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17 September 2011

Blog: Something to smile about for French fans


Photo: Paul ZimmerFrench fans in Cordoba

By Clive White in Cordoba

The fans of Les Bleus may be heavily outnumbered in Cordoba but they have started to give a good account of themselves – and not before time.

In fairness, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon gave them little to get excited about during the opening day singles rubbers which were both embarrassingly one-sided. But the French were finally given something to cheer about on day two and how they celebrated!

As Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra ripped apart their opponents, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez, in straight sets in the doubles, only good manners prevented the French fans shouting out “Ole!” with each successful point at the Plaza de Toros de los Califas – and there 80 of them from the French pairing compared to Spain’s 37.

There were no more than 150 visiting fans in one corner of the arena – that’s if a bullring can have a corner – but they created a marvellous atmosphere with their chants of “Allez France” and their habit of bobbing up and down in unison with each game won.

The only problem was that it was like a red rag to a bull – well, it would be wouldn’t it – and it was beholden of the Spanish fans, who numbered close to 14,000, to come back twice as loud.

Matadors with rackets instead of capes

By Clive White in Cordoba

Spain has an impeccable record in modern day Davis Cup. That we know, as they could be heading towards a sixth final since the start of the new millennium. But they might have been still greater had they discovered the special advantages afforded them by a rival sport.

Of course, some people might not consider bullfighting a sport, but there is little doubt that the 300-year-old Spanish custom played out in its traditional circular arena has enabled the Spanish Davis Cup team to enjoy the kind of invincibility that is never afforded the matadors or toreadors, never mind the bull.

Not since Spain played their first tie in a bullring in Majorca in 2004, when they beat the Netherlands 4-1 in a quarterfinal, have they been beaten. They repeated the experiment in Alicante’s Plaza de Toros for the semifinal that year against France, and their present opponents in Cordoba, with a similarly happy outcome.

Since then it has taken the Davis Cup around the country to the bullrings of Madrid (Las Ventas), Marbella and Logrono, each time with resounding success.

In Cordoba they have converted the museum at the Plaza de Toros de los Califas into a press room for the visiting journalists. Most of the memorabilia has been removed from the walls save for the heads of those bulls who acquitted themselves with great bravery down the years. I swear they are looking down on the assembled scribes with some disdain.

Behind the boulevards of Bucharest

By Adam Lincoln in Bucharest

There’s nothing poor about the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, rightly one of the most popular stops on the Bucharest tourist trail, being an extensive repository of practical and decorative items from a very rich folk heritage.

Indeed, while most of the objects on display had very little intrinsic value when they were woven, carved, or pulled from the kiln, their importance to the nation is now reflected in the extremely attentive museum attendants – there to make sure visitors don’t pocket a pitcher or even steal a sneaky photo with their mobile phone.

But, as the accompanying image attests, tennis correspondents are a resourceful bunch. These ladies are just two among scores of mannequins that stand proud in the impressive galleries, representing a huge variation in regional costume. The real money shot would have featured the transplanted and completely reconstructed log and shingle cabin – complete with furnishings – that fills one of the cavernous rooms. Alas, tennis correspondents are not that brave.

Needless to say mountainous Transylvania, from where Romanian doubles specialist Horia Tecau hails – he was born in the city of Brasov – is well documented. No tennis rackets, but beautiful stitch work, carpets, glazed pottery, carved and painted furniture, forged iron tools, and much more. There’s even a section devoted to different styles of bread.

While Bucharest is a bustling, modern metropolis, parts of Romania remain relatively untouched by the 20th century, let alone the 21st. This museum provides a fascinating insight into this culture – a way of life that certainly had its downsides, but is absolutely worth remembering. If you’re ever in Bucharest, don’t miss it.

Austria-Poland: The World War II connection

By Richard Fleming in Antwerp

According to the Davis Cup media guide for 2011, the competition was created by Dwight Davis as “a means of nurturing healthy sporting relations between countries all over the world.”

That got me thinking. There must have been times in history when relations were extremely strained.

My interest heightened when I focused in on the head-to-head contests involving Belgium and Austria. I noticed that it was 75 years since Austria enjoyed their most convincing triumph over Belgium in the Davis Cup, winning 4-1 in Vienna in June 1936.

The Austrian team that day consisted of Count Adam Baworowski and Georg von Metaxa. Within three years of that victory, Baworowski and von Metaxa were on opposite sides - in every sense.

When Poland and Germany met in Warsaw in May 1939, Baworowski and von Metaxa faced each other in the doubles. Baworowski was playing for his native Poland, with von Metaxa representing Germany (which by this stage had annexed Austria).

That may very well have been the last time that Baworowski and von Metaxa saw each other. Four months later, Germany invaded Poland, triggering the start of World War II. By Christmas of that year, Baworowski was reported missing. Von Metaxa was killed in action on the Western Front in 1945.

Dwight Davis sought to bring nations together. The horrors of war divided not only nations but also team-mates.

Sugita comes of age

By Jack Gallagher in Tokyo

One of the revelations of the Japan-India play-off has been the performance of Yuichi Sugita, the Sendai native who upset India’s No. 1 Somdev Devvarman in Friday's opening singles match.

Not only did the 174th-ranked Sugita beat a player ranked more than 100 places higher than the 64th-ranked Devvarman, he did it in a resounding 63 64 75 fashion.

Sugita, a relative unknown outside of the Japanese tennis community, has spent time – about two or three weeks a year – during the past three years training with renowned coach, Bob Brett, at his academy in San Remo, Italy. It appears Sugita’s benefited from the experience.

Of going to Brett’s academy, Sugita said: "It is always good. A fantastic experience. I had the chance to practice with Marin Cilic who Brett coaches.”

Sugita, who will turn 23 on Sunday, said he generally trains six hours a day in San Remo: "Usually three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon. His practices are unbelievably hard. We do two hours on the court and one hour in the gym twice a day."

A victory for Japan on Sunday would have extra special meaning for Sugita, not only would it put the nation back into the World Group for the first time since 1985, it would give a lift to his fans and friends in the region most ravaged by the March 11 disaster.

"My mom is here to watch,” Sugita said. “It will be a big present if we win Sunday."

Reunion time

By Rodrigo Valdebenito in Santiago

Chile and Italy are repeating the 1976 Davis Cup final, held in the same Estadio Nacional in Santiago, as the current World Group play-off tie.

For some of those who were there back then, the weekend will bring back powerful memories. The captains at that final – Nicola Pietrangeli for Italy and Luis Ayala for Chile – will be present as guests.

Interestingly, current captains Corrado Barazzutti for Italy and Hans Gildemeister for Chile were part of those 1976 teams as players. Barazzutti was key to Italy’s 4-1 victory in 1976. Gildemeister did not play, as he was the young fifth member of the Chilean team.

When Pietrangeli and Ayala got together this week it turned out to be the first time they’ve seen each other since that 1976 tie. They spoke about old friends in common and reminisced about the 1960 Roland Garros final in which Pietrangeli beat Ayala in five sets for the title.

Bald is beautiful and beats the heat

By Clive White in Cordoba

For those Spanish fans who missed his recent appearances at the US Open it will have come as a surprise to see Fernando Verdasco sporting a shaven head at the Davis Cup in Cordoba, although he kept it well hidden with a cap during Spain’s annihilation in the doubles against France on Saturday.

Fans might have feared that like Samson, Verdasco’s bald is beautiful look might have shorn him of his powers, especially considering that he and partner, Feliciano Lopez, suffered a straight sets defeat to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra.

Actually, Verdasco had his locks lopped off in Austin, Texas when Spain played the United States in the quarterfinals. It was to help keep him cool and he has certainly needed to be that in Cordoba, where summer temperatures are among the hottest in Spain.

Until recently, Verdasco has been advertising a well known shampoo product so one can only assume there are no more photo-shoots in the pipeline for that. Of course, he could always hand over the contract to his doubles partner Lopez whose locks are famously head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest.

For perfect product placement, though, no-one can beat the American Mardy Fish, who has just recently started advertising tuna.

Dementieva still commands attention

By Dmitry Osipov in Kazan

An Englishman asked me yesterday how popular and recognisable are athletes in Russia. For instance, would Russia’s Davis Cup team members be recognised walking down the street. I gave the questioner an affirmative answer hoping I was right, and added that it's more so with female players.

I went on to say that probably the most popular Russian player – not including Maria Sharapova, who spends little time in Russia anyway – is the recently retired Elena Dementieva. She was successful and always seems approachable.

And guess what? I was proved right the very next day, when following the doubles contest between Russia and Brazil, the Tennis Academy hosted a charity match featuring Dementieva and current world No. 4, Vera Zvonareva.

When Dementieva, the 2008 Olympic champion, emerged inside the arena shortly after the doubles it was as if Beyonce walked into the building. Every other part of the venue basically emptied for a long autograph session.

South Africa likes to see stars

Herman Gibbs in Potchefstroom

When the South African Open disappeared off the ATP World Tour calendar for 2012, it also meant that the chance of seeing the world's best players in action again on South African soil also vanished.

In the past few years, the SA Open attracted current world top-tenners such as Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer, giving local fans a rare chance to see the players close-up, rather than on television.

However, Davis Cup by BNP Paribas has come to South Africa's rescue, for the time being at least.

Presently, Croatia’s Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig, who are ranked No. 26 and No. 37, respectively, are in action in Potchefstroom. And on the other side of the net, there's the homegrown Kevin Anderson, South Africa’s top player, who is ranked 34th in the world.

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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, 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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