Walking out of the hotel on a chilly, damp, windy Monday morning in Ostend, Belgium, yours truly said to some of the Canadian Davis Cup team staff, “it really feels like you’re by the sea.”
“In October,” was the quick-witted response by team doctor Nicolas Sauvé.
It certainly wasn’t exactly a day at the beach in this city of 70,000, a North Sea tourist destination on days that are warmer and sunnier than Monday with its high of 17 degrees accompanied by persistent rain and drizzle.
The forecast is for things to improve as the week goes on, although there’s a chance of strong winds on Friday and rain on Saturday. Nothing over 26 degrees is expected as a max high temperature.
Canada’s Davis Cup team’s future looked much better a week ago before No. 1 Milos Raonic (foot) and No. 2 Vasek Pospisil (wrist) had to pull out of this weekend’s World Group quarter-final with injuries. The two men on the right side of the poster are evidence of the blow it has been to Canada’s hopes of reaching September’s semifinals. As for the Belgians, they still have currently No. 14-ranked David Goffin and No. 76-ranked Steve Darcis as their singles players.
In the absence of Raonic and Pospisil, Canada will go with veteran Frank Dancevic, No. 272, and No. 491-ranked rookie Filip Peliwo.
Dancevic just arrived in Belgium on Monday after a flight from Montreal following his (with American Seko Bangoura) 4-6, 6-3, [10-8] loss in the doubles final of the Winnetka, Illinois Challenger on Saturday. With a career Davis Cup record of 13-17 and playing in his 22nd tie, Dancevic will likely be matched against Darcis in Friday’s singles. The 31-year-old Belgian won their only previous tour meeting – 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-3 in the first round at Wimbledon in 2009. Dancevic, who subsequently had surgery, recalls that he hurt his back in that match. It came just a week after one of his best career performances – an ATP final on the grass at the now-defunct Eastbourne men’s event.
Peliwo (arriving at site with Shapovalov on Monday), 21, would be slated to face Belgian No. 1 Goffin, 24, in the opening day’s singles.
In doubles, Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau has announced that Adil Shamasdin of Toronto will make his Davis Cup debut alongside stalwart Daniel Nestor.
There was some discussion about other players being added to the team with Raonic and Pospisil out. The three possibilities – Peter Polansky, who played Pan Am Games in his first event after right wrist surgery last December, as well as Philip Bester and Brayden Schur, both playing Pan Am Games and not having hardly played on clay recently, were ruled out by Laurendeau.
Instead, Denis Shapovalov, the 16-year-old reigning Canadian Junior Indoor champion from Richmond Hill, Ont., was added as a hitting partner. Last week, he reached the third round of the Wimbledon juniors upsetting No. 5 seed Hong Seong Chan of Korea in the first round.
Shapovalov (hitting forehand above) and Peliwo on a rainy Monday were the first players on the stadium court, which has been laid on grass fields normally used for soccer in the small town of Middelkerke about 20 minutes from downtown Ostend.
The grounds crew worked hard to get the court ready for Shapovalov and Peliwo to have their hit at about 12:30 p.m. on Monday.
“It was a little heavy,” Peliwo said about the condition of the red clay after his workout in a constant, misty drizzle. “But it’s feeling fine.”
“I liked it,” Shapovalov said. “It’s easier to move than when it’s drier.”
After Peliwo and Shapovalov practiced, Nestor, 42, and Shamasdin, 33, took to the court for a workout.
For Nestor, this weekend will mark the 50th time he has been nominated to play Davis Cup and he will be playing in his 49th tie dating back to 1992.
Probably hoping for better weather than has so far materialized in Ostend, he has his wife and two young daughters in Ostend with him.
The World Group quarter-final is being staged on what are normally two soccer fields and the capacity of the stadium is 6,000. There are apparently already 4,500 tickets “sold and distributed” and hope for a full house will depend largely on tourists who may decide to attend, especially if the weather is promising.
Taking shape on one side of the main stadium on the soccer fields are the hospitality, team quarters, officials and media facilities.
It’s possible to see in the picture above that the red clay was laid down on top of the grass.
Preliminary reports are that the court is of decent quality, when it’s not soaked as it was Monday. The Roland Garros ball is being used and it’s regarded as being good and fair.
With just three more days to go, Dancevic, who had brief hit after a nap following his overnight flight from Montreal, and Peliwo have big shoes to fill with Raonic and Pospisil unavailable.
It’s definitely a tall order. But if one or the other could sneak a win on Friday, then Canada should win Saturday’s doubles with Nestor and Shamasdin (above loosening up on Monday) and head into the final day with a 2-1 lead.
That could hopefully mean that anything is possible.
Requiem for Roger?
It’s easier to see in hindsight, but sentiment ran amuck for Roger Federer heading into Sunday’s Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic.
On the BBC, a poll of viewers had 72 per cent believing Federer would win the final.
The Swiss master has been so good so long, and such a peerless ambassador for the sport, that no one wants to see him go –and almost everyone would like to witness one last hurrah.
There’s no question he’s playing superb tennis at the moment – he is solidly No. 2 in the ATP rankings.
But he’s no longer the best as was shown by Djokovic’s 7-6(1), 6-7(10), 6-4, 6-3 victory Sunday in the final at the All England Club.
Federer himself was eloquent in acknowledging that when he said on court after the match, “I think Novak not only played great today but the whole two weeks, the whole year plus last year, plus the year before that. So ‘you deserve it, well done Novak.’
“He was tough on the bigger points and at the end he was rock solid.”
While at Wimbledon I heard that a Federer family member said that some things had changed a bit.
Hope springs eternal that he can win another Grand Slam, but the concern among his fans is that the widely held view that Wimbledon is his best chance is correct – meaning they probably have to wait another 12 months.
Gilles Simon suggested during this year’s Wimbledon that Federer needs to avoid getting into protracted rallies in matches, and that’s harder to do on surfaces other than grass.
He’s still playing great tennis, almost as well as ever. But it’s simply that a 28-year-old Djokovic is better, and at the peak of his ability right now.
Here’s an interesting tweet from Ivo Karlovic related to 2003:
ivo karlovic @ivokarlovic 2h2 hours ago
Same week Roger won his first Wimbledon, Novak won his first futures tournament.
— ivo karlovic (@ivokarlovic) July 12, 2015
Federer’s dominance of the men’s game is past, and has been for a while. Here are cold, hard numbers that confirm that: over his last 22 Grand Slams dating back to his victory at the 2010 Australian Open, he has won just one (Wimbledon ’12). Over his preceding 22 Grand Slams, he won 13.
The great Billie Jean King believed it was a wrong to think that a player should retire at the summit of his or her powers or success. She maintained that in other professions, it’s not like that. Most people leave their field of endeavour not quite as good as in their primes. The point she was making is that it’s more like real life to leave a sport at a level below a player’s very best.
It also reinforces, for the player, the notion that he or she didn’t retire too soon.
What Federer is showing at the moment is the best tennis ever played by a human being just three weeks away from his 34th birthday. He obviously still loves the sport and wants to squeeze as much as he can out of this final stage of his career. That’s great for the game and all his fans.
The way she’s playing, there seems to be no end in sight for Serena Williams. Her 6-4, 6-4 victory over Garbine Muguruza in Saturday’s Wimbledon women’s final was vintage stuff. As usual it seems, she fell behind 4-2 in the opening set and then stormed back to win.
It has almost become expected that she will put herself in awkward positions in matches and then seemingly turn a switch and virtually stop missing. And even better for her – hit nothing but winners.
Williams turns 34 in September, a month and a half after Federer reaches the same milestone. While he has plateau-ed, she seems to be playing better than ever.
Maybe, whereas Federer’s slight decline has been gradual, she will have a more precipitous fall. But it certainly doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon and her winning the first three legs of the classic ‘calendar’ Grand Slam will add a lot of interest to the upcoming (August 31) US Open.
As for Garbine Muguruza, she was a genuine breath of fresh air – a fine player and a charming personality. The women’s game is always on the lookout for new talented and appealing players. It may have found one in the 21-year-old Spaniard.
Ostend post card
The temperature was anything but summery on Sunday evening in Ostend, as is visible in the way these strollers and bicyclists are dressed at sunset.