Davis Cup Diary (CAN vs. ESP)- Friday

February 2, 2013 · Print This Article

After being a fly on the wall at the Rogers Cup* and the US Open* in 2012, I’m back on the road again.  This time, my destination is Vancouver, where Canada and Spain will be facing each other for a place in the Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals at the UBC Thunderbird Sports Centre.

5:45AM

I’m wide awake, watching the previous night’s NHL highlights on TSN Sportscentre.  There is something about being on the road that has my nerves on edge.  My day job used to have me travel quite a bit (I work in marketing – my current boss is pretty open to me flying out to BC since he, too, loves tennis) and it does wear on you after a while.  My flight got in at 10PM last night, and some late-night snafus at the hotel lobby prevented me from going to bed until 11.

I can only imagine what it would be like to fly to a different time zone every week, like the players I’ll be watching later today.  Getting used to time changes and contrasting climate conditions is a part of the tour grind for sure.  More than one player has arrived at a tournament already defeated, no thanks to jet lag, a crying baby down the aisle or just not being able to get a good night’s rest.

On the flight over, I happened to run into three line judges flying from Montreal to work at the tie.  The commitment it takes to be in this line of work is underrated.  These men and women are thanked perhaps once every tournament (during the trophy presentation, mostly as an afterthought), yet a tennis match couldn’t happen without their vigilance and diligence.

One of them, Marco, is slowly making the transition from line judge to chair umpire.  He told me about the very first time he chaired a match, alone.  It was at a junior tournament in Montreal, and he got so worked up about talking on everything that his mind started playing tricks on him.  First, he was unable to call the score in French, even though it was his native language.  Everything just came out in English all on its own.  Once he got that sorted out, he became unable to focus on the lines, missing calls by as much as a foot.  It took him the better part of a set to get settled down, during which time he got plenty of flak from the parents in the stands.  In a way, playing the match might be easier than calling it.  You focus on the ball; on yourself.  Everything else is a distraction.  Quite the opposite if you are the umpire.  Each detail matters and the amount of multitasking it takes to do a good job is tremendous.

6:30AM

A combination of being unable to sleep in and the excitement of the occasion led me to go down to the hotel’s fitness center to burn a few calories.  The gym is a bit cramped, but well-appointed.  I ran a mile on the treadmill just to get myself loosened up, and then did a few sets of dumbbell exercises.

Pros sometimes give off the impression, because of how fit they are, that they are always going 110% in every practice.  Sometimes that is the case, but during competition, the key is to work smart, not hard.  I was usually the first person in the player’s gym at the WTA Roger’s Cup last year, but a few female pros would arrive by 9AM for their first workout of the day.   None of what they did was particularly strenuous, especially relative to the Cross-Fit and P90X routines lauded by fitness freaks these days.  However, every exercise the girls’ did had a purpose.  The first morning workout is an opportunity to clear off the cobwebs, get limbered up, and prepare the body for the first hit of the day.

7:15AM

Tennis Canada is providing lunch and dinner at the tournament site this weekend, but for breakfast I had to make do with what the hotel offers.

I am not really a fan of continental breakfasts.  Breakfast at home is usually three eggs, spinach and a glass of tomato juice, which, I admit, is a bit weird.  We have the polar opposite here – pastries and cereals chock-full of sugar, fruits (which I don’t usually eat because of the low-carb diet I am on) and bread (definitely anything but low-carb).  If I had the choice, I would eat none of those things.  Still, it’s hard to be picky when you can’t do your own groceries.  I wonder how Novak Djokovic pulls off his no-gluten diet when traveling the world.  It must involve some serious logistics even if he has a personal chef at his disposal.

I finally settle with a peanut butter and cream cheese bagel, some fruit and a glass of grapefruit juice.  It should tie me over until I get to UBC.

10:30AM

The tournament transportation is based at the Fairmont, across the street.  I got there early and spent the next hour chatting with various people involved with the tie.

The first familiar face I saw was that of Yvon Gilbert, the owner of a Montreal-based chain of tennis shops and the de facto equipment manager of the Canadian Davis Cup team.  He’s been in charge of stringing racquets for the team for the better part of the last three decades.  More significantly for me, he was also my boss at one of the first summer jobs I ever had, selling Babolat racquets and shoes at his store on the site of the Roger’s Cup.  He was carrying a couple of Pospisil’s Wilson Prostaff racquets and trying to find a way to put his Babolat stringing machine inside a van.  It took no less than seven people to figure out how to make it all fit.

The lobby of an official tournament hotel is a great place to meet just about anyone.  Davis Cup volunteers, Tennis Canada employees, members of the press; everybody is going to the same place.  I spent a good hour talking about tennis, hockey and just about anything else with a couple from Peoria, Illinois.  Despite being Americans, they were draped in Team Canada gear and flew out west to cheer on Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, who slept in their home when they played a $10,000 Futures event in Peoria three years ago.

11:45AM

Arriving on the UBC campus, I am confronted with a pretty wild scene which reminded me more of a college football pre-game tailgate than anything else.  Safe to say that I have never seen a marching band at a tennis match before.

1:30PM

Raonic is playing Ramos.  The Canadian is serving bullets, averaging 125MPH on his first serve and has yet to face a break point.  Ramos is sliding his lefty serves into the box at around 85MPH, but he saved three break points and is now holding comfortably, too.  The speed of the court is helping the Spaniard get a few more free points on his serve.  The surface is made of a soft and relatively slick acrylic compound.  The material actually reminds me of the compound used to make cutting mats (used in art class so that student didn’t damage the desk with their x-acto knives).

2:15PM

Tennis is a cruel game.  After facing only token resistance on his serve throughout the first set, Milos Raonic misses three forehands in the tape and finds himself down 5-6 in the tiebreak.  Ramos wins the net point and Spain is suddenly up one set to love.

2:45PM

Milos responds by breaking in the very first game of the second set.  Both players hold the rest of the way and the match is tied one-set-all.

One thing TV views don’t get a sense of is what is happening on the team benches during play.  For one reason or another, Marc Lopez and Marcel Granollers are sitting a full five feet away from teammate Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.  Meanwhile, Dancevic and Nestor are absent from the Canadian bench altogether.  Pospisil started the match sitting alongside practice partners Filip Peliwo, Adil Shamasdin and Jesse Levine.  By now, he is gone as well.

3:30PM

Raonic up two sets to one.  Watching him live from the first row, I am actually more impressed by how smooth his movement is (his serve is nothing new to me, ever since he came within a foot of hitting me in the face with a 140MPH fastball at the Open last year).  On TV, sometimes you get the sense that he is a bit slow around the court, but from up-close you can see that he actually moves quite well for a big guy.  Unlike guys like Isner or Kalovic, Raonic is much better at absorbing pace, backing up when he needs to, and coming forward again when his opponent lets up and hits a bit shorter.

Ramos’ best serve, oddly enough for a lefty, is a 115mph flat serve out wide on the deuce side.  Raonic seems to have more trouble reading that serve than any other type of serve that the Spaniard can come up with.  Through three full sets, more than half of Ramos’ aces have come on that side.

4:00PM

Ramos nets a backhand; Raonic will change over and then serve for the match.

4:06PM

Milos closes it out with an ace out wide.  Game Set Match Canada.

4:25PM

Ramos walks into the interview room looking quite disappointed.  Spoke through a translator

“Raonic makes any court look fast.”

4:50PM

Milos comes into the interview room.  He gets peppered with questions from his low break-point conversion rate to his new watch.  Meanwhile, Dancevic comes out playing great and wins the first set 6-1 against Granollers.

5:00PM

Dinner is served in the media room.  Out on court, Dancevic is channeling Roger Federer.  He’s up 6-1 1-0.

5:30PM

Dancevic’s strategy: slap all the balls

He’s unloading on everything 110%, whereas Milos was playing at maybe 85% of his power most of the match against Ramos.  Question is, how long can Frank keep this up?

5:45PM

Dancevic hits an ace down the T.  He is now up two sets to love.  The crowd goes IN-SANE.

6:45PM

After a 10-minute long final game, in which he saved six break points, Dancevic wins 6-1 6-2 6-2 and puts the Canadians up 2-0.  Standing ovation.

7:00PM

Dancevic and Captain Martin Laurendeau sit down for interviews.  It’s Frank’s first five set win over a top 50 player since 2008.  Both men are over the moon.  Of course, Laurendeau’s optimism is tinged with caution.  “It’s important to savor the victory, but we need to come back tomorrow and play one point at a time.”

7:15PM

Interview Alex Corretja and Marcel Granollers – Granollers’ eyes are red, looks like he had been crying.  Corretja looks exasperated.  “Dancevic’s game beautiful to watch.  But very painful to watch today, for us.”

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