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MELBOURNE, Australia – The French already are pretty antsy about the upcoming Davis Cup World Group tie against Canada, after the disastrous semi-final loss to Great Britain last fall and the decision to hold the March 4-6 first-round clash on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
Gaël Monfils, the last Frenchman standing in singles, unloaded a little on his federation’s decision-making late Wednesday night after his loss to Milos Raonic, and inadvertently brought the Canadian No. 1 into the controversy.
“What’s too bad for us is that every time, we miss the boat. Milos, we were talking (in the locker room), and he said if it was played in Europe, ‘no chance’ he’d come, ” Monfils said, telling tales out of school.
“He’s playing Delray (Beach), he’s playing in the celebrity thing in Canada (the NBA All-Star Celebrity game in Toronto Feb. 12), and he’s like, ’It’s nice and close’, so he’ll go,” Monfils added. “Every time, it’s always the same thing. We never really make the right decision.”
Raonic also has entered the ATP Tour event in Acapulco, Mexico the week before Davis Cup.
The suggestion that Raonic might consider skipping a tie purely on the basis of convenience and location came on the heels of the announcement by Tennis Canada Wednesday that women’s No. 1 Genie Bouchard would not take part in the first-round Fed Cup tie against Victoria Azarenka in Belarus next weekend in Quebec City.
Reached Thursday morning, Raonic said something was lost in translation with the francophone Monfils.
“I think the context we spoke about it in was more a sense of relief that it was put (in Guadeloupe), because it definitely wasn’t ideal, scheduling-wise,” he told Eh Game. “I don’t think it would have affected my decision to play; I would have been there regardless.
“The only thing that has kept me out of Davis Cup has been physical inability to play,” Raonic added. “I think the only one I missed, and wasn’t there in person was when I had hip surgery (the tie in Israel in 2011)."
The exchange could well have happened as Monfils described, although the point is completely moot given the Guadeloupe location has been finalized. That the Frenchman would even consider Raonic’s potential absence as a stroke of good fortune smacks a little bit of desperation. Since the shocking loss to Great Britain, the less-than-elegant sacking of the classy Arnaud Clément as captain and the hiring of iconic French player Yannick Noah as his replacement (seemingly, mostly at the behest of top French player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), things are rather chaotic.
It is a Davis Cup nation that can boast four players who have at one time or another been in the top 10 in singles – Tsonga, Monfils, Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet – and enjoys a host of options to field a top-calibre doubles tandem.
Not only that, unlike some of the other nations it rarely has issues getting its top players to commit. But those players are hitting 30, and that window of opportunity to bring home the Davis Cup is closing. Hence, the sense of potential panic.
Tsonga is reportedly perfect fine with the Guadeloupe decision; but he is the only one who planned to play the South American clay-court tournaments next month. Monfils, along with most of the rest of the potential team members, committed as they usually do to the smaller ATP tour events in their home country, in Marseille and Montpellier. Canadian Vasek Pospisil also will play those events, which are on fast indoor courts.
The players selected would have to fly to the Caribbean, adapt to outdoor red clay for a week, play just two matches and immediately head out to California and play on hard courts again for the two Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells, then Miami.
All the internal drama and the logistical challenges can only be fuel for the underdog Canadian team, which lost to France in 2012 on an indoor hard court in Vancouver.
Monfils didn’t question Noah’s decision to hold the tie outdoors on red clay - one reason they went to an offshore territory, that option being a non-starter in France in early March.
“Honestly he’s right to play the Canadians on outdoor clay. It’s the best chance for us,” Monfils said. “We told Yannick that we wanted to play Davis Cup and try to win. If we want to beat the Canadians – and especially to beat Raonic – we might play, quote-unquote, ‘a little better’ on outdoor clay.
“I respect his choice – even if we’re not happy.”