Davis Mugs

The smallest of margins can have the most decisive impact. Ask Alex Bogdanovic.

Alex Bogdanovic faces Andy Roddick at Queens in 2007
So close: Bogdanovic snatches defeat from the jaws of victory against Andy Roddick in 2007

Tie-break, 6-5, match point, Alex Bogdanovic. But no…

World no. 5 Andy Roddick challenges the call, wins the set point, and goes on to scrape a narrow victory, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.

Bogdanovic’s mixed career may well have turned out differently had he gone on to claim the scalp of Roddick, who expected to challenge for Wimbledon in 2007.

Instead, Boggo faced the familiar thought of what might have been – a place in the top 100 – with Roddick’s encouragement that “he should be top 50 by the end of 2007” all too bittersweet.

I have been a fan since his first Davis Cup appearance in Sydney in February 2003. A rookie then, he gave Wimbledon champion Leyton Hewitt more trouble than the 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 defeat suggests, and claimed a dead rubber, ousting the 7-time Wimbledon doubles champion Todd Woodbridge 6-2, 7-6. No Aussie, even a singles retiree, will gift us a gimme.

There are undoubtedly parallels with 2009 when GB faced Ukraine. Delapidated by injury, six hopefuls contested a play-off for Davis Cup places – a move that gave the LTA grounds to defend their selection if it went horribly wrong.

So, useful in theory, but shaky in practice. Bogdanovic, who started the year as Britain’s no. 2, was not considered for the play-off. Nor was current no. 7, Chris Eaton, who qualified for the 2008 Wimbledon main draw and reached the second round.

Eaton’s reprieve, joining the play-off after British no. 19 Jamie Baker withdrew, was to battle out an epic victory over no. 4, James Ward in, unofficially, the longest match in tennis history. Eaton was picked along with Josh Goodall, the highest ranked player available, who had earned his place in similar fashion.

All of this proved somewhat immaterial, as GB bowed out in tame fashion to the Ukranians. Goodall’s ranking suggested that he should have overcome world no. 224, Illya Marchenko, who prevailed after three tie-breaks, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6.

Eaton played with greater freedom and took a set from Ukranian spearhead Sergiy Stakhovsky in a 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6 defeat. Fine margins, but no reward. With Eaton’s levelling set came, arguably, more optimism about the possibility of victory than has been seen for a long time.

Eaton later saved a whitewash by defeating Marchenko in the dead-rubber, returning shades of 2003. Britain detests promising failure, but accepts an unsung hero. Freedom does something to a player, as shown by Alex Bogdanovic.

The decision to omit him from this playoff was questionable. While Bogdanovic’s big-game record is weak, he cannot be faulted for defeats to Federer and Nadal in opening rounds at Wimbledon.

Following the 2007 defeat to Roddick, he and Melanie South sent top seeds Mike Bryan and Lisa Raymond crashing out of the mixed doubles – a match the BBC didn’t consider worthy of terrestrial coverage. The pair cleaned out the 13th seeds as well.

As long-standing British no. 2, it’s curious why he was not entitled to challenge for a place.

Alex Bogdanovic and Melanie South in mixed-doubles action at Wimbledon 2007
Remember this? Didn’t think so!

The role of ranking villain was played on this occasion by Goodall. But it’s time to leave Bogdanovic alone – especially for ties he has not played.

Perhaps it was understandable that the focus was almost entirely squared on Bogdanovic before the tie against Austria, but with labels such as loser, a bottler, a flop and ultimately a joker in the pack, “cursed by a lack of tactical nous and mental gumption“, it’s clear that the media find greater enjoyment in defeat than in victory.

With Bogdanovic sitting out, the press still complains about paucity of talent. There are fewer complaints about footballers earning tens of thousands per week being rested because two matches in a week constitute a ‘heavy schedule’. Success in an ATP tournament or Grand Slam requires much more exertion than that

Winning matches would be the best tonic. Victory over Roddick could have changed Bogdanovic’s career. Glimpses of form have been punctuated by the depressing Davis Cup.

Encouragement is a close second. A raucous noise from the student crowd at Glasgow in the recent tie was just the ticket. Little chance of that kind of help for Bogdanovic. The tie against Austria in September 2008 was held at Wimbledon, where organisers did nothing to raise a crowd.

Murray slated his team mates’ desire afterwards, seemingly forgetting his own struggles with five-set matches earlier in his career and Chris Eaton’s 6 hour 40-minute attempt just in the hope of qualifying. This was passed as almost exclusively down to Bogdanovic.

We can talk about ‘grass-roots’ tennis, but is not the most off-putting thing to an up-and-coming player the chronic fear that defeat leaves you more the villain for trying? Instead, there’s John McEnroe cutting off a TalkSport caller for mentioning Bogdanovic’s name.

Bogdanovic is the veteran of this young crop at 24. That’s hardly too late to make an impact. Anne Keothavong’s terrific surge in form, backed by positive coverage, has lifted her into the top 50. Mel South, who partnered Bogdanovic in the Wimbledon doubles victory, closes in on the top 100. Hot on her heels is 25-year-old Elena Baltacha.

The expectation level of the women’s game has been calm and collected, offering positive encouragement at the right time. Margins can have a huge impact, but they are still only margins. It may not take much for results to begin turning. At least give the British men the chance to follow.

2 thoughts on “Davis Mugs

  1. I could not agree more. Alex is a fine tennis player with a bright future and I believe that the next 12 months will see him in the top 100. Since this article was written of course, Anne Keothavong has been vilified for getting knocked out in the first round at Wimbledon. She is now injured and will soon drop out of the top 100, I wonder what the red tops will have to say about that. What our players need is support….so what if they are not all as tenacious as Andy Murray, who is? It seems to me that the British public would rather see a complete no-hoper go out and lose in straight sets but smash a racket every now and then and shout ‘come on!’ at every miss-hit winner. We have a crop of British men (Alex, Josh Goodall, Jamie Baker, James Ward, Dan Evans, Chris Eaton) who are all under 25, will all improve and all need our support and encouragement (not just wild cards). Lets see a Murray-less team go to Lithuania and get a win; Alex should have his chance to lead the team and the opportunity for some live wins. John Lloyd has to remember that most of Alex’s Davis Cup defeats have been against top 50 players; let him show what he can do to those around his own ranking. Incidentally British doubles is on the up with 5 players in the top 100 which may be something to do with the lack of British media coverage? Maybe the LTA should ponder on that……

    1. Thanks for the comment! It’s a shame Alex has had his funding level cut. He’s still a long way ahead of Evans, Goodall and co. Unlucky at Wimbledon again this year! Berdych was fantastic. Alex put up a far better game against him than Paul-Henri Mathieu did, and without Roddick putting all his 2009 efforts into Wimbledon, Berdych could have really done some damage to that draw.

      I just don’t think Alex is many results away from revolutionising his whole disposition. I hope it comes good in 2010.

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