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Tennis News From The Kosmos Kup A.K.A. • The Davis Cup In Madrid

By Alix Ramsay

We begin with a word of praise for the powers that be at the Davis Cup finals in Madrid: they have sorted the transport in the evenings for the journos. Well, they have put a plan in place which we will try and follow this evening. If we make it back to our digs, we will report on progress tomorrow. But for these buses back home, many, many thanks.

That is the good news. Alas, now we must return to the usual business at the Caja Magica and that is not quite so rosy.

The talking point of the day was the decision on Tuesday night by the Canadian team to forfeit their doubles rubber against the USA. Already two points to the good, with the tie won and a place in the quarter-finals secured thanks to the efforts of Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov in singles, they opted not to risk the two lads again in the dubs. The Canadian’s problem is that they only have three players with them and one of them – Felix Auger-Aliassime – has a poorly ankle.

At first glance, it seems reasonable enough: Canada don’t field a doubles team and so they concede a point to the Americans. So what? Except that the winners of the six groups in the round robin phase qualify for the quarter finals automatically and then best two runners up take the last two berths. That is decided on sets won and lost and games won and lost – most won and least lost go through. By being given a 6-0, 6-0 walk-over, the USA have been gifted two perfectly clean sets and 12 perfectly clean games which makes their stats look a good deal healthier than most. And that, surely, is hugely unfair on everybody else in second place in their group standings.

“I personally don’t like that,” Novak Djokovic said when brought into the discussion. “I mean, that shouldn’t be allowed, to be honest. I understand that Canada is through already, they won both of their ties. Maybe some of the players like Felix, I think he’s injured, and they wanted to rest their players for the quarter-finals and onwards.

“But I just feel it’s not fair that the opposing team gets 6-Love, 6-Love because they are going actually head-to-head now against Italy [in the last tie in Group F]. And then the winner is going to be second, but then that 6-Love, 6-Love might make a big difference in the calculations for the second-best teams in the group. So I don’t think that’s fair, to be honest.

“But I also understand it wouldn’t be fair if you just don’t give a point, you know, because USA was ready to play doubles. So I don’t know. But I think everyone should be obliged to come out and play, at least play.”

Andy Murray piled in behind Djokovic on this. Always a stickler for fairness in everything, he had no sympathy for the Canadian’s plight – if they put their names down to play then they should play. Simple as that.

“I said yesterday that I felt like one of the positive things to the way the group stages work is that all of the matches are live, there aren’t any dead rubbers,” Murray said.

“So where Canada may have felt that that was a dead rubber in theory for them because they were already through, that could have implications to all of the teams potentially that might finish in second place. And I believe they also would have had two days off as well after that so I think they should have played the tie.”

If only they had put Andy and Novak in charge, we wouldn’t be in this mess. But as with most things at this tournament, no one appears to have thought it through.

Surely the logical solution to this problem is to penalise the team forfeiting the rubber rather than hurt another team who are innocently trying to qualify for the knock-out stages. Ramsay’s rule: if you forfeit a rubber, you forfeit the tie. If you do not have the requisite number of players to win a Davis Cup final, you pay the price. But, hey, what do any of us know?

Not only do the creators of this event not know how to make the rules fair for everyone, they obviously don’t know how the hardware works, either. As Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski (or Skupsky as the TV captions had him) took on Wesley Koolhof and John-Julien Rojer in the tie-deciding rubber between Great Britain and the Netherlands, the advertising screens started to play up. They flashed on an off, they scrambled and jumbled and they made following the flight of the ball all but impossible. Better still, they picked their moments to do it – at 3-3 and deuce in the first set, for example.

Both teams had had enough of this and downed tools until the problem was fixed. That did not take long – they just turned the pesky things off. But the screens were not to be denied. At the very nano-second that Murray banged down an ace on set point, the screens burst into life again. Play a let. Murray and Skupski looked unimpressed but did eventually win that first set and go on to win 6-4, 7-6. Britain, then, are still on course for a quarter-final place provided no more bits of the court break, blink or blow up.

And finally, we have another chapter in the long-running story of the ‘Orrible App. The Davis Cup Finals App is a source of much amusement to us in the press room. As we watched Andy Murray win his first D-Cup match in three years, we tried to keep up with the action via our phones. According to the app, Muzz was winning 15 per cent of his service points on his second serve and 30 per cent of his service points on his first serve. Presumably the other 55 per cent of his service points were declared a draw.

But for those desperate to get the scoop, the app went in for a spot of predictive scoring (like predictive text only not quite as dangerous). As Muzz sat at 5-5 and 40-30 in the third set against Tallon Griekspoor, the app was racing ahead: it was, according to the wonders of technology, Ad-GB. Then again, according to the same technology, Griekspoor’s first serve was firing at anywhere between 107 and 110 per cent accuracy. No wonder he was a bugger to break.

Ah, well. We can do it all again tomorrow. Right, off to find this new bus. Wish us luck…

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