Tennis Prose



ATP Cup: Passion Ignites As Serbia Stuns France

Serbia downs France to reach the ATP Cup quarterfinals

by Louise Belcourt

There were various players, commentators and voices out there that were sceptical of the ATP Cup and believed it was just another team event the already full men’s tennis calendar didn’t need. But on Monday night in Brisbane, team Serbia and team France threw that notion out of the park, as every breath of passion and energy was left on Pat Rafter Arena.

Team Serbia won its first tie 3-0 against South Africa. Team France won its first tie 2-1 against Chile. Serbia would advance to the quarterfinals if they beat France, and France needed a win to have a chance of qualifying to the knockout stage in Sydney.

France took the lead over Serbia when Benoit Paire came from behind to beat Dusan Lajovic 2-6 7-6(6) 6-4. Even though Gael Monfils was due to play Novak Djokovic in the upcoming match, in the last set he returned to the arena knowing that his countryman needed his support and energy. Paire said “if I’m alone on court I can break more than the racket, I can destroy all my racket and leave the court.” He continued “it was very important for me to stay focused for the team. So when Gael came and told me, Yeah, you have to fight, you have to fight for the team.”

World number 2 Novak Djokovic then leveled the tie with a straight sets 6-3 6-2 victory over world number 9 Gael Monfils. In an extremely humid night where both players struggled, Djokovic said in the on court interview that this was probably the most uncomfortable conditions he has ever played in. Nevertheless, as exhausted as he was, Djokovic wanted the win for Serbia so much he had half an hour break before playing the deciding doubles tie where he teamed up with friend Viktor Troicki.

The crowd was electric. 90% of the crowd were pro-Serbian, so it felt like a Serbian home Davis Cup match. The French players would not be deterred and Monfils and Paire were giving it to the loud Serbian crowd every time France won a point. But it was not to be for France with the Serbian’s outlasting them 6-3 6-7(5) 10-3. Surprisingly, Aussie Nick Kyrgios was a vocal “French” fan in the crowd staying up to cheer every Serbian mistake or French winner in the enthralling doubles match until after 12:30am.

After the match Djokovic spoke of how much the win meant to him, “I really show my emotion because I really care about playing for Serbia, but I also care about being on the team with my friends these guys are some of my best friends in my life and I grew up with Viktor. We played so many doubles matches together in junior days. And the last one that we played was really tough one for us because we had match points against Russia in quarters of Davis Cup and didn’t capitalize on that one. And then coming in today it was kind of a similar scenario a little bit. So we managed together to kind of lift the energy and get out of the, out of that crisis, the mini crisis we had at the end of the second and beginning of the super tiebreak. But you saw the atmosphere. It was phenomenal. Serbian people, I mean, I didn’t expect, to be honest, so many of them staying all the way through and basically being on a Christmas Day with us post-midnight, which is amazing.”

With 16 grand slam titles to his name the Serbian still showed what magnitude this ATP Cup win meant for him and the Serbian crowd, “when they (the Australian Serbian’s) get to have an opportunity to support their athletes from their countries, it’s obviously big thing, and for us, I mean, we cannot ask for more. I mean, this is exactly what we want and what we need in this kind of competition.”

As the ATP Cup has gone on, I can see how much more vested each player and team is in this competition. Sure, there is ATP points and prizemoney, but everyone wants to win for their country, or even more precisely they don’t want to lose. Australia’s John Millman summed up the bitter taste of defeat for your country, after his emotional win over Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada on Sunday, “I’m really glad I could get the win over Felix today. And I did step up because it was really tough in Davis Cup when I got that loss (against Canada in the quarter final in November 2019). I took that loss pretty hard and it ate at me throughout the preseason. I thought about that a lot and I was on holiday and I didn’t enjoy my holiday too much because I was probably thinking about that.”

So it seems a loss for your country could be worse than a loss for yourself.

(Djokovic art by Andres Bella.)

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  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Jeff – I think the public would soon get tired of team events. These two have been novelties so there’s been a lot of interest. Tennis is an individual sport – that’s where players make their names. And I can see problems fitting them into any meaningful schedule. WTT was supposed to take over tennis but it didn’t because because when push came to shove the players preferred the spotlight on themselves.

    You can’t run team events without the top players and that’s not going to work. Wait and see how many would stay away from GSs for some 2nd rank team event. Kyrgios prefers teams because he finds playing for himself difficult. But he’s probably the exception.

    And the WTA would have problems fielding teams – some countries have only one decent player. You’d have trouble getting sponsorship for a women’s team event in addition to the Fed Cup. The idea for a WTA Cup isn’t going to get off the ground I’m afraid.

    Myself, not that it matters, I’d stop following tennis if it was just teams. I like the one to one.

  • Jon King · January 12, 2020 at 11:12 am

    Personally, neither me or anyone in our tennis family or circle of tennis friends has any interest in team stuff at all. But we don’t really care one lick about doubles either. We all just want the individual battles, match after match. I guess the fact that individual tennis takes away the country stuff, politics, etc. is what we enjoy. Now that I think of it, not really into Olympic tennis either. Just want Serena to battle Naomi, Rafa fight Fed, young risers go at it with old heads, ball basher vs angle playing magician, etc.

    But we are in the minority so if team stuff draws fans, go for it.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 11:18 am

    Hartt, no doubt. Catherine, no doubt. Some other players have had this injury – glory cycle. Djokovic had a big problem before his oxygen treatment thing.

    I don’t put Andreescu in that set of players as she hasn’t earned it, the perennial injured champion. But she has to know by now that she has a pattern of playing incredible tennis then taking a “season off during the season”.

    I don’t think much about it in watching just that it would be interesting to see what happens when she’s in a draw. I know the field isn’t shedding tears over this – they feel a little bad and then are releived she isn’t in the draw. Serena Williams might want a rematch but she’s a little more unique! Osaka is unphased one way or the other, she has enough confidence in her game to square off as she survived their last marathon.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 11:22 am

    To players every match can matter and playing in front of a widely televised match in their country counts for them. Nadal felt the sting and Djokovic savored the victory. But it is way too much as there’s been no off season for the players. Whoever can recover or catch a break in the draw at the Australian like a walkover opponent etc will feel a little better given I think, they’ve overplayed.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 11:24 am

    Tommy Paul has a nice qualifying result in knocking off Nico Jarry of Chile in straights. There’s a lot of qualifying!!!

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 11:26 am

    Roberto Cid Subervi d. Kozlov in Ann Arbor in three. The Dominican Republic is proud.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 11:38 am

    Jon – you’re right that before long team events would bring politics into the game. Anyone doubts this, just have a look around.

    I don’t care much about the Olympics – tennis shouldn’t be there IMO. Thiem agrees with me I think.

    And Andrew – yes, too much play. All those moans about the never ending season just make me laugh.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Andrew – that’s just it. Tennis is more interesting when Bianca’s in the draw. Nothing more.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 11:49 am

    Andreescu will be missed because she is quite a hard court player and the Australian surface should be to her liking (I think?). Assuming she brought the same ferocious tennis from summer 2019 (big if) she would have been good to watch. But as tennis goes one player’s loss is another player’s good fortune (or two or three or four players, whole draw changes) and life goes on.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 11:50 am

    Jose Morgado: “Serena Williams announces she donated all her Auckland prize-money to the bushfire victims.” Something like $40,000 etc.

  • Jon King · January 12, 2020 at 11:51 am

    Yes catherine, that is one major reason I am not into the team stuff. It just gets into the politics, ethnic stuff, etc. Unavoidable over time.

    I know that is the real world but we are in our junior tennis safe space. We go to a level 6 tournament in South Florida, a girl from France playing, a boy from Egypt. The kids at age 8 played tic tac toe with kids from other countries who spoke a different language. Little Mo we hung with parents from all over. We have trained with people from about 30 countries the past 10 years.

    Tennis is how we have met folks from all over, shared many experiences, learned movement from a Spanish coach, technique from a Russian coach…..and not once was it about country or politics, its only about tennis.

  • Hartt · January 12, 2020 at 11:58 am

    It looks like the next tourney Bianca might play is Dubai, which begins in mid-February, so a few weeks from now. Hopefully Bianca will be ready to compete then, more than 3 months after her knee injury. But I guess we shall see. There hasn’t been any announcement. I’m just basing this on the time frame.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    Hartt – I’m betting Indian Wells. But, like you, just a guess. Coco can come to IW.

  • Hartt · January 12, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    I hope that Bianca can play Dubai and/or Doha. She will need some match play before IW. Otherwise it will be well over 4 months with no matches.

  • Hartt · January 12, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    A big #ATPCup announcement!

    players have made a $725,000 donation to @WWF_Australia
    and Nature Recovery Fund as part of the bushfire relief efforts.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    Ulises Blanch vs Cid Subervi for Ann Arbor. Might not sound like a big deal but Blanch is from Puerto Rico and Cid Subervi from the Domincan Republic. Almost unheard of for a guy from Puerto Rico to be in a good challenger final (then again, Blanch is not just a normal player – he’s trained pretty much everywhere. It’s just rare to see “Puerto Rico” next to any player’s name). Blanch ranking is in the stratosphere, but in an Olympic year he has done a nice job this tournament marching through the Ann Arbor draw.

    Given Ulises Blanch has been well known at the junior level (Scoop knows much of him?) it’s nice to see him do well.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 12, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    Andrew, Yes I do know Blanch and have had some personal interactions with him. He was a high ranked junior I believe for America but was always in the shadows of the more prominent names. I’ve seen him play a handful of times. Not a big guy but he has big power, surprising power. Very hard ball striker and the ball moves. Last year at Sarasota Open I saw him lose to Sebi Korda in a tough match and his previous rounds. I told his coach I think he’s a little too serious on the court, he should try to enjoy it more, find reasons to smile and it might help him play better. The coach liked those words and told me to tell Ulises that, which I did. And he was kindly receptive and appreciative of the suggestion. He hits the ball so hard that I keep an eye on his results. I see some potential there nice guy. Last year at Sarasota he was hanging out with the Americans, saw him eating a rather large Jersey Mikes Sub in the stadium court. Which he went out off site to buy and bring back. Almost a Dagwood Bumstead size hoagie. Finals in a challenger I believe is his best career result.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 12, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Big respect for Serena to donate her entire prize money from Brisbane. Major class move by Serena.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 12, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    Hsieh and Strycova win the doubles in Brisbane. Winning machine. Best team in the world.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    Scoop, excellent on Ulises Branch, you talk a lot about Eddie Herr and from what I read he had a nice result there about four years ago as well as the Wimbledon Junior semis (I had to read to learn this) – I had no idea he was up at #2 in the juniors. He is “American” but pretty much grew up and trained all over the world. Another interesting story from the tennis world. Such a great sport.

    Another smaller guy who generated a surprising amount of power? I won’t name him but we all know who he is!

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    And Ulises Blanch wins the Ann Arbor title over the Domincan Republic’s Cid Subervi, who had ousted Kozlov. With Cid Subervi, one of only times I have ever seen the Domincan Republic go beyond Victor Estrella Burgos, the Legend.

    And two Caribbean players facing off for a challenger title. Might have to go back to folks like Knowles for that kind of result!

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 12, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    Andrew, Blanch thumps that ball, like how Fognini does, Victor Estrella was also a heavy hitter, his forehands in practice sounded like MLB batting practice. Subervi I saw at Sarasota Open a few years ago, taller longer player, good whip action. looked really good to my eyes. Capable of a top 75 or even 50 breakout. Just has that look.

  • Jeff · January 12, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    Before we all dismiss team events, keep in mind that the tennis business isn’t interested in what old fogeys like us think. And the fact is that Kyrgios and the millennials are clamoring for team events and shorter matches, match tiebreakers, etc. So tennis will market to them and not to us and the comments on Nick’s social media regarding the ATP Cup were very much in favor of them.

    So, I think the calendar has to find a way to fit in maybe 5 or 6 of these in a given year and incorporate it in some form.

    Ironically, the most traditional of the team events – Davis Cup – was the least watched and attended. Meanwhile, Laver Cup and ATP Cup were huge hits so it shows that the public is clamoring for something new to watch the sport. Tennis must follow the lead of golf, which has introduced plenty of innovations.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 12, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    ATP Cup gets a double thumbs up from me. Better than Laver Cup. On par with the now defunct Hopman Cup but different of course. I loved ATP Cup, lots of passion, intensity, great matches, the corner boxes of the teams and captains, crowd support was the best he ever experienced, said Djokovic. Laver Cup was okay, seemed a little WWF like, and emotions seemed manufactured. ATP Cup was a smashing success. A good set up for the first major.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    As to team events, yes, players like them, until they complain incessantly about the scheduling (which many players not named Kyrgios have done).

    I liked Davis Cup because players had to deal with the elements such as away crowds. Where they build things like resolve in front of hostile audiences. I think it’s too bad, but fine.

    Yes, there is something to the team contests. But if players want more team play, they can always enter more doubles. Kyrgios can enter doubles only for tournaments, no one will criticize him and he will have a full crowd in the background.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 8:25 pm

    As to playing for countries etc tennis is a lonely yet international sport, so players appreciate when they get cheered in front of a home crowd like Cilic down under with a nice Croatian audience, or Baghdatis etc. It can bring out the worst in crowds but sometimes it’s great.

    You don’t want to be on the receiving end of the boos but you sure want to be on the receiving end of the cheers.

  • Jon King · January 12, 2020 at 11:46 pm

    Tennis will always be an older fan sport. Team stuff won’t do enough to change that.

    The only way tennis gets attention from non tennis diehards or young people is superstars. Non tennis folks know Fed, thought young muscle Nadal was cool, follow Serena’s dominance, baby, friendship with Meghan…..and tell them Co Co Gauff is a 15 year old wonder child and they flock to view.

    The team stuff may bring out a bit of a local crowd but TV ratings is where the money is. Not many care if Spain plays Serbia.

    Superstars, real, manufactured….that moves the needle for tennis. I would think a Gauff match in a major gets way more overall viewers than any team match.

  • catherine · January 13, 2020 at 12:49 am

    Jon – you’re right. I bet Gauff v Serena or similar would bring in far more spectators and far more viewers than any team event exceptt one featuring Federer, in a singles.

    ATP was a success for the top teams, and it was new. But how different was it from the Davis Cup, only six weeks before? That situation can’t go on.

    And Jeff – 5 or 6 team events in a year ? Where on earth could that be fitted in a calendar ? You’d find the tennis world would divide into two – those who play in teams and those who don’t. People would quickly get bored.

    I can’t see how the WTA fits in this scenario either.

    Everybody’s dizzy with the flush of success for the ATP Cup but wait a few months and see how things change.

    Innovations for the sake of them are bad – golf has had plenty of them but I haven’t seen golfers deserting the majors for lots of team events. And who cares what social media says ? Here this minute, gone the next, like the attention span of so called millennials.

  • jackson · January 13, 2020 at 2:37 am

    The ATP Cup wasn’t a wild success. It did ok but there were a lot of problems. They bragged about their attendance of 221,000 but didn’t mention that that was over 10 days and three different cities, the time of two normal tournaments.

    There was a lot of grumbling about the entry rules and a lot of the players were only Challenger level, which was great for the guys that got to play them, but then others had to play a Top 10 player and the points awarded for winning didn’t properly reflect the caliber of the opposition. The scheduling was really unfair to some of the teams too.

  • jackson · January 13, 2020 at 2:44 am

    Did anybody watch 60 Minutes? Wertheim did a really good job on the Rafa feature. I was nervous beforehand as the media isn’t always kind to Rafa but I thought it was excellent. Of course Wertheim, who’s President of the Media Federer Adoration Society, had to get a bit of Roger into a Rafa story but it wasn’t too bad and at least he mentioned their H2H. 😀

    Here’s a link. Have a watch. It’s good.

  • jackson · January 13, 2020 at 4:03 am

    Here’s a bit more of Wertheim’s interview that didn’t make it into the telecast. Personally, I would have used more of this, but it’s his show. 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 13, 2020 at 7:05 am

    Jackson, some like to see the unknown underdog get their big chance. A special trait now of this ATP cup. Liked seeing players I never heard of get their chance to shine.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 13, 2020 at 7:07 am

    Jon knows tennis is a star driven sport.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 13, 2020 at 7:11 am

    I would like to see a unique team competition like the one I just played this weekend, the 20th annual longboat key observer challenge cup. Two men two women, play doubles, then singles and mixed. ATP wta joint event, and they can do any combination, friends whatever. Btw we won open division yesterday 3-2.

  • Hartt · January 13, 2020 at 7:42 am

    Jackson, thanks for the link to the additional info from 60 Minutes. And, as you know, you can’t talk about Rafa without mentioning the big Rafa vs Roger rivalry. It is an intriguing part of his story. 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 13, 2020 at 8:13 am

    I don’t understand how anyone can not like Nadal. He’s in the highest class of sports champions of history. Federer, Gretzky, Sampras, Laver, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali, Manny Pacquiao, Lennox Lewis, the Klitschkos, Jordan, Joe Louis. I place Nadal very very high in this pantheon of elite super champions and a case can be made he’s even no. 1.

  • Hartt · January 13, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Scoop, I agree, how can anyone not like Rafa? He is not only a great player but a classy guy.

    The 60 Minutes program will introduce him to many people who aren’t tennis fans, so that is great.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 13, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Hartt, when I think of the ultimate champion in sports, I think of Nadal, Federer, Klitschko, ALi, Pacquiao, Djokovic, Lennox Lewis and if Serena keeps up the good sportsmanship and no more tirades and blow ups, add her to the list. Who do you put on your list? of “ultimate sport champions”?

  • Hartt · January 13, 2020 at 9:40 am

    Scoop, tennis and figure skating are the only 2 sports that I follow closely, so for “ultimate sports champions” I would just add one name to your list of tennis players – Rod Laver. And also Steffi Graf for winning the Grand Slam and the Olympics in the same calendar year, along with her other tennis achievements, as well as conducting herself with class during the drama surrounding her father.

  • catherine · January 13, 2020 at 10:37 am

    Scoop, I’ll poke my nose in here – I follow tennis and cricket (you have to, growing up in Australia) and I’d go with Hartt on Steffi and Laver in tennis, and maybe Billie Jean for just being so good although hampered by terrible eyesight and wonky knees, and missing the Grand Slam by one title in 1972 because she skipped AO that year.

    Are we counting achievements or character as well ? If it’s character in tennis I’d go for Jana Novotna – I never heard a bad word about her. In cricket I’d go for an Australian who died over a century ago. Character lasts.

  • Jeff · January 13, 2020 at 10:49 am

    If you dislike Nadal, you dislike yourself.

  • Hartt · January 13, 2020 at 11:13 am

    How could I forget Billie Jean? Along with her successful career she was so instrumental to women’s tennis even surviving. Plus, she was willing to speak out on several social issues, and that can’t have been easy.

  • catherine · January 13, 2020 at 11:21 am

    Hartt – yes, without BJ and Gladys Heldman women’s tennis would have remained an also-ran in sport, Gladys because she had the contacts and BJ because she went out there and performed at the top of the game amidst personal and cultural turmoil.

  • catherine · January 13, 2020 at 11:23 am

    Jeff – what if you don’t feel anything about Nadal ? Do you not exist ?

  • Andrew Miller · January 13, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    I like Djokovic for his honesty. He looks at Federer and Wimbledon performance and says “Federer inspires ME” (not Djokovic words but we get the point!). A match that Djokovic even seems to have lost yet by some trick there he was with the trophy.

    Never has a more honest word in tennis been spoken. Let’s credit Djokovic as the man who decided to play it as if he had lost yet was the guy with the trophy at the end. (Furthermore it’s classy because he doesn’t rub in the loss to Federer at the time – he just celebrates long afterwards).

    Classy = let your opponent down gently. Just like Osaka when she defeated a certain very young player. If winning is like taking away a player’s favorite (whatever), then winning with good taste is acknowledging that player wanted something you have an making sure you build them back up after ripping them apart.

  • Andrew Miller · January 13, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    A Kyrgios run to Australian final would be epic. More likely: a Barty run to the Australian final.

  • catherine · January 13, 2020 at 1:59 pm

    Andrew – reverting to our previous topic of online tennis sites, I note T-T has pretty much given up the ghost and now publishes purely predictions, stats and a few of the more luscious IGs. Good writing doesn’t come cheap.

  • Andrew Miller · January 13, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    Catherine, I am sorry T-T has gone the way “stats only” 🙁 As if they can’t be bothered, which is lamentable. IG may be important for players, but it is also a marketing billboard and offers precious little other than a cheering squad (or firing squad). If these sites are offering the same as my sad copy and paste of scores, or abysmal google translate without a copy editor, that’s pretty bad coverage.

    We are all getting cornered by bad tennis coverage. Someone has to do some reporting gosh darn it.

  • Jeff · January 13, 2020 at 11:59 pm

    Good one, Catherine. I remember something of the sort from logical disjunction studies that if A, then B doesn’t mean necessarily mean if C, then D. Or something like that.

    So my theorem was about disliking Nadal. But it doesn’t follow that if you don’t care, ergo you don’t exist or if you like Nadal, ergo you like yourself. You could be full of self-hate and like Nadal, for example.


  • catherine · January 14, 2020 at 1:03 am

    Jeff –
    I’ve never known what it means to ‘like yourself’ – how can you have emotions about something which is not an object , ie you can’t exist outside of and therefore can’t consider in that way.

    ‘Logical disjunction’ reminds me of logic, a subject I was very pleased to leave behind. But more to the point, I admire Nadal, who couldn’t, but I don’t have strong personal feelings – I think about him as you would a work of art. Same with Federer. Can’t identify. Some players, performers in general, I can identify. I follow Kerber, as everyone knows, partly because she is reaching the end of her career and getting older, as do we all, and how is she coping with that ? And imperfect, and imperfection is more interesting than doing everything right.

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