“I can’t get hurt, that’s most important. But I need to do other things than just play tennis all the time. There’s going to be come scary moments, I know that. I do hope that the skill-set from tennis comes into play in a big, big way today. Bear, I might look like a tough guy on the tennis court, but I’m actually very scared of a lot of things in life. There’s going to be scary moments for me, so just hold my hand.”
Those were Roger Federer‘s words at the start of the Running Wild with Bear Grylls episode he filmed with the famous British adventurer. The episode was actually shot a year and a half ago, after Federer won the 2017 Australian Open, but it only aired last month on NBC.
Grylls took Federer on an adventure through the Swiss Alps, where the 20-time Grand Slam champion tested his limits as he trekked through difficult terrain up and down mountains, ate a fish eyeball, and peed on camera to put out a fire.
In Cincinnati this week, Federer spoke about what that experience was like and how scared he really was hanging from a rope on the side of a mountain.
“It was a lot of fun, I loved it. Bear, I’ve met him before I did the show many times. He came to the World Tour Finals, he came to Wimbledon, I had dinner once with him and his lovely wife as well, with Mirka in the past, and I know his mom is like a huge fan of mine,” said Federer on Monday.
“Personally I grew up hiking, I love going for hikes with my children and this whole survival stuff is something I feel very connected to in Switzerland with the mountains, the lakes, the forest and all that stuff that we have and I thought it would be a perfect venue. The only problem was that it was snowy and it was cold and I don’t like cold and he said we’d have to do an over-nighter, and I said ‘I don’t know if I can do an over-nighter because I can’t get sick, I can’t get hurt, so I don’t know why I’m doing it’, and so it was all these funny things,” he said laughing.
Despite injuring his groin en route to the Australian Open title, Federer agreed to do the show.
“I had a great time. Of course I didn’t expect some of the things, like the fish eye and other things, and going down this big cliff, he didn’t tell me about it. I thought after the first hump that was it, then he told me to keep going, I looked down and go like ‘Oh my God, why am I even doing this?’ But it was great fun. I really enjoyed it,” said the Swiss.
It’s been a fun time in the press conference room so far this week with the players, and even coaches, providing us with some interesting one-liners. Here’s a sample of some of the exchanges that have taken place in the media centre.
Q. 138 miles per hour. I’m not sure on my math. Do you know what that translates to kilometres? It’s a math question.
Nick Kyrgios: I’m not a calculator.
Q. On-court coaching, you know you’re on live TV. Would you coach differently if you were behind closed doors?
Darren Cahill: I might swear a little more (smiling).
“It felt like my mind was lying to me. It felt like I wanted to win, but at the same time, it was not like a big deal for me, which I was pretty worried about. I don’t know why I felt like this.”
— Stefanos Tsitsipas after his opening round loss to David Goffin on Tuesday.
Q. I have really enjoyed watching you play this summer, both here in Cincinnati and Washington. You just talked about calming. At 31, do you feel calmer than ever on the tour during the hard court season?
Robin Haase: I don’t want to correct you, but I don’t know who you saw in Washington but that was not me.
Can you give me some of your thoughts on Daniel Nestor’s career and maybe thoughts on his legacy not only on tennis in Canada but also tennis as a whole?
Novak Djokovic: Well, I think his legacy would be greater if he played once with me, but he hasn’t (smiling).
As tennis federations around the world get set to vote on radical changes to the Davis Cup format in the ITF’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Thursday in Orlando, several top players on the WTA circuit are surprised Fed Cup hasn’t been included in such grand plans from the start. Some are also relieved.
A sum of $3 billion is being promised over the next 25 years by investment group Kosmos, founded by Spain and Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique, and a complete overhaul of the 118-year competition looks set to take place.
The proposed plan will see the Davis Cup’s existing problematic format, stretched across the calendar year and played in all corners of the globe, condensed into a season-ending 18-nation event played at a single, neutral venue.
Around 120 delegates at the AGM will decide whether proposals by federation chief David Haggerty are to be given the go-ahead.
And while Haggerty has mentioned in the past that the ITF will start with the Davis Cup then turn its attention to its women’s equivalent, little to nothing has been said of the Fed Cup since discussions arose of such huge investments and changes.
World No. 5 Caroline Garcia feels the women are being treated like an afterthought.
“I think it’s weird that they are talking only about Davis Cup and they’re not talking at all about Fed Cup because at the end it’s kind of the same issue,” said the Frenchwoman.
“We have on the WTA and the ATP the same importance, if we can say. So it’s kind of weird they’re talking about Davis Cup and then they’ll see if they’ll do the same for the Fed Cup. So we’re a little bit like the last option.”
World No. 1 Simona Halep and No. 6 Petra Kvitova – who has won Fed Cup with the Czech Republic five times – are quite relieved the women’s competition is not on the ITF’s radar at the moment. There is strong opposition from many regarding the elimination of the home-and-away ties and both players feel strongly about the new proposed format.
“What do you think?” said Kvitova with a smile when asked if she’s grateful Fed Cup isn’t being discussed at the moment.
“We [Czech Republic] have many, many titles and I’m just happy how it is. Maybe I am surprised that Fed Cup is not in the talk but I’m probably glad for that as well.
“I just love to play in front of the crowd and playing a home tie is probably the best that we can have in this competition. It’s something really special for us and we have a great team and we’re still great team-mates as well so that’s very nice.”
Halep was clear in her views on the matter saying: “That’s a tough question but I will say my opinion. I like the historic thing and I like to be the same like always. Yes [I’m happy they’re not touching it right now].”
The debate for and against the proposed reforms has raged in recent weeks with some players, like Frenchman Lucas Pouille, saying they will boycott Davis Cup if the changes are voted through and many Australian legends describing the new plan as a death sentence for the competition, with Lleyton Hewitt dubbing it a “money-grab”.
A lot of politics is involved as well with the ATP and Tennis Australia looking to launch a new World Team Cup starting 2020, which would serve as direct competition to the Davis Cup.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber feels all this is hurting the sport, rather than adding to it.
“I was a little bit surprised [Fed Cup wasn’t mentioned] but at the end I think they are starting with the Davis Cup first then they’ll do the Fed Cup. I love to play Fed Cup and I hope that they will find a way to make all the discussion to stop and just play the game. Just playing, enjoying it and not making too much trouble around because that’s not fair for the sport as well,” said the German ex-world No. 1.
Spain’s Garbine Muguruza isn’t surprised about the exclusion of the women in the initial plans and believes something is in the works for the Fed Cup as well.
The two-time major champion admits the competition needs to be revamped but doesn’t have suggestions on how it can be improved.
“The traditional way is tricky. It’s tricky because with our calendar for sure it’s never the right moment but there are times where you feel like you have to go to the other part of the world and the next Monday you have a huge tournament to perform and how do you manage that? It doesn’t mean you don’t want to play for your country, all those things that you cannot make it. It’s very tough to play sometimes,” said Muguruza, who is a career 9-2 win-loss in Fed Cup rubbers.
“Yes it [the Fed Cup format] needs work but I understand it’s tough because I don’t see also how they can make it better. I know they’re thinking about it, I know they’re putting in the effort but it’s tough because someone is going to complain always.”
Former ATP No. 1 Andy Murray isn’t sure why Fed Cup wasn’t part of the initial plans but highlighted that the fragmented structure of power in tennis doesn’t help proper solutions for the collective.
“I think a lot of the kind of Davis Cup changes have been forced a little bit through what’s been happening with the ATP’s team event,” noted Murray.
“Tennis has issues because you have so many different bodies. It’s so difficult to sort of keep everybody happy. It would be a lot, lot easier if everyone worked together to come to, I don’t know, maybe a slightly better solution sometimes; whereas it feels like everyone is always looking out for their own interest as opposed to the interest of tennis as a whole.
“So I think if everyone did that, things would probably get done a bit quicker and it would probably be a bit more positive for the sport.”
In a second round clash that felt more like a major final, the two power-hitters traded blows from either side of the court, punches that would have knocked out many a player on tour. But not Williams, and not Kvitova.
For every ace fired, a thundering return winner was unleashed. A fist pump from one end was met with a roar from the other. The margins were slim, the pace was lightning-fast and the grit was off the charts.
Kvitova edged out Williams 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 but if the match was decided purely on heart, it would have definitely been a draw.
Less than a year ago, Williams was lying in a hospital bed after delivering her first child, Olympia, suffering from life-threatening complications that included blood clots in her lungs. She now wears barely visible compression tights while playing in an effort to avoid further health problems.
At the time, Kvitova was three months into her comeback from a vicious knife attack that saw her get stabbed in her left playing hand while fending off a home intruder. The damage sustained means her hand might never feel the same again.
Both women found their way back to the court, and gave us a glimpse of what they’re made of in their three-set thriller on Tuesday night. What they’ve been through and what they represent transcends tennis, but the sport is as good a platform as any to convey their message of strength and perseverance.
Williams reached the Wimbledon final last month in what was just her fourth tournament back from maternity leave. Kvitova has captured five titles this season and is ranked No. 6 in the world. Those are not your average comeback stories.
Williams, who returned to competition just five months ago, insists her journey is just commencing.
“I’m still at the very beginning. You know, this is a long comeback. I just began. I just started. Definitely at the very, very beginning. I’m getting there, and I’m going to just continue to work hard, and hopefully I’ll start winning more matches,” said the 36-year-old American.
Williams is 12-5 this season, has lost three of her last four matches, and is 0-3 against top-10 opposition since her return to action in March.
But she’s also gone from being unranked, to rising to No. 27 in the world within four months of her comeback and produced some brilliant tennis against Kvitova in Cincinnati. Her baby hasn’t even turned one yet.
“I think we’re both doing good. She’s obviously doing a little bit better, but she’s been back a little bit longer. We’re both still here and still competing,” said Williams of herself and Kvitova.
With her next stop being the US Open, Williams is eyeing further progress and possibly tying Margaret Court’s all-time record of major titles won.
“I think I just definitely want to get a more consistent serve, more than anything, and return more consistently. Basically my whole game needs to improve,” said the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
Those recent losses may feel alien to someone like Williams, but the reality is that she was just one win away from claiming a 24th Slam at Wimbledon last month and history has shown that every time she has faced adversity, she bounced back higher than anyone could imagine. Discard her from the US Open conversation at your own peril!