Sydney, 14 September 2011 | Darren Saligari
There have been occasions during Davis Cup ties when a team has accused its opponent of spying on its practice sessions in order to get an edge. Today neither team could cry foul, with just three courts separating the two teams.
The Australian team has been preparing for the 16-18 September play-off for over a week now. They’ve learnt the nuances of the perfectly manicured centre court and spent hours plotting their course over the final hurdle that stands between them and a place in the World Group in 2012.
That hurdle is largely in the shape of world No.3 Roger Federer. The Swiss ace breezed into Sydney today for his first practice hit at Rose Bay’s picturesque Royal Sydney Golf Club.
In this case, the plan, as publicised by team captain Pat Rafter yesterday, is more to go around the hurdle so to speak.
Rafter said the team chose to play the tie on grass because it’s Wawrinka’s worst surface and they feel that they have a better chance of beating him on grass than they do six-time Wimbledon champion Federer.
When told that the Australians had practically painted a target on his back, Wawrinka took it all in his stride. Truth be told he’s probably used to teams coming after him in Davis Cup ties.
“For sure, they are going to try and win the two points from the second [ranked] player in Switzerland, but that’s not the most important for us,” said Wawrinka at Tuesday’s press conference.
Today, however, Stan had little to say as he hit up with teammate Marco Chiudinelli on centre court. But the action was on the outer courts where Federer was.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion was happy to hit washing baskets of balls with Swiss team rookie Alexander Sadecky and Stephane Bohli.
Federer capably handled being double teamed by his teammates, as a media throng gathered on the sidelines, multiplying by the minute.
Usually a serene playground for Sydney’s financially elite, the Royal Sydney Golf Club’s ambience was interrupted by the media and a smattering of club members who were intent on catching a glimpse and hopefully a moment with Federer.
And he didn’t disappoint. At the end of practice he stopped to sign autographs for a group of kids and answered questions tossed at him by the media. (Watch the video)
He playfully asked the kids questions and for a tip on how to play this weekend, joking with the kids, “What’s the tip? I need a tip right now.”
Hewitt would disagree with this.
“I haven’t seen a lot that Roger hasn’t been able to do, so he’s as close to Superman as it comes in tennis,” Hewitt said on Tuesday.
Time will tell whether or not Superman can save his team from relegation this weekend. For all the Grand Slams, tournaments and accolades that Federer has accumulated, he is yet to be part of a winning Davis Cup team.
And if it’s going to happen, it needs to happen soon.
In Wawrinka he has a teammate who he can rely on. The two are both ranked in the top 20 and are good friends. They have also won an Olympic gold for doubles – they are a formidable duo.
Their likely opponents are a warrior and an emerging star.
Hewitt joked on Tuesday he’ll have to play above his ranking of 188 if the Australians are to succeed. He has a habit of reserving his best for Davis Cup, so rankings aren’t relevant here.
At Wimbledon Tomic proved that he is capable of withstanding pressure and he loves the big moments. But can he take down the great Federer or, as his captain has directed, Wawrinka?
We’ll find out on Friday and Sunday. Today these two proud teams were separated by metres, this week we will find out just how much really separates these players.