Michael Emmett: “Davis Cup Debacle”

Written by: Michael Emmett

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***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***

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There will be many folks who watched the proceedings in Vancouver this past weekend who came away encouraged with Canada’s Davis Cup results.  I was not one of them.

The entire thing was shameful. It was like going to a hockey game and watching your favorite team get trampled 8-0.  And to boot, your best player comes up lame when the entire tie is resting in the balance.

If Milos Raonic plays in San Jose and makes an effort to defend his title I will feel that much more cheated. If he doesn’t play then I will forgive his decision to bail on his teammates yesterday in arguably Canada’s biggest Davis Cup match in the past 20 years.

I feel like we are miles away from competing with the elite in the Davis Cup’s top 16.  After getting trounced by France – we’ll be lucky to stay in the division when we have to play a relegation match in September just to remain in the top 16.

Think about it – we played the tie against France in our country, on our surface, with our balls at our time and got massacred.

If French captain Guy Forget put his top players in for every match we may have played the entire tie without winning a set.  France was dominant in every way – skill level, coaching, composure, attacking, defending, counter-attacking, strategy, adapting to the environment and could have won the tie 15-0 (that would be 15 sets to love).  We were lucky that Julien Benneteau was given a chance to play in place of Gael Monfils for the second rubber on Friday night.  Otherwise, the 15 zip scoreboard could have been reality.

Let’s do a quick recap – Tsonga hammers Posposil in straight sets,

Doubles team of Llodra and Benneteau destroys Raonic and Nestor in straight sets, Tsonga beats Dancevic in straight sets and Monfils beats Posposil in straight sets.  We were completely outclassed and humiliated.

Our only win was Raonic beating France’s 4th best player. Thank God, we have something to hang our hat on.

So what if Monfils and Tsonga played both singles matches – what would that have done to the overall scoreboard.  The interesting question comes up – would Monfils and Tsonga have beaten Raonic in straight sets? This is a question we’ll never have the answer to but my guess is yes.  These guys are both in the top-15 in the world and have more skills than our best player. Raonic could have won a set but the way he was moving – sore knee and all – it was unlikely the fantastic French firecrackers would have been so giving.

This was a demolition in every sense of the word.  Canada – to some degree – was toyed with.  This tie was never close and Forget played his top players when he needed to.  Forget did a masterful job coaching his charges and clearly did a wonderful job inspiring his players when it mattered most.  He was in the face of Tsonga guiding him to the clinching victory – coaching his best player every step of the way.  Yet, our player, Frank Dancevic was left to his own devices in a pressure pact environment against a top-5 player.  This again, was stunning.  Coaching and support from his team-mates (something that was also lacking) is a must if you’re going to compete against a player of this magnitude.  We seemed like we knew defeat was coming – it was just a matter of time and we succumbed to the immense pressure too early in the process.  I really felt some of our players were happy to reach 4 games, let alone win a set.  We were satisfied with decent score lines and got complacent very quickly.  This attitude was apparent as early as Friday night when Pospisil looked outclassed from the get-go.

Let’s now discuss the coaching decision to insert big-serving Raonic into the crucial Saturday doubles match.  I’m sorry, Martin Laurendeau, this was a major mistake.  I know what most of you are saying right now – hindsight is 20-20.  However, it was brutally obvious that Milos was out of place.  He was picked on like a kid in school with glasses.  The French team was relentless in their pursuit of Raonic.  They hammered ball after ball right into the gut of Raonic and he just looked like a deer in headlights.  As a fan of Canada – this was tough to take.  I’m not sure the French team would have had the same success against Posposil.  This kid has better hands and moves much better and is more doubles savvy than Raonic.  The coaches inserted Raonic because of his massive serve.  But this didn’t’ work because he served 1 out of every 4 games.  It was a bad coaching decision that cost Canada a win.  I hear they deliberated for almost 5 hours before coming up with Raonic as the savior to play with Nestor.  He was the weakest player on the court by a country mile.  He looked so out of place so many times I had difficulty watching.  I was embarrassed for him.  Eventually I had to switch the channel.  Doubles is about positioning, strategy and experience – something Milos doesn’t have yet.  It’s the same reason that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic aren’t great doubles players.  They don’t play enough to get good at it.  And what a way to lose a match – Raonic got broken to close out the 3-set bloodbath.  How he can lose serve on such a fast court, with such an accomplished partner is beyond me.  Hell, he held serve 48 times in-a-row a month ago to win a singles title in Chennai, how is it possible that he can lose serve in a doubles match with the best doubles player of all time beside him.

The bottom line is we were humbled in our own country to a far superior team.  And if we look honestly at the other 15 nations in this world group – we may be the weakest team in the field.  We are very young and very inexperienced.  Beating teams like Mexico, Columbia or Peru is one thing – but in order to stay in this desired group we may need to beat teams like Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Italy, Russia or Kazakhstan.  And at this point, after what I saw this weekend, unfortunately, I don’t see it happening.  Another stint in the minor leagues of Davis Cup is a distinct possibility and as a tennis nation we must face the facts.  We just are not at the level to compete with the big boys.  We are making strides but right now we are only half way up the mountain.

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