Davis Cup Finals: Caja Magica, Madrid – 19-24 November 2019

By Janice North

This was the inaugural event for the new format Davis Cup Finals, anticipated and regarded by many with a significant dose of scepticism. For years, there had been a consensus that the 119-year competition needed to change. However, the actual changing of a tradition which had existed in its previous format since 1981 was not welcomed by many tennis die-hards, even though the main aim for change was to encourage participation by the top players in a way which would not exacerbate further burnout on the already punishing ATP tour.

There were around 80 of us BATS members who travelled to Madrid and It’s fair to say that as we started our Spanish adventure on the Tuesday evening at the James Joyce Irish pub, we were all a little unsure of what the new format would hold for the fans, as many had presaged it as a devaluation of the Davis Cup. However, the emotions and heart and soul bared both on and off the court at the Caja Magica trounced this particular concern completely.

The presence and complete engagement of so many key players in Madrid has been seen as one of the successes of this change, as has also the willingness by fans to embrace it in our usual wholehearted manner.

The players all displayed an obsessive determination to win and this was equally matched by the emotional patriotism of the fans, screaming their support for their teams at every match we attended.

While some teams were well backed, notably GB by ourselves and Spain, the home nation in full voice, there were others that were less well supported, resulting in the sad sight of half empty arenas, notably in our quarterfinal match against Germany, where it’s fair to say we had our pick of where to sit.

Part of what made the old format so hugely successful for the fans was the partisan, tribal atmosphere at every match, so we were fortunate that our round robin matches against Holland and Kazakhstan were all of this ilk, and naturally even more so with our subsequent semifinal against Spain, when the atmosphere in the stadium resembled more of a bullfight than an actual tennis match!

Further support for Team GB was generously provided by the LTA in the form of free tickets to the semi final, at a cost of around £60,000 and which spawned an overwhelming response. Andy Murray had also instructed British fans to make “plenty of noise” in the 12,500-capacity arena, an endeavour always richly embraced by our wonderful BATS members.

There is no doubt that the new format presented some teething problems, particularly with scheduling issues, most ostensibly on our first round robin day, which took just under 9 hours to play out, resulting in a much delayed evening session. A combination of late night / early morning finishes for several teams contributed to some fatigue and yet in spite of this, the sheer passion and commitment was incredible to behold.

Team GB fought and played out of their skins to reach the semi finals and moving forward they can be immensely proud of their achievement in reaching the last four of the finals. The star player in my mind was Kyle Edmund, who won all three of his singles rubbers in straight sets.

As staunch British tennis fans, no one however could fail to be rendered open-mouthed with awe at Rafa Nadal’s sheer dominance and determination that Spain would win on home soil, nor fail to be moved by the subsequent presence and raw emotion of Roberto Bautista Agut in the aftermath of his father’s death.

I know I speak for many BATS fans when I say that while this event clearly had issues that needed tweaking, it still bore all the hallmarks of excitement and tribal hysteria that we all love about Davis Cup and I for one am already looking forward to the next finals, which as semi finalists this year, Team GB have already qualified for in 2020. Bring it on, I say!

Janice North – November 2019

ITF Changes to Wheelchair Tennis Classification Rules

On August 2nd the ITF made some changes to the way Wheelchair players are classified. Classification is a detailed process by which a player’s physical disability is assessed, and the players are required to show medical evidence of their condition.

The “bottom line” of this is that some players have been “de-classified” and therefore can no longer compete in certain events including the Paralympics.

De-classification is like a disqualification, which suggests it is with immediate effect.

However, although the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) has sanctioned the changes, the ITF has decided that the changes will not take effect until 2022, so AFTER Tokyo.

This means that players who are no longer eligible to compete are still allowed to play in Tokyo.

Needless to say, there is much anger and disbelief among the “legitimate” players who are now in their build-up to Tokyo 2020.

You can read full details about the changes on the ITF website by clicking here.

Putting Wheelchair Tennis in the Spotlight

By Daniel Flower.

Although I’ve watched wheelchair tennis many times on television and enjoyed following stars like Gordon Reid and Jordanne Whiley compete in the Paralympics and at Wimbledon, last weekend’s British Open in Nottingham marked the first time I had actually attended a live wheelchair tennis tournament.

At the end of a fantastic day watching some of the world’s top players, I definitely came away from the Nottingham Tennis Centre wondering why I hadn’t attended in previous years or indeed followed the sport more closely in general.

Despite a disappointing loss for Andy Lapthorne in the Men’s Quad Singles final, I very much enjoyed watching three closely fought contests and often found myself marvelling at the high quality of tennis on display. The bad weather meant that all matches were played indoors, but in some ways that added to the experience because it meant that you were much closer to the action than would otherwise be possible. There’s also something about indoor tennis that enhances the atmosphere and excitement.

Later in the day I met up with Jo Vince, a fellow BATS member and regular volunteer at the tournament. Jo has followed wheelchair tennis closely over the years and has a real passion for promoting the sport to a bigger audience.

Jo’s involvement meant that we were lucky enough to have an opportunity to meet and sit down with two-time Grand Slam singles champion and Paralympic Gold medallist Gordon Reid.

During our chat, we asked Gordon about his thoughts on whether he believed there had been a noticeable difference to the sport since the LTA took over the wheelchair game. Although this change happened relatively recently, he seemed quite positive about it and said he believed promoting wheelchair tennis under the LTA banner is a good thing for the sport.

My overriding impression after visiting the tournament is that wheelchair tennis has fantastic potential to grow and gain in popularity beyond the level it is at today. With the LTA’s involvement and tournaments like Wimbledon placing a greater emphasis on the wheelchair event, more people will get to experience the excitement of playing and watching this compelling sport.

Despite this, promoting wheelchair tennis is still very much a work in progress. From a BATS perspective, it is also our belief that we need to be more visible at the wheelchair events. If you get the opportunity, I would really encourage you to visit the tournament next year and experience it for yourself. Together we can do our bit to promote the sport and put wheelchair tennis more firmly in the spotlight.

Fed Cup: Great Britain vs Kazakhstan, Copper Box Arena – By Janice North

Contribution by Janice North, a BATS member – April 2019.

I joined my fellow BATS supporters on Day 2 of the Fed Cup play-off between Great Britain and Kazakhstan, and what a thrilling day of play we were all treated to.

This play-off would be the fifth in eight years whereby Great Britain had sought promotion to the World Group and with the score from the previous day standing at 1-1, both teams still had everything to play for.

First up on Day 2 was the battle of the respective team number 1’s, Johanna Konta and Yulia Putintseva. The gutsy Kazakh took the first set 6-4, prompting an immediate and defiant response from Konta in the second set. She systematically muted the noisy Kazakh band’s drums and trumpet throughout by breaking Putintseva twice, winning 68% of the total points to take the second set 6-2 and level the match.

With momentum now clearly with our Brit, a slightly reserved optimism was in the British crowd, as we were all too mindful of Putintseva’s ability to come from behind to win.

However, it was Konta who prevailed, demonstrating dogged determination to fight back from a 1-4 deficit. A time violation which had preceded a double break against her, fuelled a spectacular and steely comeback. Konta went on to win 16 of the last 19 points to secure her 11th successive Fed Cup singles victory, leaving the door well and truly open for her team mate Katie Boulter.

With the score now at 2-1 to Great Britain and just the one win required to secure promotion to the world group, the stage was set for the No2 showdown between Katie Boulter and Zarina Diyas.

Having just watched Konta’s fight back, Boulter knew she had everything to play for. However, a very close first set which culminated in a tiebreak, resulted in a flattening 1-7 loss of the set. Furthermore this was swiftly followed by Boulter going down a break in the second set too and for a time it seemed that Boulter was losing her grip on the match, just as Diyas appeared to be enjoying an apparent ascendancy. However the fortuitous sounding of a car alarm going off heralded a double-faulting which allowed Boulter back into the match to level at 2-2.

By this time, some drums had been acquired from seemingly nowhere by some of the British spectators which helped to match the resurgent cacophony of the Kazakh band. At this point, the atmosphere in the Copper Box Arena began to reach fever pitch, propelling Boulter onwards to break again and take the second set 6-4.

The third and final set produced nothing short of a spectacular whirlwind of determination from Boulter who romped through the gears to a 5-1 lead, with one game left to play, to serve out for victory. She held firm, taking the match on her third match point with a thumping ace, to the delirious joy of the crowd and her fellow team mates.

The whole Great Britain team, Jo Konta, Heather Watson, Katie Swan, Harriet Dart, together with their coach Anne Keothavong, all of whom had been like a coiled spring courtside, raced onto the court to embrace Boulter in her moment of glory and proceeded to celebrate together with a joyful dance of thoroughly deserved triumph, which was wonderful to behold.

This victory for Great Britain has ended a 26 year wait for Fed Cup promotion and while Britain will no doubt face stiff competition against the world’s elite, at the very least, Britain’s victorious Fed Cup team will finally start next year in the higher echelon.  We await news whether this will be in World Group II or in the revamped World Group with a fighting chance to lift the Fed Cup trophy.

Our heartfelt and proud congratulations to you all on your achievement.

Janice North

Davis Cup 2018: GB v Uzbekistan – By Janice North, a BATS Member

I am thrilled to have been invited to write this article on our latest Davis Cup tie. Sadly this was the last tie in the old and much loved format, but still the tie which would uniquely determine if we would be seeded or not in the new format coming into effect next year.

This home tie saw a return in venue to the Emirates Arena in Glasgow and along with a few others, I flew up on the Thursday evening, just in time to join other BATS members for a little soirée at the Society Room, a Wetherspoons pub in the city centre. This was the perfect opportunity to collect tickets, greet fellow members and get kitted out in BATS attire in readiness for a weekend of very vocal, rousing support for our team!

Both Terry and I had chosen to stay at the Sandyford Hotel in the West End of Glasgow, which subsequently turned out to be ideally located within  a stone’s throw of a couple of excellent restaurants we discovered for dinner at the weekend – a most opportune discovery, for as we know only too well, all this cheering & flag-waving to Back Our Brits is hungry work!

Day 1 was to provide us with an epic seven and a half hours of tennis, comprising two thrilling 5-set matches. First up was Dan Evans of GB in his return to the Davis Cup team vs Denis Istomin, Uzbekistan’s No1 ranked player.

Evans took the first set on a tiebreak, with Istomin levelling the match with a second set win. It was then that things went a little awry for Evans, with Istomin bageling him in the third. However, this ignited a defiant and determined fight back from Evans, taking it to a fifth & final set in which he overcame a stunned Istomin.

Next up was Cameron Norrie vs Djurabeck Karimov, a hitherto relatively unknown quantity before the match, who to expected form lost the first two sets to Norrie, but then just as we were anticipating a fairly predictable straight sets win, then proceeded to inexorably turn the match around, starting with an unexpected tiebreak win in the third and going from strength to strength to secure the win in the fifth set, thus notching up a 1-1 tie at the end of play.

Day 2 of course was the doubles with our long-established team of Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot vs Denis Istomin and Sanjay Fayziev. With some wonderful shot-making from both teams, it was Team GB who prevailed with a straight sets win, bagelling the Uzbeks in the third and giving us a 2-1 lead in the tie going into Day 3.

On arriving at the stadium on Sunday, the published first match was of course expected to be the reverse singles, with Cameron Norrie due to play Denis Istomin. However, it was announced that unfortunately due to an ankle injury, Istomin would be replaced by his previous day’s doubles partner, Sanjay Fayziev.

We had been agog with speculation on how Cameron Norrie would rise to the challenge after his tough defeat on the first day, a defeat which was almost the mirror image in reverse of his 5-set victory over Bautista Agut in the Davis Cup tie in Spain earlier in the year. We were not to be disappointed though. A clearly determined and resolute Norrie systematically dismantled the talented Fayziev’s game in less than two hours, to produce an impressive straight sets win, with another bagel in the 3rd to take Team GB to a 3-1 victory over Uzbekistan.

It was then with some dismay that we learnt there would be no further play that day! Now, bearing in mind we’d barely passed 2pm, we had hoped at the very least to be treated to a single set exhibition match. Sadly, this was not to be and in spite of our win, there were many of us who felt rather subdued and flat as we left the stadium.

For me personally, I took the opportunity to work off my disappointment with a brisk run that afternoon, taking in the sights of the botanic garden, the university and the art gallery before meeting for another sumptuous banquet in the evening!

As I write this, we are still awaiting the draw to announce who our opponents will be in February and in so doing, find out whether we will be home or away. Leon Smith has already stated his fervent hope that the ITF grant us one of the two available wildcards and in so doing sidestep February and join the four semi finalists from this year’s tournament, France, Spain, Croatia and the United States advancing straight through to the finals in either Madrid or Lille in November.

Wildcard or no wildcard, home or away, I for one will be there Backing Our Brits again. Thank you BATS for another wonderful & memorable Davis Cup weekend. Roll on February!

Janice North

Fed Cup in Talinn, Estonia – By Lynne, a BATS Member

I must confess at the outset that I have a preference for men’s tennis, which of course is somewhat unsisterly of me, but so it is. However, the Fed Cup has rather altered my view over time, given the range of teams on offer, and a quite different experience. The dates of this tournament did not really sit too well for those of us who travelled to Marbella for the Davis Cup – some people travelled back to the UK then back out again for Tallinn. Others, like my group, headed off via Stockholm from Malaga to Tallinn. All in a day’s work you may say. We felt the travel experience was of interest.

For people not too sure how all this works in relation to the women’s team game, please do not refer to this article as a definitive analysis. Both the Fed Cup and the Davis Cup are remarkable in their complexity of zones, probably something to do with large numbers of teams. I once read a book about it all but I remain non the wiser really. What I can discuss is the most recent Tallinn experience where 14 teams were involved – quite an array of tennis spread over 4 days.

The format is round robin and with 14 teams, there were two pools of 3 teams and two pools of 4 teams. The first three days then, were spent on matches within pools as it were and the play off matches were played on the final Saturday. The prize for two of the teams was to advance to the World Group II play-offs later this month in Japan.

Serbia triumphed in their pool comprising Bulgaria and Georgia and GB were in the other pool of three. We distinguished ourselves by winning all our rubbers against Estonia and Portugal. Jo Konta and Heather Watson did well enough, and Katie Boulter and Anna Smith complemented one another as a new doubles pairing.

Hungary won their pool, needing to play 3 matches against Croatia, Slovenia and Sweden while Latvia won their group against Poland, Turkey and Austria. Jelena Ostapenko caused something of a stir as the Lativian more highly ranked star.

Our GB play off was against Hungary and we won without too much energy expended. It felt as if we should be the champions of the whole event, but the strange feature of the Fed Cup is that on this occasion, we won the right to try again for promotion out of the Euro-Africa zone 1 where we have been languishing for some time.

If you want to see the most highly ranked tennis players live, you are best avoiding the Fed Cup. The outcomes are most certainly dependent upon the extent to which the “celebrities” are prepared to turn out.   Poland may have fared differently for example, had Radwanska participated. On the other hand, the Davis Cup is likely to suffer from the same thing and, at least at the Fed Cup, there are lots of opportunities to talk to tennis players and collect autographs if that is what you like. Seating is often very close to the action and the atmosphere is much more intimate. The main court had tiered seating and, of course when Estonia were playing, the home crowd was in and noisy. Otherwise, the event is a relatively quiet affair.

When GB was not playing, there was the opportunity to negotiate the snowy landscape and sight see, or venture to the Old Town or take a ride in the warm shelter of the tour bus. Thankfully not open top. We did all of those things (some of us had done the Fed Cup before in Tallinn so fond reminders were available). We also chose to attach ourselves to the Turkish team for a session, becoming very involved in the fabulous efforts of Cagla (Chaala) to overcome opponents more highly ranked than herself, of Latvian origin. So supportive were we in all the excitement that the whole Turkish team presented us with a pennant, signed by each of them. We even wondered about appearing on the Turkish Tennis Federation website!!

And so our work was done – GB overcame and moved on through. L’Ermitage Hotel in Tallinn is every bit as good as the Von Stackelbertg, although the mulled wine is not quite as some of us remember it. Nothing stays the same, this we know.

So, while Japan may be a step too far for some of us, may I recommend the Fed Cup as a feast of women’s tennis well worthwhile the effort. A return to Budapest would be most welcome for some of us.

Lynne Moran

April 2018

Davis Cup 2018 – Great Britain v Spain by Julia, a BATS Member

GB v Spain, Davis Cup – 2nd-4th February 2018.

Venue: Puente Romano Tennis Club, Marbella. Outdoor, clay.

Thursday 1st Feb

An easy transfer by bus from Malaga to Marbella and a comfortable, well-situated, reasonably priced Hotel El Faro recommended by Mary.

Tickets and T-shirts were distributed during the Thursday evening get-together in the bar and spirits were high, if not especially optimistic.  Kyle Edmund, still injured following his exceptional achievements at the Aussie Open, is not playing, but surely Jamie and Dom will win the Doubles for us, so it won’t be a complete whitewash.

Friday 2nd Feb

A good hotel breakfast and amusing to see various members of the Barmy Army in a new kit – and looking younger than ever.

A free shuttle bus to the venue was much appreciated, once we found the bus stop – but oh! – the queue at the gates!

A fabulous venue, glorious sunshine and fantastic seats with a superb view of the court. What more could we want?  There were large swathes of red, white and blue on all sides – 950 British supporters all willing our boys to put up a good fight.  Indeed, the Brits almost outnumbered the Spaniards on the opening Friday.  The volume of our support certainly did!  We just wanted something to cheer and applaud and we were not to be disappointed.

Liam Broady, who had not played on clay for almost three years, was on first, up against clay court specialist Albert Ramos-Vinolas, ranked 144 places above our plucky Brit.  Against all odds Broady kept Vinolas on court for more than two and a half hours.  Not once did his head drop. Fired up by the crowd and relentlessly coached, counselled and urged on by Leon Smith, our Davis cup rookie had the fans enraptured and the Spaniards scratching their heads. Liam Broady gave the fans a match as thrilling as it was unexpected.  A win? –  No  – but a magnificent start to the tie.

Could Cameron Norrie match that performance in his own Davis Cup debut? Ranked 114, he was up against the vastly experienced Roberto Bautista Agut, 23 in the world.  By the start of the third set it would seem not. Despite the indefatigable Barmy Army, the flag-waving cheering and applauding BATs, the chants, taunts and whistles from all sides, by the beginning of the third set the inevitable seemed horribly near. At two sets and a break down, Norrie’s match had not soared to the heights of his colleague’s.  He gave a creditable performance and played with flair and determination but he was outclassed.  The fans did not lose heart, however , nor did Leon Smith – and nor did Norrie.  The volume of support only increased. Miraculously, the double faults stopped and from 3-2 down, Norrie went on to win 16 of the last 20 games. The fans went wild! Unimaginable, unbelievable and how Cameron Norrie and Leon Smith smiled! Surely the most staggering Davis Cup debut performance of all time – and we were there to witness it!

 

The rest of the weekend’s play couldn’t possibly match up to the Friday’s. The Spanish fans woke up and came out in force on Saturday and Sunday and the final result was the expected win to Spain.

Friday’s matches will live on in our memories however, as will the glorious February sunshine and the most  wonderful shoreline walk to and from the venue. Most heartening of all, we came away confident that British tennis has a hopeful future in players such as Liam Broady and Cameron Norrie.

Julia Sloyan

Feb. 2018

8 British Women Now in the WTA Top 250

By Maurice Baldwin, a BATS Member.

This week sees 8 GB young women in the WTA Top 250. This is something that hasn’t happened for many years. It also compares to GB Men with only 4 Top 250 ranked players. The 8th ranked male player is ranked 424!

1 Jo Konta

2 Heather Watson

3 Naomi Broady

4 Gabi Taylor

5 Katie Boulter

6 Laura Robson

7 Harriet Dart

8 Katy Dunne

Some of these names are familiar but I thought I would spotlight some of the players who are less well known to people that don’t follow ITFs

Gabriella Taylor, 20 – Ranked 178

The progress of Gabriella was halted when she was the victim of a mystery food-poisoning scare during Wimbledon Juniors in 2016. The illness caused her to withdraw during her QF match. There was a police investigation and the episode kept her out of the game for 4 months. She returned in October that year and ended the year ranked 361.

2017 was a year of consolidation and further improvement for Gabi with 2 x 25k tournament wins. (Changwon S Korea and Navi Mumbai India) and a Year end ranking 323

In 2018, Gabi turned 20 in March and has emerged as a real force. Picking up from the win in India she has won 3 out of 4 25K tournaments (Launceston, Perth and Mildura) in Australia with a 17-1 W-L record for 2018. In addition at Mildura she teamed with fellow Brit Katy Dunne to take the doubles title.

Gabi’s latest ranking is a career high 173 and an improvement of 145 places in 10 weeks. This sees her as the new GB4 behind Jo Heather and Naomi Broady.

Her next commitment is a 60K tournament in Canberra this week seeded 7 as she moves up to the next ITF level. The new ranking also means that she will be eligible for direct entry to the qualifying events for lucrative grand slams. She has played Wimbledon qualifying 3 times as a wild card. She got her only win in 2014 aged 16 when she defeated the experienced former top 30 player Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden This was only her 3rd senior professional match! I would also expect to see her in the GB Summer WTA Grass court events as she is in pole position for the much coveted wild cards.

Gabi is based in Spain and coached by Xavier Budo and David Sunyer

Gabi is not alone in her climb up the rankings.

Other young women making moves to career-highs this week:

Katy Dunne, 23 – up to 236 GB7

Harriet Dart, 21 – up to 238 GB8

Harriet qualified in 2 x 25K events and went on to reach the final in both, winning in Altenkirchen and ending a 13 match winning streak as she lost in the final in Yokohama Japan. On her way to the final she scored an impressive QF straight sets win over Laura Robson. I have followed Harriet for many years having seen her reach an ITF final at Edgbaston aged 16.

Katy has also played the Australian events alongside Gabi reaching 1 Final (with a win over Laura Robson) IxSF (losing to Gabi) and 1xQF.