Canadian tennis player Frank Dancevic: shoeless, shortless in Nottingham (updated)

Eh Game
Canadian tennis player Frank Dancevic: shoeless, shortless in Nottingham (updated)
Canadian tennis player Frank Dancevic: shoeless, shortless in Nottingham (updated)

Veteran Canadian Frank Dancevic’s tennis career has had its share of ups and downs. But one thing it has never been is … boring.

The 31-year-old is struggling with confidence and consistency these days, the high points of his career in the rear-view mirror. But he’s just rolling with it – no matter what happens.

This is the player who picked up a new racquet a couple of years ago at the US Open, tried it for an hour, and decided to play a Grand Slam with it. 

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He’s the player who accomplished a Grand Slam of sorts back in 2011 – surviving the qualifying at all four major tournaments that season. He’ll never win a Grand Slam, but he’ll always have that.

At the Australian Open in 2014, on one of the hottest days the tournament has suffered in recent years, Dancevic was so far gone during his first-round match against Benoit Paire of France that when it was over, he told the media he’d been hallucinating and seeing Disney characters on the other side of the net – most notably, Snoopy.

When your brain is completely fried, and you're seeing things on a steaming Australian summer day, making Dumbo ears with your ice towel is a nice way to break the tension. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)
When your brain is completely fried, and you're seeing things on a steaming Australian summer day, making Dumbo ears with your ice towel is a nice way to break the tension. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)

In the middle of that same match, spotting a Canadian reporter across the court during a changeover, he took the ends of his ice towel, turned them up to make “Dumbo” ears, and laughed uproariously. Short of clothes during the qualifying, he went into the merchandise shop at Melbourne Park and spent $45 Australian on a shirt to wear.

More? When he lost a heartbreaker of a five-set match against Joao Sousa of Portugal with those brand new racquets the 2014 US Open, his feet were so battered and bloodied he took his shoes off, left them on the court and walked all the way back to the locker room barefoot, signing autographs along the way.

The Canadian lost a heartbreaker to Joao Sousa in the first round of the 2014 US Open, and his dogs paid the price. No problem; Dancevic made the long walk back to the locker room, through spilled beer, mushed candy bars, barefoot. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)
The Canadian lost a heartbreaker to Joao Sousa in the first round of the 2014 US Open, and his dogs paid the price. No problem; Dancevic made the long walk back to the locker room, through spilled beer, mushed candy bars, barefoot. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)

So when Dancevic finally returned to the ATP Tour level Saturday after spending most of the last 12 months down on the entry-level Futures circuit to get his game, confidence and ranking back, it’s no surprise something uniquely Dancevician happened.

The saga began when his luggage never arrived in Nottingham, England where Dancevic is entered in the qualifying for the last grass-court warmup tournament before Wimbledon.

The staff went on strike at the Brussels airport where he made a connection; the airline told him it would take a minimum of five days to get his bags.

He had to play Ante Pavic, a big-serving Croatian, in the first round on Saturday.

Unfortunately, Dancevic had no shoes – never mind grass-court shoes – no racquets, no clothes. Nothing.

So instead of at least getting in a little practice on grass, a surface he hasn’t played on since losing in the first round of Wimbledon qualifying last year, he had to scramble for the basic necessities.

No problem; this is Dancevic we’re talking about.

First things first: the Canadian went out and bought two racquets Saturday morning, and they didn’t come cheaply: 150 British pounds apiece (about $555 Canadian).

Strings? Dancevic usually uses Luxilon M2 strings; he had to settle for the Alu Power version.

Some players carry two massive bags onto court with them for a match. Frank Dancevic, in a pinch because his luggage was somewhere in Brussels, made do with this. (Courtesy Frank Dancevic)
Some players carry two massive bags onto court with them for a match. Frank Dancevic, in a pinch because his luggage was somewhere in Brussels, made do with this. (Courtesy Frank Dancevic)

Then he went to a sports store – your regular, normal sports store. A shirt, shorts, socks.

But when he was about to go on court for his match Dancevic realized … the shorts didn’t have any pockets.

No problem; this is Dancevic we’re talking about.

Dancevic borrowed a pair of shorts from Russian player Teymuraz Gabashvili.

Shoes were a a rather more thorny problem, since you can’t get running shoes with the special grass-court soles just any old place.

No problem; this is Dancevic we’re talking about.

He borrowed a pair of grass-court shoes from his friend, the Tunisian player Malek Jaziri, who clearly had never taken a close look at Dancevic’s feet before he extended his kindness.

The tennis bag? Still somewhere in Brussels.

No problem: Dancevic walked on with a little Head backpack, just like a 9-year-old kid going to his weekly Saturday lesson.

To sum up: Dancevic didn’t hit a single ball on the grass before going out to play Pavic. He was armed two brand-new racquets with unfamiliar strings, someone else’s shorts, borrowed shoes and a shirt from the local shop.

A veritable buffet of mismatched branding.

“There were lots of people in the crowd. And my opponent was definitely confused,” Dancevic laughed as he recounted the saga for Eh Game.

Bottom line? Dancevic played well, fired 15 aces, faced just two break points, failed to convert some break points of his own (and said some bad calls didn’t help), should have closed out Pavic in two, but ended up winning 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3.

Dancevic lost in the first round of qualifying in Australia this year, but stayed around to practice – with a full-sized tennis bag – before heading to his sister's wedding in New Zealand. As usual, he had no problem keeping his spirits up. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)
Dancevic lost in the first round of qualifying in Australia this year, but stayed around to practice – with a full-sized tennis bag – before heading to his sister's wedding in New Zealand. As usual, he had no problem keeping his spirits up. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)

“All good. I got some more practice with new equipment,” Dancevic said. “Hopefully the airline will reimburse me.”

On the plus side, he earned 1,630 Euros for winning his first-round qualifying match, and would bump that up to more than 3,600 Euros if he can make the main draw.

He plays another huge server, Australia’s Sam Groth, Sunday in the second and final round of qualifying.

But HOLD THE PHONE.

Another crisis.

His match is scheduled for 11 a.m.. Jaziri, who is in the Nottingham main draw, is practicing at 11:30 a.m.

The shoes are booked.

But as we’ve already established, there are no problems for Frank Dancevic – only solutions.

He arranged to finagle Jaziri’s coach’s shoes for the occasion.

Jaziri was present for another classic Dancevic moment nearly two years ago to the day on the final day of qualifying for Wimbledon at Roehampton, after both had lost in the third and final round. A rash of late withdrawals  that year meant, exceptionally, that four lucky losers would get a reprieve and a spot in the main draw. Six players were on the list, from which four would be drawn. Here’s how that one ended.

That year, Dancevic came straight from winning a Challenger on red clay in Slovakia (seven matches from the qualifying to the title) and played his first-round match on the bumpy grass at Roehampton the very next day – with no practice. After winning the lucky-loser lottery, he upset cannon-serving Ivo Karlovic in the first round of the main draw at the All-England Club.

The cannon-serving Groth looms Sunday. Will the tennis gods, and karma, be on his side again?

Will the coach’s shoes fit? Are Gabashvili’s Fila shorts lucky?

UPDATE: Dancevic (Nine aces, zero double faults) defeated Groth (10 aces, 7 double faults) 7-6 (5) 6-3 Sunday morning to advance to the Nottingham main draw. It's the first time Dancevic has made it to an ATP Tour main draw (Rogers Cup excepted) since he qualified for Indian Wells in 2015. He will face British wild card Alexander Ward.

 

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