Sometimes, it is not the matches in themselves that leave me the most lasting impression when I cover a tennis event; it is what surrounds them. Sometimes, for instance, meeting with a player can change, for better or for worse, the impression we have of him (and that we sometimes had for many years). But always, it gives an interesting insight that merely watching him play doesn’t give, and that the “relevant quotes” definitely never give.
This weekend’s Davis Cup tie between Canada and South Africa was one of those times in which it is not the action on court that I will remember the most, but rather the things that surrounded the matches, be they press conferences, ambiance, and many like things.
Strictly in terms of play, I will definitely remember what I saw of Nik Scholtz during Friday’s match, and he will remain a player whose development I will follow in the years to come. My other match memory will be that of the fourth rubber, which I explained in my write-up.
However, the lasting impressions I’ll have for this tie are really those that have nothing (or so little) to do with the matches themselves and everything to do with those who were part of them, be they moments from press conferences or from practices, and during the matches as well.
Milos the cheerleader
On Friday, there were a few (fans, spectators) who questioned Milos Raonic’s team spirit in the little time he spent in the stands during Vasek Pospisil’s match, as he was sitting a bit apart from the team, alone with his coach, and not reacting much until he had to leave to warm up for his match, or because it took him a while to go and celebrate with the team after his win in the second rubber.
Those people really had to take back their comments on Saturday, when Milos ended up being the most vocal of all the Canadian team members during the doubles rubber, constantly cheering Pospisil and Daniel Nestor. For those of you who watched the match on TV or stream, the low voice that could be heard just before the points was, more often than not, Raonic’s.
He was so intense in his cheering that it was as cute as it was heart warming to see.
In fact, the whole Canadian team is really united and there is a great spirit among them, and they are all working towards a common goal: not only staying in the World Group, but winning, for the first time in history, a Davis Cup round.
The South African team
The first impression of people is often a lasting one, and the saying is true for the whole South African team. From the moment they walked in during the team presentation and press conference on Wednesday, their good spirits were catching and their open-mindedness and frank answers endeared them.
I gave an example with Captain John-Laffnie De Jager’s long and detailed answer to me after the doubles match, but it can also be said for all the team members.
They knew they were the underdogs and that, deprived of their best players (Kevin Anderson doesn’t play Davis Cup anymore and Rik De Voest injured himself at practice and withdrew before the draw) and with their n° 2 player taking part in the tie despite a back injury, they had virtually no chance of winning. However, they did the best they could and kept their good spirits… and were rewarded by taking the doubles point of the tie.
After the last rubber, I asked Nik Scholtz what he took from the experience he’s had from the weekend, from his first real contact with the pros:
“It was good for me to get this experience, to see where I am, competing against the best players in the world and to see what I have to work on. There’s a lot of good, but also, you know, to show that I’m definitely not there yet, I still have a lot that I need to improve on, but what I saw is that I could be there, if I go back and I train hard and I work on things I need to work on, and come back a better player.”
So, of course, I followed up and asked him what he had to work on the most. He started with a smile: “How much time do you guys have?”, making everybody laugh in the wake, but continued, more seriously:
“I’m not gonna go through everything right now, but the two main things I need to work on is definitely my physical and also my forehand. I’m learning a little right now, just being here, actually, when I played against Milos, after, I needed to get a lot of treatment and stuff, and I’m definitely not making excuses, I’m just saying what I need to work on. And I need to get better physically, not only become quicker and more explosive, but also to be able to endure longer and to be able to take this kind of tennis day in and day out for a long period of time because that’s the thing you need today: you got to be consistent over a long period of time, to be a good player. And then obviously, I need to develop my forehand into a weapon. Like John-Laffnie said the other day, he wants me to model my game after Milos, who’s got a big serve but a huge forehand and that’s something I’m liking right now. I think I have the ability to craft it but I got to develop.”
That kind of openness was also found in all the team members, especially in Captain De Jager, who was always wont to give long and detailed answers, for example when, in their final presser, he was questioned about South African tennis money issues and player development, a topic that could be sensitive to some, but that De Jager treated with great candour and frankness.
Truth be told, the good vibes of the South African team has endeared them greatly to most of us, and for my part, you can be sure that I will root for them whenever possible in the future.
Raonic’s words of wisdom about Filip Peliwo
In press, Milos Raonic is usually quite serious, although he showed to have a keen sense of humour. Ambitious (his next goal, now that the Davis Cup is over, is to try and qualify for the World Tour Finals at the end of the season), but not arrogant like the “relevant quotes” would like him to be pictured.
In his final presser, he was realistic as to what the Canadian team needs to do to win a round in the World Group (“All of us need to improve”, with, he added, the exception of Daniel Nestor.), but what marked me were his words of wisdom about young Filip Peliwo, who has just turned professional after winning the U.S. Open Junior. In fact, Raonic echoed what several of us, me included, have been saying ever since Wimbledon. After agreeing about Peliwo’s potential, he continued with those words of wisdom:
“I think everybody just needs to give him a little bit of space. Now he’s gonna put his nose to the grindstone and do a lot of work. Now it gets a little bit more tough. People aren’t gonna be too concerned about what he’s done in Juniors. He’s not gonna get as good accommodations as he had at Junior Grand Slams. Instead of playing in front of a few hundred people, he’s gonna play in front of four people, or just his coach, a lot of matches. So I think media, people need to sort of let him do the process and go through it and then get on top of him when he will improve, and he will do well, and then get on top of him after that.”
Amen to that, Milos!
A great experience
Covering my first Davis Cup tie was really a great experience, and I would like to take those last few lines to thank BATennis for permitting me to live it and cover this event for them. As always, working for them was a lot of fun and a much valued experience, which I’m sure will be repeated again in the (not so far) future.
Also, I would like to thank and congratulate Tennis Canada on the organisation of the event. We were treated really well throughout the weekend and that made being part of the media covering the tie even more enjoyable.
You can see a selection of my photos in BATennis’s Facebook album. I will post some more on my personal page over the next few days.
You can visit BATennis on their website, in Spanish and in English (where you can also read me as of this week), and follow them on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on YouTube. If you don’t already know them, I’m sure you will discover a group of people who are profound tennis lovers, great tennis experts, and are always putting the best vibe they can into everything they do.