By Michiel de Hoog in Amsterdam
So was he or wasn’t he going to be here?
That was basically the only question asked by the Dutch media and public in the run up to the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas play-off tie against Switzerland. His name wasn’t needed; talking about “he” and “him” was enough to know who was meant. This tie was always going to be about Roger Federer first and the result a distant second.
They sent down a video crew to Wimbledon just for the purpose of asking this one question. But no clear answer was given. Yes, Federer liked to play in the Netherlands and for his country. But no, he couldn’t confirm anything yet.
Then, two weeks ago, it was reported that Federer was going to play – news agencies had concluded from the provisional Swiss line-up. False alarm, however. His name on the team sheet didn’t actually mean anything yet, as the Swiss Tennis Federation drily pointed out.
This dampened the mood considerably. Federer had missed a number of his country’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas ties before, due to his busy schedule. And he had a long, demanding, successful summer, from which he might want to recover after the US Open. And don’t Big Players regularly cancel out on tournaments after progressing to the second week of Grand Slams anyway?
So they sent a video crew to New York, to ask him again. They got an answer that was as friendly as it was vague – yes, he loves to play in the Netherlands. But, he added, it was “an interesting choice of surface from their side, playing outdoors on clay”. He’d decide sometime in the next ten days.
Federer used three sentences to answer the question. Dutch Federer Watchers then used a rather larger number of sentences to debate what his words might mean, possibly in the hope of finding a hidden meaning.
The bit about him loving the Dutch fans – that was a good sign, surely. On the other hand, in the “interesting choice of surface from their side” [to play outdoors on clay] sentence, wasn’t “interesting” simply a euphemism for “annoying”? It might well be.
This Tuesday the good news came - Roger Federer had decided to come and play. The Federer frenzy instantly broke loose.
One of its characteristics is a large number of grown men and women collectively holding their breaths when he enters the room – as Federer did for the draw here, this morning.
As the Swiss team manager whispered during the subsequent press conference: “He doesn’t change, ever. Roger is Roger. But the people around him – they change. Instantly.”
So the question that now comes up is this: whom will the crowd root for? Their home team, whose players are largely unknown to the general public? Or the Swiss, whose No. 1’s wife and twins are even better-known than their own No. 1?
Thiemo de Bakker chewed on the question for a bit. “Probably everyone will remember to behave and cheer,” he said. “For us. Yes. They know they’re supposed to,” he joked.
Ancient tennis court hosts draw
By Sandra Harwitt in Gijon
Atmosphere is often an essential ingredient for every country looking for the perfect venue to host a Davis Cup draw.
The Spanish pulled no punches on Thursday when they secured the Atlantic Botanical Gardens in Gijon for the occasion. Amidst the trees flourishing with leaves -- and about the only things in sight that were taller than the 6'9" John Isner and 6'5" Sam Querrey -- and beautiful blooming flowers and bushes the draw ceremony was set up on an old tennis court.
The court was not in playing shape -- its cement uneven and worn from yesteryear -- but there was no doubt it once was a thriving spot for those with tennis rackets. The chairs were set up on either side of a tennis net just so that you didn’t miss the message of where we were located. The court dates back to the 19th century and is the oldest tennis court in the Asturias region where Gijon is located. It was also one of the first tennis courts in Spain.
Another great venue that hosted the Davis Cup already this weekend was the Palacio de la Concepcion where Thursday’s official dinner was held. High atop a hillside this beautiful home from days past overlooked the valley below and out to the ocean.
The dinner was an understated event boasting fine wine, fine food and fine conversation. While the teams were both excused before dessert -- their loss as the chocolate-orange mousse dessert was delectable -- many mingled until after midnight. But we saw no carriages -- I mean, transportation cars -- turn into pumpkins.
An oldie but goodie returns
By Jack Gallagher in Tokyo
This weekend's Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off between Japan and Israel will see the return of Toshiro Sakai as captain of the Japan squad following a 27-year absence.
Sakai was a star player in his younger days and led his nation to a stunning 3-2 victory over Australia in a 1971 Davis Cup tie. Sakai won both his singles matches in that memorable contest, beating Colin Dibley and John Cooper. The victory over Cooper clinched the tie for Japan.
Tokyo native Sakai, who was the gold medalist in men's singles at the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran, succeeds Eiji Takeuchi, who successfully guided Japan back into the World Group for the first time since 1985. Sakai believes that playing in the Davis Cup can help players in their individual careers.
"This experience will help them move forward as players," said Sakai following Thursday's draw. "We need to bring them up to the next level. There is a lot [of] stamina and technique needed to excel in this event."
It is interesting to note that though Sakai is known for his successful playing career and his earlier four-year stint (1982-85) as Davis Cup captain, he is best remembered by younger tennis fans as the captain of Japan's Fed Cup team that beat Germany in 1996 at Tokyo's Ariake Colosseum. That tie saw Kimiko Date come back from match point to defeat Steffi Graf 76 36 1210 in the reverse singles on Sunday and Japan took the doubles to win the tie 3-2. Date's match lasted so long that she began to cramp up and Sakai acted as both captain and trainer at times, massaging Date's legs during breaks.
Now the question will be if he’ll have to take on double duty as captain and trainer this weekend?