By Richard Fleming in Charleroi
Most people who reach the age of 30 have a good idea on their career path. More often than not, it’s onwards and upwards. Not so, if you’re a tennis player. Reaching 30 in tennis is seen as the point at which your career begins to wind down.
Two of Belgium’s players have hit the big 3-0: Xavier Malisse and Olivier Rochus.
Malisse made mention of his age during the post-draw interview, and his comments struck a chord. Here was a man who has made tennis his life from such a very young age, and was now acutely aware that time is running out on his playing days.
Malisse may still recoil in horror when he recalls the last time Belgium faced Spain in a Davis Cup tie, but he’s keen to make the most of such match-ups… now that he’s in the twilight of his career. He made his Davis Cup debut back in 1998 and was a member of the Belgian team whitewashed by Spain, in Seville, eight years ago.
He told me: “Once you hit 30, you take it a little bit different. You enjoy it more. Also, I’ve got a couple years left in me, so you feel that those are the years when you give it your all, and then it’s finished.”
Malisse said he’s actually enjoying his tennis more now than when he was in his early 20s, no doubt fuelled by the knowledge that nothing lasts forever.
A good old-fashioned party, Czech style
By Alexandra Willis in Ostrava
The official dinners at the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas are always interesting insights into the host nation. From the décor of the chosen venue, to the culinary delights, even to the speeches, they never fail to throw up one or two amusing incidences. The evening to kick off the tie between Czech Republic and Kazakhstan was no exception.
Ostrava, last used as a Davis Cup venue for the 2009 quarterfinal against Argentina, is Czech Republic’s second largest urban agglomeration and is a rather grey settlement full of heavy industry.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t throw a good old-fashioned party. Ostrava’s finest ‘Uniband’ entertained guests with tunes from Mamma Mia, U2 (for Tomas Berdych), and even Simply the Best, which had the President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Association dancing a merry jig.
Having dined on duck, beef, and chocolate, Czech youngster Jiri Vesely had the audience in raptures as he stuttered through his debut speech – a traditional Davis Cup hazing for a team newcomer.
But spare a thought for the poor compére, who had the arduous task of switching between Czech, Russian and English all night long. Faced with translating no less than seven speeches from the various dignitaries and captains, it’s no wonder he made a few Freudian slips. ‘Ostrava’ magically became ‘Bratislava,’ and ‘Davis Cup’ morphed into ‘Fed Cup.’ He was definitely the star of the show.
No Djokovic, but still enthusiastic
By Zoran Milosavljevic in Novi Sad
Tennis fans in Serbia’s northern city of Novi Sad will have to wait a little longer to see Novak Djokovic in action after the world No. 3 pulled out of the country’s Davis Cup first round tie against India.
Having made a brilliant start to the season, in which 12 straight wins saw him victorious to capture a second career Australian Open title, and then score last week’s Dubai Championships, Djokovic decided to skip Serbia’s Davis Cup opener.
Despite Djokovic not playing, the defending champions Serbia should still be too strong for a youthful India team. And fans appear to be taking his absence in their stride.
Instead of disappointment, fans in Novi Sad have shown an abundance of enthusiasm to cram into the city’s SPENS sports complex to cheer Serbia in their bid to retain the trophy.
Not even heavy snowfall could stop supporters queuing up for tickets to show their appreciation for last December’s remarkable achievement when the Serbs fought back from 2-1 down to beat France 3-2 in an enthralling final in Belgrade.
“We will be there to hail the other heroes of that success, notably Viktor Troicki, who won the decisive fifth rubber against the French,” said Ivan, a 23-year old law student.
“It was a team win and all the players deserve our admiration for the success they have brought to Serbia. Of course, it would have been great to have Novak here, too, but as long as we win and advance into the next round, his absence won’t matter too much,” he added.
The imposing Belgrade Arena and the Serbian capital’s fervent home fans appear to have set new standards in making the home court advantage count. Their deafening roar perhaps swung the final Serbia’s way when the French looked the more likely winners.
But Novi Sad’s faithful showed the same kind of passion when Serbia played Canada in last month’s Fed Cup World Group II tie, a match far less glamorous than the Davis Cup final.
Their vociferous support for an under-strength Serbian team, who won the tie 3-2 to edge closer towards the competition’s World Group, showed in no uncertain terms that Novi Sad has everything it takes to become another tennis stronghold in a country.
The cracking Fed Cup atmosphere in February, praised by both sets of players and team captains alike, suggests that Serbia and India are set to offer action-hungry fans in Novi Sad a Davis Cup weekend to remember.
Conquistadors to tennis players
By Craig Gabriel in Santiago
After 18 hours travel time from taking off in Sydney to landing in Santiago, and enough time to recuperate, it was time to take a walking tour of the city. It was 30 years ago during the height of the Pinochet dictatorship that I last visited Chile.
At that time, I stayed at a glorious older hotel with a grand staircase dominated by a glass mural of the Conquistadors. It was the same hotel used by Eva Peron when she visited Chile but, alas, it no longer seems to exist.
To get from Australia to Chile back then you had to fly from Sydney to Auckland to Papeete, Tahiti, to Easter Island, to Santiago - now it’s pretty much non-stop to Buenos Aires with a connection.
I’m here this week for the Davis Cup first round tie between USA and Chile. It’s the first Davis Cup tie in Santiago since 2008, and the first between these two nations in this city since 1978.
Walking around Santiago, which was founded in 1541, you quickly notice the great number of lovely parks with beautiful shade trees, fountains, and other water features and statues. The parks seem to connect the modern high rise buildings of the financial sector with its countless banks, to the old part of the city.
There are some truly stunning old structures of which many surround the Plaza de Armas where the focal point is the Metropolitan Cathedral which took 151 years to complete.
The Palacio la Moneda which is sandwiched between Plaza Constitucion and Plaza de la Ciudadania, is the parliament and that area is quite pristine.
Climbing to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia is worth the uphill hike because from Iglesia de la Vera Cruz at the top you get a panoramic view of the city. And on a clear day it seems as if you can see all 6 million people who live here.
Santiago, which seems to have a pre-occupation with banks (there are so many and they are everywhere), universities, cafes and shoe shine stalls, is surrounded by mountains, many snow-capped and part of the Andes mountain chain.
In fact, it was amusing on the flight sector between Buenos Aires and Santiago when the captain’s announcement was: “We are flying over the Andes, everyone must take their seats.”
Maybe the pilot was worried that the dramatic and stunning view, which could have passengers rushing to the windows, could have unsettled the aircraft.
Xavier Malisse (BEL) - 03/03/2011