A little break: in the hectic pace of the international calendar, the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas marks a different temporality, quieter, less urgent. The gatherings last eight to ten days (more than an ATP tournament), the matches three (less than an ATP tournament). In the meantime? Many training sessions, press conferences and a specific decorum. Illustration by an example, with the semi-finals which are starting today between France and the Czech Republic, at Roland Garros.
Tuesday 2nd of September: And the nominees are...
Symbolically, it’s the moment when the semi-finals actually start, ten days before the first match, when the captains communicate their team selection. At the Arthur Ashe Stadium, from the players area of the US Open, Jaroslav Navratil gave his list first: Tomas Berdych (7th in the World), Lukas Rosol (27th), Radek Stepanek (39th) and Jiri Vesely (75th). Arnaud Clement replied a few hours later with: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10th), Richard Gasquet (14th), Gael Monfils (24th), Julien Benneteau (28) and Gilles Simon (31th).
Wednesday 3rd: From Flushing Meadows to Roland-Garros
The main advantage of a captain who remained "fit" after many long years at the highest level, is that he wear all hats. Just after landing from New York on the Monday, Arnaud Clement headed to Roland Garros and took his racquet to serve as sparring partner for Julien Benneteau. The only thing missing was his legendary bandana, victorious protagonist of the last Davis Cup by BNP Paribas played at Roland Garros, a semi-final against the United States in 2002. "Bennet" is the first player to come back to Paris after his defeats in the first round in singles and doubles at the US Open. Arrived later in the day, Richard Gasquet, for his part, only went for a little bike training.
Sunday 7th: Pointing, shooting or coming down?
The Czechs are all here. As a group. Always. Radek Stepanek puts his bag on the bench. He quickly starts rolling his shoulders, jumps a couple of times, and he's ready to warm up. The rest will come with training. Tomas Berdych takes a selfie on the Centre court, while the youngest of the team, Jiri Vesely, seems disturbed by the disproportionate space behind the baseline, characteristic of the Philippe Chatrier court. The visitors are taking it easy at Roland Garros. They even end their training session with an improvised game of petanque with tennis balls, in gales of laughter.
Tuesday 9th: Press conferences and Ice Bucket Challenge
"If we win, we will make Jean Gachassin do the Ice Bucket Challenge again, but this time with champagne!" Julien Benneteau is in high spirits when his doubles partner, Edouard Roger-Vasselin, joins them as a sparring partner for a doubles training. In the morning, all the players of the France team did the Ice Bucket Challenge on the President of the French Tennis Federation, who was nominated by his American counterpart.
More formal, the time has come for the obligatory press conferences. For to written press first, then the micro of the radios, and finally the televisions. Similar questions from a room to the other on the upcoming match... Both teams keep passing the buck back and forth to avoid that damned favourite status. Arguments of Arnaud Clement: "I consider the Czechs as the best team in the world." Radek Stepanek, sneaky, finds meanwhile the best argument to stick the pressure on the host team: "France is a great team Davis Cup, but that hasn't win it for a long time. They must be hungry."
Wednesday 10th: Monfils, a race against time
Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils are decidedly inseparable. As during the previous day, the two pals, little known for their affinity with the doubles, train head-to-head in front of their coach, Lionel Roux. Brilliant quarter-finalist in New York, close to a qualification in the semi-finals, Gael lacks of energy and has no less than three blisters on his right hand. On the visitor side, it became much more serious since the reality check of the Sunday: Stepanek seems exhausted after his match against Berdych on the Centre court. Rosol and Vesely have meanwhile played a little match together on the court n° 3. And on the clay courts which have been battered by the sun, the Czech players’ balls bounce as fast as on hard courts.
In the evening, it's the traditional dinner given in honour of the two teams. Black tie mandatory for a cruise on the river Seine, on the barge "Bel Ami" ultimate timeout before the serious stuff. Les Bleus end their evening watching their basketball team, author of an exploit against Spain in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Twenty-four hours earlier, it was the Czechs who exulted, this time for a football victory, following their success on the Netherlands in the qualifiers for the Euro 2016, a goal scored at the 91st minute...
Thursday 11th: Four aces or a gamble, the captains show their hands
A strong challenge, an exceptional setting and both teams at full strength... The Roland Garros' museum hosts a huge crowd for the draw of the matches. The ritual is a well-oiled process: the umpire introduces the players individually and announces the identity of the numbers 1 and 2 of each formation. Then the draw is made by an “innocent hand”, today the first deputy of the City of Paris. Very progressive throughout the week, the build-up of the match is completed. It 's on. A few last trainings on Thursday afternoon but Today at 10:30 am, the beasts shall be released.