the exact weekend).

Knock, knock, knockin’ on Federer’s door

Gimelstob steps down from ATP Board

And he also stated the obvious, that he wasn’t going to get on on Twitter to comment. And also that he wasn’t at a tournament, so the press couldn’t ask him.

“But I was home. Nobody knocked on my door. Then I would have given my comment,” Federer said. (Can you picture that?) 

Christopher Clarey of the New York Times did visit Federer in Switzerland last week to write a feature on his preparation to return to clay. But the subject apparently didn’t come up).

“Sometimes also – when I usually do it is behind closed doors, not through the media. I know you guys will enjoy that a bit more sometimes, but I don’t. So, and when you do ask me (a) question, I always try to really answer it truthfully and as openly as possible,” Federer said. “So, yeah, I could have spoken out, but I was not around, you know.  … We need to learn from what had happened, and really move on in the good direction because it’s an opportunity for sure.”

Nadal and Djokovic still to weigh in

boardroom
Djokovic on the practice court in Madrid on Friday.

As for Nadal, so far there has only been one Associated Press story  out of Madrid about his “increasing confidence” on the clay.

No word from Djokovic as yet.

And, of course, the Serb is the one whose opinion is most pertinent, as president of the Player Council.

It was Djokovic that Gimelstob flew to visit in Marbella after he decided to step down.

And it is Djokovic who was the biggest catalyst in the vote to not renew Kermode in his job.

Nadal is expected in press on Monday.

 

Federer plays tourist in Madrid (video)

This is not Roger Federer’s first trip to Madrid.

But he’s been treated like a conquering hero.

After arriving in Madrid and having his first practice on the Caja Magica court, the three-time champion (2006 over Gonzalez, 2009 over Nadal, and 2012 over Berdych – the “blue clay” year), Federer went on a tour.

And the No. 4 seed had a tour guide, Madrid mayor(ess?) Manuela Carmena.

That’s some elite company.

Carmena, who is 75 and a retired judge, came from a very modest background. She has been the mayor of Madrid since 2015 and joined the Spanish Communist party out of law school back in 1965. A serious feminist nicknamed the “Hugging Grandma” she’s considered pretty seriously left-wing. Here’s her Wikipedia bio. We stan her.

They went to the city hall, Palacio de Cibeles.

Federer is sporting an impressive tan for a guy who’s been doing his clay-court prep in the Swiss mountains.

This is Federer’s 12th trip to Madrid, but his first since 2015.  

In fact, he hasn’t won a match there since beating the now-retired Radek Stepanek in his opening match at the 2013 edition – six years ago.

That year, he lost his opening match to a young Nick Kyrgios, 14-12 in the third-set tiebreak. In fact, all three sets were tiebreaks.

Kyrgios had just turned 20; it was their first-ever meeting. Federer won the next three. The first two of those also ended in third-set tiebreaks, with five of the six sets going the distance.

(Video and photos provided by the Mutua Madrid Open). 

Candidate Mayotte lays out his manifesto

The deadline for prospective candidates for the upcoming vacancy on the ATP Board of directors as Americans player representative was Monday.

And one of those candidates, a former top-10 player with an impressive resumé, is Massachusetts native Tim Mayotte.

Mayotte is from a tennis-playing family out of Springfield, Mass. – and widely recognized as the best player ever to have come out of New England.

He is a co-founder of the Tim Mayotte Tennis Academy at the Thoreau Club in Concord, Mass.

A former Player Council president and ATP Tour board member, the 58-year-old was moved to run for the soon-to-be-available spot on the board by recent events involving the current holder of that seat, Justin Gimelstob.

Tennis.Life spoke to Mayotte Monday, to sound him out about Gimelstob, the current state of the ATP, and what his priorities would be should be be elected to the board.

Add Brad Gilbert to the list of ATP Board candidates

On Justin Gimelstob

“My position is that he should not be serving the ATP, no question. And that became even more clear when I read the transcript (Tweeted by Ben Rothenberg). That he would willingly do what he did means he’s not the person you want driving your players.

I don’t want to be represented by him. I think Justin will get his act together, and take the right steps, but he should not be governing the ATP players.

About pondering a run for the board

Tim Mayotte’s tennis resumé

“I started to think about it a number of months ago when the incident came to light. It was definitely a catalyst for me thinking about it, but my thinking solidified over the last couple of months. I have a set of experiences that I don’t think anyone else has had. I was there for the founding of the Tour. I’ve been outside of that, been political in the trenches for a long time. I think that combination of skills is very rare. And it also allows me to come with no ego.

When I served (on the board) before I was so fresh off the Tour. My identity was still tied into being a player. And now, I come in with a real freedom to act in the best way possible for the game and the players, and not worry where I fit in in the pecking order.”

On the disconnect at the top

Board

“I feel that this is just an incredible time in men’s tennis, with these top three, top four. I’m disheartened to see the discord between the top guys, because I think if you can get all the players – but especially those three or four – on the same page, you can accomplish almost anything.

It’s sad to see the communications issues. From the outside, you have the three most important players at cross-purposes. And the players will be able to set their agenda depending on having those 3-4 players on board. There has been much goodwill built up with those guys. So I’d have to get in to see the nitty-gritty, what their individual thinking is. But I think that would be a huge piece of getting things back on track.”

On what he thinks the position involves

Board
Mayotte takes on John McEnroe in a 2007 Champions Tour match. No, they never ended up in a band together.

“It’s a critical, critical position. You don’t realize it, I think, until you’re in it. Here you are with the major decisions – outside anything to do with the Slams – impacting the top of the game. What we’ve seen with (Novak) Djokovic, he’s willing to use it. Which is a great sign. But hopefully we can get the players using the board position in the best possible way.

Inherently, there’s tension between the various groups that will never change. Between the higher and lower ranked, the singles and doubles players, and all the various needs. What you hope you can do is get a cohesive vision.”

Areas of particular focus

“What I want to stress that you can do great for the players by doing what’s right for the game.”

“You don’t know where it’s going to head and who’s going to fight various areas. But you have so much goodwill built up with these top guys, I’d like to stress to them that not only they can help themselves, they can help the players.

But also if you look back, people who’ve had a legacy impact go all the way to my hero Stan Smith, (Rod) Laver, (Cliff) Drysdale (the first president of the ATP) – all the way up to Arthur Ashe.”

A flashback to other ATP flashpoints

“If you can sell to the top players that they can have a lasting, positive impact on the game – obviously it has to do with money, but it also has to do with the appeal of the game – I think you can have something special.

They’ve already set the stage. It’s not a feel-good thing after the fact. They’ve done all the right stuff for such a long time, including playing at the highest level. This is their chance to have a lasting impact on the game.

Every time I talk to my students, I ask them, ‘whose name is up on the stadium at the US Open? Why? Because they did great stuff through tennis. And that also extends their impact on the game beyond the tennis.”

On getting a bigger piece of the pie, even in the post-Federer era

“There are two ways the players can really help themselves financially. No. 1 is via the Grand Slams. And No. 2 is via the (Masters) 1000s and the 500s. What most players don’t recognize is that when we initially made the “Super 11” back in the early 1990s, there were a number of tournaments that were pushed aside. Those folks who were able to secure one of the 11 (which eventually went down to the nine Masters 1000s today) were basically given the golden ring.

This was the original plan when Mark Miles started it in 1994-95, that these would become the top events. And that’s what they’ve become.”

There was life after Michael Jordan, after (Magic) Johnson and (Larry) Bird. Sports will turn out great players. And when you put great players in one place in a guaranteed fashion (as with the Masters 1000s), you’ll have growth.

Those events in particular have far increased in value, as have the Slams. The piece of the pie that the players get is tiny, compared to any other sport. And again, this is where the goodwill of these top guys is important.

I also think that the part I want to hear them out on is how do we buoy the lower end of the game – not just the 250s, but the pathway, to make it healthy.

This is another reason I think the players are underpaid. The risk you take now to try to make it on the Tour is extraordinary, the money it takes to get you on that path. So if you get through, you should be more highly compensated.”

Conficts of interest and the ITF pathway

“I’m working with players who would like to make that jump from juniors up. It especially seems like the mishandling of the ITF situation and pathway scares a lot of them. Some of them are looking at colleges instead.

One thing that’s very disturbing is IMG sponsoring the junior rankings. I don’t know. … It’s so bad for the look of the game. And I don’t feel good about the Tennis Channel being at the (USTA) national headquarters. The optics are terrible.”

ITF sells junior rankings sponsorship

On IMG owning tennis, and other conflicts

“That hasn’t even changed that much. They sold the rights for the initial Super 11. And they owned the Tour Championships, (represent) a number of the players, a number of tournaments.

There’s a vertical monopoly that still exists. I don’t know about untangling all of that, but you can make better choices.

I was guilty of it too. I did some work on Prime (Network), USA Channel. Obviously Patrick McEnroe with his mixed bag (as USTA high-performance director, Davis Cup captain and ESPN analyst) … It’s not good for the game. It just can’t be good. I’m not saying I’m going to get in there and fix it all. My goal would be to get in there and listen to the top guys, listen to everybody.”

On getting the star players involved

“It seems now that you have people who are really interested in service. And that that goes all the way down to the lower-ranked players.

When I was on the Tour we tried to do that. But we wouldn’t even get (Ivan) Lendl, (John) McEnroe, (Jimmy) Connors, (Boris) Becker in the same room. They would come in and McEnroe would say, ‘I would be commissioner of tennis, we should have fewer tournaments – and only the ones I want to play.’

We tried to get those guys on the Council, and they wouldn’t do it.

(Then-CEO) Mark Miles really tried hard to reach out to them. I empathized with the players because when I was playing, it was different. When I was coming up, the ATP hadn’t started. There was three-pronged board setup. You just wanted to play tennis. But hopefully you can get people on the same page.

But the next big decision is whom do you hire for Chris (Kermode’s) position.”

Player Council will meet before commenting Gimelstob case

The next steps

“I put in a nomination with my CV. It’s due today (Monday). And the ATP will do a short list. Then I’ll get on the phone and start calling people; I’ve already sent a note to the Player Council.

I’ll get to Rome early, and get my face in front of as many people that will talk to me.

Then a presentation and Q&A with the council. It’d be 10-15 minutes, I’d imagine – very quick, by my recollection.

My task will be getting people to know me before I get in the room.

And that’s going to be the challenge. I remember older folks coming into the Council. And you think you’re well known. But you’re nine generations removed – especially when you hobble in needing a new knee. You come in, you have to get people to know you.

I have met Djokovic before. He’s going to be one the people that matters the most.”

Will he look to involve Federer and Nadal more comprehensively, despite them not being on the Player Council?

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Federer and Djokovic played doubles together at Laver Cup. They also were spotted huddled together in conversation on numerous occasions – and probably not talking about their kids.

“That’s huge, pretty much central to the position.

What is exciting from what Justin did, was that he was able to actively – very actively – get one of the top players involved in the nitty-gritty. Kudos to him.

“There’s no way the top guys when I played would sit in a boardroom. They wanted to play in a band.

They all had bands. Wilander had a band. Noah had a band.

I really should have had a band.”

“You’ve got Federer’s agent, and Nadal’s group. So you have to be able to penetrate that. It’s been interesting to watch Djokovic suffer, because it’s a very difficult job.”

On how coaching resembles the boardroom

“In tennis you’re used to going out and training and having an impact. And in life, in a boardroom, it’s not that way. You have to do the hard work of negotiating and talking.

It’s not unlike teaching. And that’s maybe why teaching tennis is exciting to me, because you’re making changes on a granular level whether it’s a 10-year old, or an 18-year-old.

Obviously you have to know technique. But communications, helping people find meaning in what they’re doing, getting the parents involved so they understand – that’s the same work.

The reward is extraordinary because the changes don’t come when you want them to. And the work has to be endless and repetitive to get that change.”

(Photos: wire, Tennis.Life, eBay, ATP Tour website, Tim Mayotte Tennis Academy)

Boston (and Montreal) potential Laver Cup sites

After an eagle-eyed spot by tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg of some otherwise unrelated photos on the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs Twitter feed, the news was “announced” on various tennis websites (and stated as fact on social media) that the city of Boston would be hosting the next “world” edition of the Laver Cup exhibition event.

It’s already everywhere.

There’s only one problem: it’s not true.

At least, not yet.

The photos certainly are irrefutable evidence that the city is a candidate to host the event in 2020.

But the decision reportedly has not yet been made. Laver Cup CEO Steve Zacks (via a spokesperson) told Tennis.Life the decision won’t be announced for several months.

“As we do each year, we are conducting site inspections at several venues for the Laver Cup in 2020 and Boston certainly made us very welcome,” Zacks said in a statement.

“Following the success in Chicago last year there is a lot of excitement and interest from a number of ‘rest of the world’ cities and we will announce our decision in the next few months.”

And this week, a little twist:

This year’s edition will be held in a “Team Europe” home site, in Roger Federer country in Geneva, Switzerland.

The inaugural edition in 2017 took place in Prague. Then the hosts flipped to the city of Chicago in 2018. 

So in 2020, it’s the “rest of the world’s” turn once again.

Originally, the Laver Cup had planned to take a break during Olympic years. The top players already scramble to squeeze that into a jammed summer schedule. But the success of the inaugural event led to a change of heart.

Laver Cup won’t skip OIympic year

Australia? Indian Wells? Maybe some day

You would think the fact that Tennis Australia has a stake in the event means the “world” host venues will be spread around the … rest of the world. Including Australia, which could host it indoors at Rod Laver Arena during the Aussie late winter.

The problem with that, of course, is that the event is held right after the US Open. To get commitments from the marquee players to head to, say, Argentina, or a city in Australia – or even Asia – would be a challenge.

Even with the amount of money on offer.

To then head to Asia for the fall swing is another big trek, and another logistical issue.

Laver Cup likes to make a splash

Anointing Boston the 2020 winner based on the circumstantial evidence would have meant the Laver Cup organization had suffered a severe communications breakdown.

The winning venue spilling the beans in such a random way – and not even to tennis fans – would have been somewhat embarrassing for all concerned.

Of course, you never know.

But it’s such a painstakingly orchestrated event, with so much money at stake, that almost nothing is left to chance.

The Laver Cup has already established a fairly comprehensive advance promotional plan to hype the event well before it gets to its destination.

Prague promo began in 2016

Europe
Photo: Ben Solomon – Laver Cup

The inaugural Laver Cup in Prague was announced just before the 2016 US Open – more than a year in advance. A press conference in Manhattan featured its namesake, along with Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The announcement that the 2018 edition would be held in Chicago came the day of the 2017 final in Prague.

There also was a press conference in Chicago featuring the mayor

Prior to the Chicago event, Federer made a pit stop on the way from Indian Wells to Miami to whip up interest. He brought Nick Kyrgios, John McEnroe and Laver with him.

And about a month before the Chicago event, they held another press conference (in New York) to announce the final roster.

Federer and Borg in Geneva

For 2019, the Geneva announcement came just before last year’s US Open

In February, newly-crowned Australian Open champion Federer touched down in the city along with Bjorn Borg. The promotional event coincided with the tickets going on sale. 

They sold out in a couple of hours.

Federer, Borg kick off Laver Cup

As a candidate, Boston had come up last year, before Chicago ultimately won out.

Both cities have as an advantage their proximity to New York, site of the US Open.

But fans make a valid point when they opine that the “World” hosts should be spread around as the European events are (even if the “World” territory is spread out over a significantly greater area).

But money, as it always is, will be the ultimate decider. And as much of a success as the Laver Cup has been in its first two editions, there has been a lot of money invested in starting it up that hasn’t been recouped yet.

It remains reliant on significant financial input from the hosts – whether it’s the wealthy USTA in the U.S., or from some other source.

Perhaps after a few more equally successful years, it can afford to take a relatively bigger risk on a site that might turn off the biggest stars.

As well, Federer is not going to play forever. And his presence and willingness to promote it (he does have a stake, after all) is a big part of its early success.

We’ll see in years to come.

Shapovalov talks about “Big Three” influence (video)

Denis Shapovalov’s remarks about how he looked up to Roger Federer when he was a kid got a lot of play last week at the Miami Open.

The fact that the 19-year-old was to play Federer in the semifinals had everything to do with that.

But in that same press conference, the Canadian teen expounded on the influence that all three members of the “Big Three” had on him growing up.

He looked at all of their games with an analytical eye.

And Shapovalov has tried to take something from all of them, and emulate it on the court.

Here are his thoughts on each of them.

On Federer:

On Djokovic:

On Nadal:

 

Tennis (Life) Birthdays – April 1, 2019

Gabriela Dabrowski (CAN), 27

It’s not been a vintage year for Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Yifan (Julie) Xu.

Still, they’re tied at No. 15 in the WTA Tour doubles rankings. They made the semifinals at Indian Wells and the quarters in Miami.

Both times, they lost to the Sunshine Double(s) champs, Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka.

Xu has been dealing with some injuries, mainly her back. So you hope that by the time the busy spring and summer season roll around, they’ll be back to full strength.

She earned three of her eight career WTA Tour titles in 2018 (two with Xu, and one with Jelena Ostapenko). Dabrowski also claims three mixed doubles titles: the 2018 Australian Open and Roland Garros with Mate Pavic of Croatia, and the 2017 French Open with Rohan Bopanna.

Dabrowski’s next event will likely put her over the $2 million mark in career earnings. Which is a nice number for a player who makes her living playing women’s doubles.

But that success has forced her to all but abandon her singles career. It’s a first-world problem to have. But Dabrowski was and is a fine singles player. 

If you’ve watched her Fed Cup teammate Bianca Andreescu over the last month, you get a sense of what she can do on the singles court. The only thing missing might be a little putaway power from the baseline. But that’s more a matter of confidence than ability.

The new ITF Tour has made it all but impossible for her to try to squeeze in some singles, with her current ranking of No. 401. She actually has more opportunities filling empty spots in the qualifying at the WTA events she plays.

But she’s at it this week, at a $80K ITF tournament in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Dabrowski
Timea Babos and Gabriela Dabrowski lost in the 2010 Australian Open junior doubles final. But they have outpaced their conquerors on the pro tour by a fair margin. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

As a junior, Dabrowski won the Orange Bowl in 2009, beating Kristina Mladenovic in the final. She reached the doubles final a month later at the Australian Open juniors with Timea Babos.

6201.geniesmall Tennis birthdays April 1, 2011
Dabrowski and Genie Bouchard teamed up at the US Open juniors, matching bandannas and all. It feels like a lifetime ago. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

There aren’t many players who have won the Les Petits As event and the Orange Bowl. But Dabrowski was one of them.

She came along perhaps a little too early for the much-vaunted Tennis Canada high-performance program to help her.

Were she to do those sorts of things these days, the help and support would have been off the charts (under certain conditions, of course).

On the personal side, Dabrowski is bright, insightful and refreshingly aware of the world outside her personal tennis bubble. In her mid-20s, she’s coming into her own as a person, not only a tennis player.

Miroslava (Mirka) Federer (SUI), 41

Dabrowski

The former WTA Tour player is now best known as the longtime significant other, wife and mother of Roger Federer’s four children.

She’s a constant presence in the stands at his matches, although she has put away the formerly ever-present smart phone. (Who the HECK was she texting, we’ve always wondered?)

Federer constantly credits her as a big reason he’s still playing. If Mrs. Federer wasn’t on board with it – and all the logistics involved with four kids in making it happen – he wouldn’t be here.

Dabrowski
Mirka texting mid-match one night during the Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Her most impressive moment was at the 2014 Indian Wells final. There she was, sitting in the stands, quite pregnant with twins, during an overbearingly hot day. It was a stellar show of support.

Less than two months later, Leo and Lenny were born.

Born in Slovakia, Vavrinec got to No. 76 in singles on the WTA Tour on Sept. 10, 2001 (Think about that day … the day before …).

She reached the third round of the U.S. Open that year.

Vavrinec lost in the first round of her last six tournaments through the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, and called it quits. Of course, by then, she and  the Fed were already a thing.

But she OWNED Rita Kuti Kis of Hungary (on the honour roll for best tennis name ever).

Her most high-profile moment on the court was probably playing Hopman Cup down in Perth with her gentleman friend.

The two looked like crazy kids in love. But Mirka could hardly play, she looked so uptight. No kidding.


(See, she loved him when he looked like that. So it wasn’t just his legendary GOAT-tential that sold her. Over the years, her influence has definitely helped him in the style department. ;-))

Meanwhile, at 41, she looks better than ever. We want the name of her facialist.

Magdalena Maleeva (BUL), 44

maleeva Tennis birthdays April 1, 2011The third, youngest (and perhaps best) of the three Bulgarian tennis-playing sisters hits double-fours.

Known as Maggie, the baby sister reached No. 4 in singles (Jan. 1996) and No. 13 in doubles (Feb. 2004) during a long career that had her playing in Grand Slam events every year between 1990 and 2005.

Her career best was a quarter-final at the 1992 U.S. Open; but the reached the round-of-16 at majors 14 other times.

Her longevity was all the more amazing considering she turned pro on her 14th birthday.

She won 10 singles titles in all.

Maleeva’s last match had been in Oct. 2005 in Zurich, where she lost to Patty Schnyder after crushing Anna Chakvetadze in the first round.

8233.maleevas Tennis birthdays April 1, 2011
The Maleeva sisters: Katerina, Manuela and Magdalena.

But then, out of nowhere, she reappeared eight years ago, playing doubles for Bulgaria in the zonal playoffs in Fed Cup. 

She and partner Dia Evtimova won all three of their matches in the round-robin without dropping a set.

And that included a 6-1, 6-3 win against the very good Polish pair of Jans and Rosolska.

These days, she’s big on causes, both political and environmental, in her native Bulgaria.

Every once in awhile, you see her at the legends’ events.

Open stadium for Federer practice in Miami (video)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Most often, in the leadup to big tournaments when the bigger stars are practicing on the stadium court, they do so in near-anonymity.

The stadiums are closed to the public. And they’re often closed in general. At Indian Wells, the players have to access the Stadium 1 court through the stands, climbing back up to exit once they’re done.

But on Monday at the Miami Open, with the qualifying going on outside on the smaller courts, the tournament announced over the public-address system that anyone could come in and see Roger Federer practice on the main stadium at 6 p.m.

There were already fans in place in the cushy recliners that line the big court. They were joined by some additional happy Federer fans.

(We were told that the privilege of watching the best players practice in those pre-tournament days is part of the VIP luxury packages. Those  include those comfy seats – plus tables for their Moët et Chandon, and plugs for all their devices).

Federer played the Indian Wells final late Sunday afternoon against Dominic Thiem, losing in three tough sets.

Barely 24 hours later, he was on the court in Miami. It takes some time getting adjusted to the challengers you incur making transition from the desert to the tropical Miami humidity. So the early the better.

But that was early.

Here’s some video of it.

Fucsovics the sparring partner

Practicing with Federer was the Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who is playing the best tennis of his career at age 27, and is currently ranked No. 36.

That means Fucsovics is seeded No. 29 in Miami. It’s his third time playing the Sunshine Double, which has 96-player draws. Fucsovics played other Masters 1000 events (with smaller draws, thus with a more stringent cutoff) for the first time in 2018. 

It was interesting to see them exchange crosscourt groundies and be pretty even-steven. Just another reminder that the difference between the champions and the contenders primarily isn’t how they well hit the ball.

But when the two would sit down for a water break, Fucsovics needed to wipe off the perspiration coming down his face and neck. Federer looked like he didn’t even break a sweat. 

“Better research next time, buddy!” – Federer (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – If you’re going to come into a press conference and ask Roger Federer the gazillionth question of his long, trilingual media career, you’d best have your ducks in a row.

Otherwise, the Swiss star is going to drop a couple of well-deserved barbs on you.

The poor fellow in question came into Federer’s post-match press conference after his straight-sets win over Stan Wawrinka with a whole narrative prepared.

Would Federer try to add another Davis Cup to his resumé, given the shortened format and the resultant lack of a multi-week commitment throughout the year?

(We’ll grant him that this, at its core, was supposed to be the point of the sweeping Davis Cup changes).

There was only one problem.  

Federer didn’t play the qualifier in February.

And without him, Switzerland was beaten by a solid, young Russian team that included Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev.

And so, Fed had a bit of a go.

No thanks, Davis Cup

Here’s the other element of this tale, which Federer didn’t offer up in his explanation.

Had he wanted to play the Davis Cup finale in Madrid in November (along with his compatriot Stan Wawrinka), he well could have.

The organizers had two wild cards to give away. And, for whatever reason, they announced those all the way back last September. Great Britain and Argentina were the big winners.

Obviously, since then, No. 1 Brit Andy Murray has had hip surgery. And No. 1 Argentine Juan Martin del Potro fractured his kneecap.

But more than that, Federer says they put the full-court press on him for a quick decision. Not only did the three-day deadline not give him enough time to “consult with all the people he had to consult“, he also didn’t appreciate the modus operandi.

Had those two wanted to play in November, you have to think that would have been a done deal.

You have to feel bad for the guy – his heart was true. But this was a fairly big deal at the time. It’s not as though it required extensive dark ‘net research to unearth or anything.

He could have asked anyone of at least a dozen people in the press centre, too, before he dove into the Fed-abyss.