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16 September 2011

Blog: Flying the Flag


NEWS ARTICLE

Photo: GEPAOliver Marach and Jurger Melzer (AUT)

Flying the Flag

By Richard Fleming in Antwerp

There was never a chance of Jurgen Melzer turning down the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas call from his country, despite nearing the end of another long season, and having just triumphed in the men’s doubles competition at the US Open.

Like Novak Djokovic, who raced back from New York to team up with reigning champions Serbia, the Austrian number one takes playing for his country very seriously.

He told me: “Having Davis Cup the week after a Grand Slam – if you go far – is never easy. The only option is not to play and I will always raise my hand for my country.”

How refreshing.

Earning a living by playing a sport you love is something many of us will have dreamed of. To represent your country in that chosen sport would be the pinnacle.

The truth is nothing keeps fans glued to the TV set more than a sporting event with national pride at stake – whether it is Davis Cup, the Olympic Games, the Ryder Cup or the on-going Rugby World Cup.

These sporting occasions all contain a little something special, and need to be cherished. The fans know it, and so too does Jurgen Melzer.



Axel crashed the gold jacket club

By Suzi Petkovski in Sydney

The rookie’s speech is a long-standing and entertaining tradition at Davis Cup dinners. If it’s a sweaty-palmed ordeal at the best of times, spare a thought for Switzerland’s orange boy in Sydney, Alexander Sadecky.

The 22-year-old had to take the stage at the Westin Hotel before 200 guests, following the presentation of gold jackets to 15 of Australia’s mighty Davis Cuppers, emblazoned with their number in the Davis Cup production line. A total of 101 players have represented Australia - new No.1 Bernard Tomic, for example, is No.100.

A solid-gold wall formed the length of the stage, and then five No.1s stepped forward: No. 41 Frank Sedgman, No. 43 Ken Rosewall, No. 52 John Newcombe, No. 85 and current captain Patrick Rafter, and leading match-winner Lleyton Hewitt. The Aussies then invited Switzerland’s former world No. 1, Roger Federer, to join them on stage for a photo op.

Poor Axel - talk about a tough act to follow. “Good evening,” he began tentatively. “It’s suddenly feeling hot in here. It’s not easy to come up on stage after six No. 1s.” Decent approach shot - and then he hit a couple of comic winners. “If you’re wondering, I’ve won six Futures.” As for the awesome tally of Grand Slam titles amassed by Aussies, Axel quipped:  “After Roger arrived (in Sydney) we in the Swiss team have an average of 3.2 Grand Slam titles.”

Tennis timing, comic timing, and creative accounting, too.


 
Dreams of grandeur

By Herman Gibbs in Potchefstroom

South African tennis is savouring its moment in the spotlight of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off competition on home soil on Friday.

Several hundred fans turned up ahead of the opening ceremony, many of them sporting brightly-coloured afro wigs in the colours of South Africa's' Rainbow Nation'.  Many of the locals were wearing Springbok jerseys, showing their support for the country's national team currently playing the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Of course, rugby is alien to the Croatians, according to their Davis Cup contingent.

Rugby fans they’re not, but they certainly support their football heroes wherever they go. Many among the handful of Croatian supporters at the tennis wore the football jersey of the country's national team. They left no doubt in the minds of the crowd at the Fanie du Toit Sports Stadium, Potchefstroom, that the retired Croatian sharpshooter, Davor Suker, was still their hero, as reflected by the '9' on many jerseys.

No one knows what the eventual outcome of this Davis Cup play-off will be, but South Africans are dreaming of the possibility they will join the elite World Group next year. And along with that dream is the hope that South Africa will host a World Group tie and that the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, or Roger Federer might come to play Davis Cup in South Africa next year.

Of course, South Africans might choose Federer because of his strong link with the country as his mother, Lynette, is South African. He’s visited the country frequently and has made many charitable donations as well. Of course, that could create problems as to who the crowd will root for if there was a South Africa-Switzerland tie.

But for now, it’s just hopeful speculation, but with the first day of play tied at 1-1, it remains a possibility.

So, at least for now, dream on, South Africa.


 
History has a Date in Japan

By Jack Gallagher in Tokyo

Japan took a commanding 2-0 lead over India in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off on Friday after victories from Kei Nishikori and Yuichi Sugita.

The tie is being held outdoors on a hard court at Ariake Colosseum, which
happens to be the site of one of the greatest victories in the history
of Japanese tennis. It was here 15 years ago at the same venue - but under much different conditions – that Japan defeated Germany in an epic Fed Cup battle. That
tie was played indoors in April and featured a German team led by
legendary star Steffi Graf.

With Germany leading 2-1 and seemingly in control of the tie on a Sunday,
Graf took the court against Kimiko Date. Graf won the first set and quickly
moved to match point in the second set with a 5-1 lead. Date fought off the match point and stormed all the way back to take the set and then beat Graf 12-10 in the third set before a sell-out crowd at Ariake.

As if that wasn't enough, the Japanese doubles team of Ai Sugiyama and
Kyoko Nagatsuka defeated their German counterparts to clinch the tie for Japan.

Fifteen years on, the captain for that historic tie, Toshiro Sakai, was
courtside as Japan moved within one victory of returning to the Davis
Cup World Group for the first time in 26 years.

Date, who made the semifinals of three Grand Slam events, would retire
after that same season, which saw her lose to Graf in a three-set
semifinal at Wimbledon, only to return to the tour 12 years later as Kimiko Date
Krumm.

One of the catalysts for Date Krumm's decision to return was an
exhibition match played at Ariake in March 2008, where she beat a now
retired Graf. Following the match Graf told Date Krumm she should
seriously consider returning to the WTA Tour and the very next month, at
age 37, she announced she would.



Youth versus Experience

By Ray Stevens in Ramat Hasharon

The draw for the Israel-Canada Davis Cup tie was a surprisingly low-key affair on Thursday, but that was probably the calm before the excitement that appears likely to prevail on the next three days of play.

The two sides presented contrasting faces.

The Israelis are primarily a team of veterans sporting only one relative newcomer in their lineup - Amir Weintraub - but even he is no spring chicken at 24.

The youthful Canadians have among them only one veteran: doubles ace Daniel Nestor, 39.

The Israelis are hoping that the home crowd will be the added factor that will help them win the tie and get into the World Group for the third time.

The Canadians feel the time has come for them to make their comeback to the top flight for the first time since 1994. Looking at their long-term prospects, they will have a lot more to offer and will more easily be able to justify their place among the world's top 16 nations in the coming years.

But just how badly will the crowd affect the young but very talented Canadians? Milos Raonic, 20, and back from injury, and Vasek Pospisil, 21, are still impressionable but they are in the ascendency.

For Israel, this could be the last chance in a long while to get back to the top of men's team tennis and opportunities of this kind must be seized with total commitment. The current generation of players is nearing its twilight years and there is nobody of note to pick up the mantle at the moment.

All this leads to one conclusion: This clash is going to be about: youth versus experience.



Bonding over basketball

By Dmitry Osipov from Kazan

It always strikes me how celebrities (athletes in our case) often turn out to be totally approachable and easy-going lads when you get an opportunity to spend some time with them.

Team Russia are a pretty tight bunch, you can see the chemistry between the guys as they walk into the press-conference hall and share some laughs during the standard official speeches and the whole process of the draw.

Dmitry Tursunov is clearly the top joker of the group - a one-time avid blogger for the ATP website - you can see constant, playful irony sparkling in his eyes.

After the dinner on the day of the draw, I had the pleasure to catch Russia v Serbia Eurobasket quarterfinal contest alongside Mikhail Youzhny and Igor Andreev in the hotel lobby. Being a huge basketball fan myself, I was glad to catch the guys' attention and provide them with some pointers on the game. And let me tell you, there's a few things on Earth that bring people together quite like watching a sporting event involving your national team. During those couple of hours the men who earned the honour to represent their country themselves, turned into regular fans.

And, oh yeah, the Russian ballers led by Andrey Kirilenko didn't disappoint, beating the Serbs to get into the semis, and setting a nice tone for the Russian Davis Cup fellas going into Friday's singles.



Zimonjic stays focused

By Chris Bowers in Belgrade

The word 'focus' is part of tennis vocabulary, and Serbia's veteran doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic showed his ability to focus to perfection - during a television interview.

Asked by the Serbian television station RTS for his views on the forthcoming weekend's action in the Serbia-Argentina Davis Cup by BNP Paribas semifinal, Zimonjic started talking, only to find his team-mate Viktor Troicki trying to distract him from behind the camera.

Troicki tried nodding with earnest facial expressions, giving Zimonjic the thumbs-up, and then breaking out into silent laughter. This intensified to silent hysteria, but Zimonjic remained steadfastly unmoved. Whatever Troicki tried, Zimonjic just remained professional and ploughed on.

Whether RTS really wanted a two-minute answer to the question is another matter, but Zimonjic's aim was to remain focused, and he did so admirably.

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    Sandra Harwitt

    Sandra, an American sportswriter for longer than she's willing to admit, has travelled the world to cover tennis for major publications, such as ESPN.com, The Miami Herald and Associated Press. Her biggest problem of late is managing to pack worldwide purchases into suitcases and still meet the airline weight restrictions.

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