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18 September 2011

Blog: Canada Stadium reveals bright Canadian future


NEWS ARTICLE

Photo: Nir KeidarVasek Pospisil (CAN)

By Ray Stevens in Ramat Hasharon

When all was said and done in Israel, the Canada Stadium at Ramat Hasharon was luckier for the Canadian team than for the Israelis who have registered many noteworthy results there with the help of their intimidating crowd, as the Canadians earned a coveted place in the elite World Group with a 3-2 victory over their hosts.

FYI: The Canada Stadium is named in honour of the donors from that country who raised the money in the 1970s to build the 4,500-seat horse-shoe shaped arena. 

But now for the tie. Several issues started to become clear from the outset of this meeting…

The most vivid is the appearance of a younger player with tremendous potential… Canada's Vasek Pospisil. At 21, Pospisil is a superb athlete with all the tennis shots in the instruction manual. He also possesses the deportment and composure of a man twice his age.

When Pospisil looks back on his career, almost certainly from far more dizzying heights than his current 124th ranking, he will be able to point to Ramat Hasharon's Canada Stadium as one of the first places where his career kicked off.

Pospisil won all three matches he played during the weekend and despite being considered the underdog against Israeli No. 1 Dudi Sela he  pulled off a head-turning five-set win that that lasted as many hours.

In doubles, Pospisil teamed with veteran doubles star Daniel Nestor who coaxed and cajoled him to inflict a very rare home defeat on Israel's accomplished duo of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich.

And on Sunday, Pospisil played through encroaching fatigue to register another tough three-set win, over Amir Weintraub.

The bright spot for Israel, however, was Weintraub, who played some scintillating tennis to overcome and albeit out-of-form Milos Raonic, now making his way back from injury.

On his 25th birthday, Weintraub did the damage and proved that he has the ability to be a very good player but now it is just a matter of him delivering good results on a regular basis, something that has been sorely lacking from a player ranked within the Top 200.


Happily ever after in Belgrade

By Chris Bowers in Belgrade

Once upon a time there were two young guys who lived on the opposite ends of London. Both blokes liked to play tennis, so occasionally they would meet at public park courts and have a hit.

One chap was Chris Bowers – that's me – who was a sports and news broadcaster. The other chap was Michael Davenport – the future ambassador – who was working at the British foreign ministry. Our tennis meetings ended when the future ambassador was posted to Poland.

But there is a happily ever after ending to this story. We recently rediscovered each other and had an opportunity to play tennis together again.

Here's how it happened.

Think of me as Chris Bowers I. There is a Chris Bowers II, who also happened to go into broadcasting. Way back when we both worked at BBC Radio in the late 1980s. Sometimes people confused us. I would go to the office and people would ask me, 'How's Afghanistan?' and I'd have to say, 'No, that's the other Chris Bowers' as he had been posted in Kabul.

That other Chris Bowers, however, also spent time working in Southampton, England, and was at one time contacted by a young woman, who was also named Chris Bowers – we can call her Chris Bowers III. She was struck by having the same name as the radio Chris Bowers and liked the sound of his voice. So she made contact and the two had dinner. As it turns out it was a case of mistaken Chris Bowers identity. She had contacted Chris Bowers II instead of me, Chris Bowers I, but once they met, it became clear to Chris Bowers II that Chris Bowers III had called the wrong guy.

Years later – as in 20 years later – Chris Bowers II sent me, Chris Bowers I, an email note confessing his guilty secret about the date I should've had with Chris Bowers III. I noticed his email had a Foreign Office address, so when I replied to him, I asked whether he happened to know my old tennis buddy, Michael Davenport. He said he knew him well and that Michael, who needs no number as he's the only Michael in this story, was the newly minted British ambassador in Belgrade.

When I found out that I would be going to Belgrade for the Davis Cup semifinal between Serbia and Argentina, I contacted Michael. He said he remembered me and wrote, 'bring your racket and gear, and we'll see if we can have a hit!'

On Sunday morning we had that hit in the grounds of the British embassy in Belgrade, a lovely secluded court, though I think it's probably the slowest hard court I've ever played on. Of course, diplomatic protocol prevents me from telling you that I beat him 63 in the one set we played.

But he had the edge on me in one way – it's the first time I've ever had to call my opponent, 'Your Excellency'!



Fanning fans

By Clive White at Cordoba

It’s almost as much a symbol of Spain as the castanet. The Spanish fan – I mean the hand fan as opposed to the tennis supporter – was much in evidence during the weekend’s semifinal in Cordoba, where temperatures are regularly among the hottest in the country.

At times, the Plaza de Toros de los Califas resembled more a butterfly garden than a bullring-turned-tennis venue with so many fans fluttering around the arena at the same time. It’s estimated that almost three-quarters of the 14,000 crowd were using them in an effort to keep cool as temperatures soared to 35 degrees and more - and macho senors were just as happy to use them as the senoritas!

Beyond the fans doing their fanning, there’s another interesting factor to the spectators who came to the Plaza de Toros de los Califas to watch tennis.

Not too many people would dispute – except those millions residing in Serbia, of course – that Spain rules the world in both tennis and football. When a country is that strong in two disciplines there is invariably a bit of a crossover, as was evident during the semifinal in Cordoba against France.

Fans of Spain’s World Cup winners last year – and, of course, the country’s Davis Cup team - were much in evidence, judging from the shirts they wore. We had “Torres,” “Iniesta,” “Villa,” “Xavi”. In fact, just about every member of that victorious team in South Africa you could think of. Hopefully, the next time Spain’s national football team play they will be supported by fans sporting shirts with the names of “Nadal”, “Ferrer”, “Verdasco” and “Lopez”. We can but hope.



The lady calls the shots

By Adam Lincoln in Bucharest

Davis Cup isn’t all about the boys, at least not in Romania. Presiding over this weekend’s World Group play-off against Czech Republic in her capacity as president of the Romanian Tennis Federation was Ruxandra Dragomir Ilie, a former French Open quarterfinalist and world No. 15 on the WTA computer.

Eleven of the 207 national tennis governing bodies boast a woman at the helm: Aruba, China, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Ireland, Palau, Zimbabwe, Monaco, Romania and Turkey. So Dragomir, a few years into the role, is still something of a rarity... but does that mean she brings something different to the table?

“As a woman, maybe I am paying more attention to the details – I am a perfectionist,” she says, adding diplomatically: “But we all are working hard, together, men and women, for the benefit of the players, public and everybody that loves this magnificent sport that is tennis.”

Dragomir, who married Florent Ilie in 2001, suffered a severe ankle injury later in her playing career, which ended in 2005. By then she had won four singles titles and five doubles titles, at one stage reaching the round of 16 at Roland Garros in six of eight years. She also represented her country with distinction at Fed Cup, contesting 30 ties and compiling a 21-7 record in singles.

So which is harder: playing or managing the nation’s tennis fortunes, from the elite level to junior development?

“In both situations the responsibility is very high,” she says. “Whether you are on the tour, playing Fed Cup, or in a Davis Cup meeting is an honour, but at the same time a challenge. You must give your very best. As a former player I have many friends inside and outside the country and I am fortunate that here at the Romanian Federation we have a very motivated and dedicated team.”



The Peter Carter Cup

By Suzi Petkovski in Sydney

Australia and Switzerland are competing for two cups this weekend. Obviously the Davis Cup, for a place in the World Group in 2012, but also the lesser known Peter Carter Cup.

Carter, a serve-volleyer from South Australia, retired young as a player and became a coach with the Swiss Tennis Federation, where he was an influential coach and mentor to the teenage Roger Federer. But the Aussie never got to see his protégé set the tennis world alight. In August 2002, less than a year before Roger would become Wimbledon champion, Carter was killed in a car crash in South Africa.

When Australia and Switzerland next met in Davis Cup, for the 2003 semifinal at Melbourne Park, the Peter Carter Cup was instituted, to commemorate the tennis link between the two nations. John Fitzgerald, Aussie Cup captain at the time, was instrumental in naming future Australia-Switzerland Cup ties for his former mate and fellow South Australian.

That 2003 semifinal was an emotional experience for Federer. Following his epic loss to Lleyton Hewitt, his voice wavered during the press conference - head down, cap obscuring his eyes. It wasn’t just the loss to Lleyton that shook him. Roger had just met with Carter’s parents, who’d travelled from Adelaide for the tie. This week in Sydney, asked about his memories of that 2003 tie, Roger’s mind went back not just to scores and match details but ‘a lot of personal issues to get through’.

The Aussies hold the Peter Carter Cup following their win at Geneva in 2006; they are yet to lose to the Swiss in four Cup clashes. For Federer, the memory of Carter was perhaps another motivating factor in his round-the-world dash to be in Sydney, just days after a brutal loss to Novak Djokovic in the US Open semifinals. Roger flew first with his family to Dubai, then the 14-hour haul to Sydney.

On the day of his arrival, Roger caught up with another of his Aussie coaches, Davis Cup stalwart Tony Roche. At the pre-match dinner, no sooner were the teams announced and seated than Rochey headed over to the Swiss table and Roger was on his feet to greet his former coach. They chatted amiably for several minutes - team intel and intrigue no doubt the least of it.



Darling teammates

By Chris Bowers in Belgrade

Rumour has it that this might be the last year that Tito Vazquez is captain of the Argentina Davis Cup team, but he certainly seems to have done a lot of mending of fences among his top players.

Three years ago Argentina's two leading players, Juan Martin del Potro and David Nalbandian, weren't on the best of terms, so a Serbian journalist asked Vazquez at a team press conference this week whether it was true that the two players still don't like each other. Quick as a flash, Vazquez replied: “No it's not true, in fact they kissed each other last night.”

The journalist then asked whether the two players could kiss again for the cameras. Again showing lightning speed and massive diplomacy, Vazquez replied, “Oh no, they only kiss at night.”



Novak Mania

By Chris Bowers in Belgrade

In Serbia, Novak Djokovic isn’t just a tennis player, he’s an entire industry.

There’s the restaurant he owns, appropriately called “Novak.” This probably isn’t much of a stretch as he grew up the son of a pizza and pancake restaurant owners, so it’s the genes.

In front of the restaurant, Djokovic has the Terracotta Warrior statue of him that was made when the year-end event was held in Shanghai.

And in the concourse of the Belgrade Arena there's even a Novak shop.

On Sunday, when Djokovic was forced to retire against Juan Martin del Potro with injury he didn’t quite conjure up an image of a warrior a la the statue in front of his restaurant.

But in the big picture, Djokovic is the best player in the world. He’s won three Grand Slam titles this year, so the industry known as Novak Djokovic in Serbia is bound to find business is going to get even better.

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