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.
“I know about the comments, yeah. But I don’t really feel in the mood during a World Tour Finals to discuss that topic, to be honest. In all fairness, I hope you understand why. Because this is a bit of a celebration for tennis. For me it’s the year-end finale. I love playing here,” Federer said after the 6-2, 6-3 victory over Thiem.
The quick win allayed speculation about Federer’s health and mindset, in the wake of the desultory defeat to Nishikori Sunday.
“The radio interview that happened over a week ago that surfaces now, in French, Julien – who is a nice guy, I know him since the junior times – I think all of this has been totally taken out of context,” he added. “I don’t feel like I need to comment on this. I’d rather put it to rest rather than adding to it so you guys get something to write about.”
Federer did point out that he, and agent Tony Godsick, often are asked about his scheduling preferences. And sometimes, he’s told that certain markets have asked him to play at certain times.
“I get asked, ‘Would you like to play Monday or Tuesday’ sometimes. Sometimes I get asked, ‘Do you want to play day, or night?’ Sometimes they go ask the agent. And sometimes they ask me, you know, ‘Asia wants you to play at night’. Yes, sometimes we have our say,” Federer said.
“But I asked to play Monday at the US Open. I played Tuesday night. It’s all good, you know. I’ve had that problem for 20 years in the good way. Sometimes I get help, sometimes I don’t. Yeah, sometimes they come ask, sometimes they don’t,” he added. “But a lot of the facts are not right, just to be clear there, from what I heard.”
Thiem struggles with hard-court tactics
If Federer and Nishikori both played horribly in the first set of their round-robin opener, that match eventually got better.
On Tuesday, Thiem appeared unsure as to what strategy to use on the indoor hard court.
Nothing really worked. And one thing’s for sure, his efforts to move forward and take the net did not pay dividends.
That the loss to Federer ended on a makeable forehand volley that went impressively awry sort of summed up the Austrian’s evening.
Thiem now is 0-2, with one more round-robin match against Kei Nishikori remaining.
“Feels good, I’m very happy that I showed a reaction after last match against Kei. No match is easy here, and maybe something I’m not that used to, to lose and come back and play again. But it was a good exercise, great challenge for me,” Federer said on court after his win.
“I’m happy with my attitude, and happy with how I played. And it was good fun playing against Dominic.”
Turning his frown upside down
Federer admitted he got very negative against Nishikori, mostly because of the quality of his play in the opening set.
“Against Kei it was 4-4 the first set. And we were both playing very, very badly. We can’t play much worse than that. But instead of seeing it positive, I saw everything quite negative. Just, I guess, one of those days sometimes where you wake up, you feel good, but you can’t come out and produce what you’re maybe used to,” Federer said. “But it happens, and Kei actually played very well at the end, played a great breaker. As we both picked up ourgames, he had a better attitude, and just played a little bit better.
“Today I was more positive, more happy on the court. I love playing here in London. I reminded myself of what a privilege it is playing in the O2, and I hope it showed a little bit,” he added.
MONTREAL – Fed Cup draws – with the first name selected basically setting the entire weekend’s lineup – are essentially a two-minute affair at most.
So the ceremonies themselves are generally long on speeches.
When the Canadian Fed Cup team plays at home, it usually means a guest appearance by Sauveur Menella, the French, Montreal-based vice-president of BNP Paribas Canada.
BNP Paribas, of course, is the title sponsor for Fed Cup and Davis Cup.
The name of Françoise Abanda was drawn first – as she joked to her captain, Sylvain Bruneau, she always ends up going first.
With Abanda the No. 2 player on the Canadian team behind Genie Bouchard, that will mean she leads off Saturday at 1 p.m. EDT against Ukraine’s No. 1, Lesia Tsurenko.
Following that will be Bouchard against Ukraine’s No. 2, Kateryna Bondarenko.
For the reverse singles Sunday, Bouchard will start against Tsurenko, followed by Abanda vs. Bondarenko if the outcome is not decided.
The rankings disparity is fairly large.
Tsurenko is ranked No. 41, Bondarenko No. 78.
Bouchard stands at No. 117 (although obviously her career high is higher than that of anyone else on the two teams). Abanda is currently ranked No. 127.
So on paper, it’s a bit of a mismatch even if three of the best Ukrainians are not here. World No. 4 Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk, the rising 15-year-old star, are absent. Also not here is Kateryna Kozlova, ranked No. 68. But she appears to be injured.
Svitolina also didn’t play in early February, when Ukraine was defeated by Australia Down Under. In that tie, Kostyuk upset top-25 player Daria Gavrilova on the first day.
Ukraine’s captain, Mikhail Filima, joked that even if he only had three players this weekend (excellent doubles player Olga Savchuk is the third), it was a lot better than having two.
He talked about schedules, and priorities, and the like. But there’s obviously seems to be something amiss with the federation, because a lot of the top players are in action this week. The ties are counting down and they need to get their Fed Cup criteria met to ensure their eligibility for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Svitolina is due to play in Stuttgart, indoors on the red clay, next week.
Kostyuk is in the Stuttgart qualifying, and the Kichenok twins, Nadiia and Lyudmyla, are both in the doubles draw.
Handshakes, photos and niceties
After the draw, the players gathered for the handshakes and photo opportunities.
More on that here, as Canada averted a massive diplomatic crisis when Wimbledon finalist Genie Bouchard congenially shook Bondarenko’s hand.
And then came a question-and-answer period with the media, mostly Canadian and mostly French-speaking.
Most of the questions were to Bouchard, who was asked about her confidence level and how she hoped to turn around a tough season. One, about whether she accepted the “blame” for her struggles, was very poorly-worded and came out sounding rather aggressive.
Somewhere in the middle, a journalist Bouchard assumed was from Ukraine (because of his accent) asked a long-winded question about her playing doubles with Grand Slam champions (Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko) and about whether she and teammate Gabriela Dabrowski hoped them might some day have an all-Canadian team in a Slam doubles final and …. well, even Bouchard wasn’t quite sure what, exactly he was asking.
Just when things were going well …
And then, it went off the rails a bit.
A collective intake of breath, a few quiet laughs, some frozen smiles on the dais. And then Bouchard wouldn’t let it go.
The irony is that the journalist Bouchard was thanking for his adoring deference to royalty wasn’t even from Ukraine. According to TVA, his name is Andras Ruszanov. He’s a Hungarian (not Ukrainian) native, a freelancer who has lived in Montreal for several years.
Why she would deliberately put a whole room full of people on her back, 24 hours before she can use all the support she can get to try to pull off two victories against quality opponents, is unknown.
Bouchard and Tsurenko have met once, at Indian Wells in 2015.
Between the two of them, Bouchard and Tsurenko made 133 unforced errors.
Later that year, Bouchard defeated Bondarenko in Cincinnati in two tiebreaks. The two had met in the qualifying at the Rogers Cup all the way back in 2009 when Bouchard was just 15, and Bondarenko was turning 23. Bondarenko won that one, 6-2, 6-0.
Bouchard and Tsurenko met in Ukraine in Fed Cup, all the way back in 2013. It was similarly messy and Tsurenko multiplied the double faults. But Bouchard took that one 6-4, 7-5.
As for Abanda, she will meet both Tsurenko and Bondarenko for the first time.
“Local press” reaction
The reaction to Bouchard’s jab was about as you would expect.
A reporter starts his question by congratulating Dabrowski and Bouchard for being Grand Slam champion and finalist. Genie answers: « Thank you it’s very nice of you to say that. Wish the local press would say that to me too. » #theshadeisrealpic.twitter.com/Y0wSgE9PjO
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Tennis is in a rather extraordinary place at the moment in the sense that many of the best players – the most compelling stories – aren’t currently in the top eight.
So that meant that on Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Open, with all due respect to the top-eight players who attended the mandatory media availability / WTA All-Access hour, the players fans and media might most want to hear from at this moment in tennis were not the players who were made available.
It’s not a criticism as much as it is a window into procedure on the pro tours for these kinds of pre-tournament media availabilities.
Serena Williams(unranked, a wild card) is officially returning to action after being out since the 2017 Australian Open. Not there.
Victoria Azarenka(No. 204, a wild card) is back at a tournament for the first time since last year’s Wimbledon. Not that she hasn’t been in the tennis news for other reasons, with her ongoing custody dispute. Not there.
Maria Sharapova(No. 41), is back at the tournament she has won twice, for the first time since 2015. Not there. She did, though, have a match to play Wednesday night.
Novak Djokovic(No. 10), has been out since losing in the fourth round of the Australian Open, and having played just four matches all season. He won the tournament in 2008, 2011, and three consecutive times from 2014-16.
A procedure on his elbow after the Australian Open left Djokovic’s participation in doubt as the tournament neared. But he’s here, and brings mentor Andre Agassi to the desert for the first time. Not there.
All four of the above have been world No. 1. All four have won the BNP Paribas Open – and all of them have won it more than once.
Men and women all at once
An added twist, which is often the case here.
Media availabilities for both the men and the women (for whom the main draw matches began Wednesday) were both on Wednesday.
And that meant that at times, male and female players were available at the same time, and so if you wanted to speak to both, it was challenging.
The women tend to lose those one-on-one battles for attention. It’s not fair, but it is what it is.
In a dream scenario, the alphabet soup of tennis (WTA, ATP, ITF) would all collaborate together to coordinate and get maximum exposure for all players.
As well, two of the most compelling of those top eight male players were both scheduled for 3:15 p.m. at one point. At least Juan Martin del Potro was later pushed back 15 minutes, as Alexander Zverev kept the original time slot.
Venus Williams was there – she squeezed in as the No. 8, and therefore honored the mandatory commitment and perhaps saved herself a fine. Had she been No. 9, she, too, would have been absent.
Here’s what Williams had to say.
Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem both scheduled their media availabilities for Thursday.
In the end, perhaps no one wanted to slight the top eight players present at the tournament (in the women’s case, the top eight ranked players in the world and in the men’s case, eight of the top 10 with Rafael Nadal and David Goffin out) by leaving them out to sub in accomplished former champions.
And perhaps the WTA and ATP are eager to showcase some of the other contenders for the men’s and women’s singles titles.
But the storylines that will most be watched in the sports world at large (and on a macro level, even in much of the tennis world) will not revolve around Kevin Anderson or Jack Sock or Thiem or Karolina Pliskova or Jelena Ostapenko or Caroline Garcia.
At least for the moment, it will be about Serena, and Vika, and Novak, and Maria.
INDIAN WELLS – After some discussion, the ATP decided (or, more likely, Novak Djokovic preferred) that for his post-match duties, he would head down to the mixed zone area located outside the players’ lounge rather than come upstairs for a full press conference in the main room.
The rights holders probably don’t like this format much, because they can’t get a lot of quality video of a player talking in conditions that can range from “barely adequate” to “right next to a major air-conditioning unit”.
It can also get a bit chaotic with a lot less moderation by the ATP people. This time, though, it was all quite civilized as Djokovic talked about beating del Potro and preparing to back that up with a tough match Wednesday against Nick Kyrgios.