I feel fortunate to have crossed off one of my big ambitions in tennis last week by being part of the coaching team for Ireland in their Davis Cup tie in Norway. This was something I didn’t achieve as a player, and the week was everything and more than I had imagined a Davis Cup tie to be. I wanted to share a few of my thoughts from the week.
So where did the week start? For me it started with a late night flight from Malaga to Dublin. I have to admit to experiencing a few nerves, as even though I knew most of the guys, the fact that it was my first Davis Cup experience so close to the action and it was extremely special for me to ‘representing’ Ireland. I am not Irish, and am very proud to be British, but with irish grandparents and a Dad who supports Ireland over England in Rugby (when it suits him ;-)), I have brought up to be very proud of our Kiernan/Carney heritage and irish music/whiskey/Guiness has always taken a prominent position in the family Christmas get togethers. And to make it extra special/emotional my Uncle (who was extremely proud of our Irish heritage) passed away just before Christmas too early, so this is a one I felt I carried my Uncle Michael with me on the flight over…This was for him.
Day 1 – Travel
Due to the long flight over and late arrival time, day one was fairly lay low for everyone and sleep was needed before we hit the practice courts the following day.
Day 2 – Practice Day
This venue in Oslo was the national Tennis Centre for Norway which was an impressive facility.
I had spent days before trawling the internet for footage on the team. Casper Ruud who many of you will know was much easier to find footage of, so I felt my scouting report was accurate, but their number 2 Viktar Durasovic not so easy, so it was my first chance to run my eyes over him. This moment is always very bizarre at tennis events where the player is hitting and the coach from the other team (player) is standing watching. Everyone knows what is happening and it is a rather awkward stand off where very little detail is picked up, but having that vision of how they swing the racket, their court position, general demeanour, grips, swing size or even more simple sometimes- are they right or left handed! Is all valuable info to have to if nothing else bring a little comfort for the player that we have an idea of what is coming.
First practice for the boys was interesting, they all commented on how fast the courts were and spent their time analysing the bounces and how the court was reacting to spin, but all in all it was 120 mins of feeling the court, feeling the ball and for the most part feeling themselves into the situation. You will notice I use the word ‘feel’ a lot. This sits at the heart of many tennis players and the better they feel a situation and feel comfortable in a situation the easier it is to bring their best performance to the show. The show was now 2.5 days away. The excitement is starting to rise.
There were 5 players in the squad led by SotoTennis player Peter Bothwell, Simon Carr, Sam Bothwell, Julian Bradley and player/coach Daniel Glancy. Captain was Conor Niland who was a former top 130 ATP player and his assistant coach Barry King who was a former Davis Cup Player. There was then physio Nicky Green who has been a big part of the team for years. Later to join would be the president of Tennis Ireland and social media man Kieron. It was wonderful to see how well everyone gelled and spent time off the court. Many old stories of Davis Cup from the boys which helped the young guys feel at ease and lots of information sharing amongst the coaches which I have to say I enjoyed throughly.
Day 2 afternoon – Doubles and specifics
Today was the first time the players competed which was interesting to see, as competition brings with it raw emotions, especially when a player may feel they are being ‘watched’ with selection being made in a couple days for who will play doubles Saturday morning. This brought home the difference between a normal tournament preparation and Davis Cup preparation, as it is unusual for tennis players to be playing for selection given its individual nature.
Back to the hotel for massages cool downs before refuel and our nightly games of ‘shuffle board’. What a game that is by the way!
Day 3 – The tension is building
A relatively quiet day which comprised of 2 practice sessions and the players starting to comment that the court isn’t so fast. I think they are finding their timing! It was also interesting to note the emotional roller coaster these young guns go through on these weeks in which they are representing their nation in front of big crowds. They feel the pressure and they feel the excitement, but notably they link these feelings to how they are hitting the ball. Hitting it badly, mild panic sets in. Hit it well mild arrogance and ego kicks in! Their levels are just trying to find their equilibrium! We got them playing sets in the afternoon which we knew was an emotional risk, but they need to feel this pressure a little and get some serve and return repetition in a live situation. Job done. Onto tomorrow.
Day 4 – The Draw
Practice in the morning which was light for those guys competing the next day. Conserving energy is important at this stage.
The draw took place in the afternoon. We got the draw we wanted. Pete to play Norway’s number 2 to try and get on the board and apply pressure on their young yet experienced Casper Ruud in the second rubber.
The formalities done, gifts exchanged and back to the hotel to prepare. We had found a lovely little Italian 5 mins from the hotel which we went for pre match meal. The boys like eating early after their training and lots good food later we were back in the hotel for our team meeting. The coaches had met each day, but this was the first time we brought everyone together to go through the plan the following day. The boys seemed relaxed yet excited. Time to rest up for game day!
Day 5 – Show Time
The big day had arrived- time to go and fight for your country. I had breakfast with Pete who seemed ‘thoughtful’ yet quiet. The nerves and excitement no doubt jangling in his stomach. He was first up at 12. My stomach was churning. I was loving this Davis Cup experience. I left it will late to put my green top with Ireland on and this was a very proud moment for me. Thinking of you Uncle Michael and both my grandparents at this point.
The simple game plans are discussed. Myself and Pete have a bit of a routine where the plans are discussed as he warms up, it is less formal than sitting down and more chatty in its nature. Important on a day like today that 2-3 clear and actionable points were made to focus on. Don’t over speak or complicate. Now go time!
In the locker room the team came together- great words from Captain Conor and onto the court we went. The national anthem playing as I took my seat directly behind Conor and Pete.
Pete played a good first set without being spectacular and lost it 3/6 down to a couple bad points at the wrong moment and some big serves at the correct moments from Durasovic. Conor turned to me and I have to say I felt good about the match ‘He is doing the right things out there. Important he doesn’t start forcing, keep trusting the way he is playing and chances will start to come his way’ I said. Conor was already on it and passing on his wealth of experience to Pete and getting a great balance of giving knowledge and making him smile which was a great experience for me to see.
From the moment the 2nd set started there was only one winner. Pete started to get on top of him and although a dramatic last game as he served the match out at 5/3 in the 3rd, he had won a match for his country and put them 1-0 up in the tie. An amazing feeling for us all. The most vocal I have ever been at the side of a tennis court, but well worth the lost voice at the end of the weekend.
This is where tennis is a tough sport. The next match started 20 minutes after, so there was literally no time to enjoy this win. It was a quick sandwich, toilet break, high five with Pete and his Dad before making sure back at the bench for Simons match. Brutal.
Simon competed really well in the first few games against Ruud and we saw enough from this to feel Ruud could be got at, but once he got ahead he relaxed and I have to say watch this space with Ruud. The boy can seriously play. 1-1 in the tie.
Another insight into the Davis Cup is how tired the players get on an evening due to the emotional and mental strain that they are under. These matches are different. A ‘fun’ different and I am still loving it!
Day 6 – Doubles and Singles Day
First up was the doubles. Despite a positive performance for the boys, the Norwegians were too strong on the day. 1-2.
I am very proud of how Pete played against Ruud. We had some real ‘out of your seat moments’ and when he broke and held to go 5-4 up in the second set he had 650 Norwegians worried as this weekend was the Casper Ruud show- he is already a big star in Norway. Pete got under his skin and pushed his boundaries but hats off to Ruud who showed his class and steel in the end to pull through. 1-3 tie over.
We were asked if we wanted to play the dead rubber to which we replied yes, but the Norwegians didn’t want this to go ahead. A shame, as what an opportunity for one of the boys to play a davis cup rubber.
After spending time as a team after the match the team were low, but all proud of everyones efforts. We went back to the hotel to collect thoughts before heading out to dinner and an evening of shuffle board and the final round of the Masters to try pull through their fellow Irish man Rory McIlroy and a couple of beers. Great company and stories shared over the week together. Camaraderie at its best. Very grateful for the opportunity to join the team.
I hope I get to experience this amazing event again and I truly hope the ITF don’t make this decision to take away this event. It means so much to so many people and I can only speak for myself in saying it has completed a real personal goal of mine and it didn’t disappoint.
Next step is for the guys to build on their great performances and take them onto the tour where the day job of the week in week out if where these opportunities are made. Good luck guys and thanks for having me.
Director, SotoTennis Academy