INTERVIEW WITH MARTIN LARENDEAU
The Canadian Davis Cup team will play Japan at home in the first round of the 2015 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group, March 6 to 8 2015. This will be a re-match of their first-round from 2014 in which Japan defeated a depleted Canadian squad 4-1 to reach the Davis Cup World Group quarter-finals. Because the two countries competed in Japan the last time they played, the 2015 first round will take place in Canada. The host city and venue will be determined at a later date. “We definitely feel we are a World Group nation and we look forward to starting fresh next year and trying to advance past the first round and create another historic run for our country,” said team captain Martin Laurendeau. "We’re excited to be able to play at home again behind a supportive crowd like what we’ve experienced in Halifax and Vancouver over the past couple of years. While we know from recent experience that Japan is a talented team, we will be ready for the challenge and we know we have the capabilities to take on any team in the world. There is a lot of tennis to be played before the team gathers for this tie, but we will be prepared and ready to compete.”
Canada will be competing in the World Group for a fourth straight year after defeating Colombia 3-2 in the World Group Play-offs in Halifax September 12 to 14. Photo shown is from Halifax courtesy Peter Figura.
Japan will be competing in the World Group for a second straight year. Its victory over Canada in the first round in February marked the first time Japan advanced out of the World Group first round. Missing an injured Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals, Japan then fell 5-0 to Czech Republic.
Ontario Tennis writers Peter Figura and Jan McIntyre caught up with Davis Cup captain, Martin Larendeau at Roland Garros in 2014. The interview they completed with Martin is included below.
Martin Laurendeau, Captain of Canada’s Davis Cup Team and Responsible for Tennis Canada’s Players in Transition.
Peter Figura and Jan McIntyre met up with Martin Laurendeau, following Milos Raonic’s 4th round win over Marcel Granollers at Roland Garros in Paris, to discuss Davis Cup and Canadian tennis.
PF – You were part of the group of 6 – 8 guys inside the top 200 and that was probably the 2nd best era in Canadian Tennis next until now. What is the difference between the two and how come what is happening now didn’t happen then? How do you see that from your perspective as a player, as a coach, and as a Davis Cup Captain?
ML – I would say that the main difference is probably that back in our era we had a good group in grand slam main draws. There was Andrew Sznajder, Chris Pridham, Glenn Michibata, Grant Connell and myself. 5 or 6 guys and we were pretty much left on our own. Most of us had gone to college. It was basically the only way to do it. There was not much support. At home there wasn’t much happening. At college we got a lot of training. Not just Canadians but most Americans and a lot of foreigners too - it was a road that a lot of players used to prepare for the pros. Once we left college there wasn’t much support – no funding, no money, just a few guys sharing hotel rooms and grabbing buses and trains and just doing the best we could at that time. Now the guys have great support, they are just as keen as we were back then. They want to be the best they can be – good on them and good on the Federation. The coaches at TC have come a long way in player development.
PF – What do you see in Davis Cup? You put a team together and also by my observation and from others, it seems to be more of a team approach. How did you do it?
ML – A lot of it is up to the guys. There is a learning curve with the Davis Cup format. The competition itself is very different from the tour. You need to play for your country, in a three-day competition not a weekly competition. Maybe you play, maybe only play one match, maybe you don’t, there are a lot of unknowns and it’s a team event. So guys growing up in an individual sport now have to play in a team competition. There is a big adjustment to be made there. So it takes a while for the guys to get it and learn that everyone needs to do their thing. Ultimately this is a team approach and a team effort. It is easier when you play college baseball or football and you just go from team to another team but it is the same team sport. Secondly, I think that over the years we have just gotten better and better individually. We got more support from Tennis Canada, the staff have gotten better in the sense that we are more involved throughout the whole year with that objective and the guys themselves just believe more. We spent many years down in the qualifying rounds but it has been 3 or 4 years now that we have been in the World Group and the guys are doing better internationally. We believe that if can put it together then we can do well in Davis Cup.
PF – You were close in the finals last year…
ML – Yeah we were close but far away still. We faced a tough team, we faced a great team and you know it may prove that it was better to have a good run but still get stopped in our tracks there. If we want to go beyond the semis and into the finals and win, then it is two more wins that we need to do. Maybe a bit – we beat Spain we were facing a team with injuries. It was a quick, quick rise for us. We have the youngest guys by far. Most teams have guys that are 27 and older and we had guys back then at 22 years old. Of course Nadal wasn’t there and a few top 15 guys weren’t there but still we faced a team that would have put us away in a heartbeat in years past. And we did beat Italy with their best players and that’s the way it goes. We had a good run - our players were in their best form and played their best tennis. That’s what you need in this competition. And they believed – they believed before but even more as the weekend unfolded. The first one we won that we knew we would play together for a few ties in a row. The guys were winning tournaments and going deep so it was all coming together. But this year was different, every tie is different. France won it one year, they went down the Champs des Elyséé with the President and then they lost in the first round. This competition is different - you need your best players to be at their best. Look at Japan, we didn’t have our best players, we had injuries. Then the next round, Nishikori was sidelined with injury and (other guy) so `
PF – Four years ago, no one will remember that Milos was facing match points against Estrella (Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic)
ML – Two match points down and now he is in the quarters here (Roland Garros). So things can go quickly. You know you need things to go your way, chips to fall your way as much as you prepare professionally speaking you still have to have momentum and still have to have home court advantage as much as you can. You still have to have your players healthy and you have to have them playing their best tennis so a lot of things have to go right for a good year.
PF - What is your plan to stay in the World Group level? Except for having team members at a very young age. We will probably have a new doubles team soon.
ML – Soon, not yet… but soon. Two years ago our guys were young and still learning and never the less we have been in the World Group for a few years. I know the guys are keen, they are not satisfied with a semi-final run they want to do better. They know their best years are ahead and they know that they want to do better and this is the most important part. You can have staff and Federations and everyone in the whole nation wanting to do well and to do better but it comes down to the players being hungry and thirsty and wanting to win and we have that. We are very fortunate to have a keen group of guys that really want to make an impact at that level.
PF - Tell me about bringing new guys onto the team. In training – you had Filip
ML – You have to look at right handed and left handed players. Training partners that will help the guys to play their best. Simulate the game styles from the opponents. You need to balance chemistry. Not all the guys get along so you have to factor that in. Make sure that the team aspect, spirit and chemistry is number one then you can have a team that can produce really well because it is an enjoyable week and guys are ready to do whatever for each other. That part is really important. Bring our young guys in whenever we can. Everyone that has gone through the system when they were 17 or 18, 16,19, in their teenage years we want them to be there to feel the locker room, the build up of the strategy for the Davis Cup, the stresses, the experience and the enjoyment of Davis Cup. Everyone has had a run at it. Filip did it and the younger ones coming up with have their turn.
PF - What did it take to convert someone in your time from college player to tour player? College, I don’t think is playing that much of a role. I don’t know if you agree with that.
ML – Now it has been replaced a bit. In our generation we were used to that format. Our team just got along. We had no choice. There was no support. We would travel together we would make our schedules together, we would try to stick together there was only a handful of us. Now there is the National Training Center in Montreal, which helps a lot. We send our youngsters to Junior Davis Cup, we send them on national tours, and they train together in Montreal. The coaches follow them through 15-18. There is a sense that you need your buddy to train with. You want to be better than him but you also need him. That concept is helping in many ways and is similar to what we had in college. And now it is kind of replaced with a team environment having coaches and players all going for the same goal. It has been good in that way.
PF - How much were you involved in Montreal in the training center?
ML – Not much because I have 30+ weeks a year on the road. Obviously we need coaches that are a lot more present – a lot more fulltime. I do stop by, I do follow what is happening and I do pitch in whenever I can with some trainings and stuff. The bulk of the work is with Guillaume Marx and Jocelyn Robichaud and the guys looking after our young male players.
PF - Are you watching juniors here?
We don’t have boys playing here. We only have one girl – (Françoise) Abanda. Our boys are too young this year. In the next few years they will be coming along.
JM - We saw guys like Hugo Di Feo here last year.
ML – And Peliwo. They are now too old. Our next group are 14 and 15.
JM - So we have a little bit of a gap.
ML – Yep.
JM - One of the things I mentioned to Michael Downey a few years ago was that I wasn’t seeing any Tennis Canada presence here. We saw Daniel playing and lots of fans. I saw Canadian club level coaches here and they would point out to me the American coaches who were following the futures and all that. Why isn’t Tennis Canada here? At least bring some of the youngsters to get the feel, like you say for Davis Cup. Why not the same thing for a Slam because this is like the holy grail of tennis?
ML – Well yeah. That part has gone better. We have our coaches that do the ITF Junior circuit. Ultimately, a guy like Peliwo, he didn’t just play the Grand Slams he played Group 1, Group 2, Group 3, Group 4 and Group 5. Did what he needed to do to get a good ranking to access the bigger tournaments. So we do that with our young guys. I am at the Grand Slams and some of the Masters Series and some of the other tournaments. Sylvain Bruneau does the same with the girls and Louis Borfiga comes along. He is here at the moment. He goes to New York and Toronto. And some of our Board members have been coming to Davis Cup in the last few years. Realizing that being there makes a difference and this has come with our successes, It has come with our nation coming together and doing what needs to be done to be the best at this.
PF - What else has to happen to in your perfect world what is missing, if anything?
ML - We have everything we want really to get the job done. We have a lot more funding than we ever had which allows our coaches to travel worldwide. Maybe 10 years ago if we had budget constraints and we had a tour in south east Asia or somewhere that it was too expensive, we might decide to go the US but then it is more difficult and a different experience. Now we do what needs to be done. We are given the support for that. They trust our expertise and our knowledge of the game to know what needs to be done and let us do it. We are conscious of the expenses, of course, but we have great staff, great coaches, great facilities, and we have great programs and we probably have the best junior program in the world, I believe. And we have an incredible board of directors that is so supportive of what we do and they believe in us and they trust us a lot. We have had great results in Davis Cup, Fed Cup and Juniors. I don’t know what else we would need. The rest is a result. The process itself, I think that we are on top of things, doing the right things. It comes down to finding coaches – ultimately the guys doing the work in the field day in and day out is very important. We have the ability to hire guys like Ljubičić, or outside coaches when we need to. And it is working good. We have full time staff coaches who are there all the time so we are able to complement and fill the gaps and it has been working good. We have the support from Michael, and Kelly now that are very keen on expanding and keeping the results coming. There is a lot of effort and energy going the right way, being channeled and funneled the right way and that has a made a difference over the years.
PF - You have the youngest team but they are going to get older. Do you think that there are enough juniors right now?
ML - I would love to have more players and more juniors. I would love more players like when we were in Japan and we had three injuries that weekend. You can’t plan for that but it would be nice to have 6 or 7 more guys in the top 100 to fill the gaps or pitch in when you need to bring them in. That’s a product an outcome basically, the process is being done very well and we need to improve on that. Of course I would love to have more juniors, more kids playing the game. There are programs for this. We are doing the best we can and no one is satisfied at this stage. We think this is the start of something bigger and better to come. We are all very excited.
PF - Would you have imagined in your playing days that 10 years from when you retired, when we did that coaching course together, that people would be coming to you or that anyone would be looking up to Canadian tennis as a sort of model?
ML - Not really. We were an outside nation all the time. You need a few players to do well obviously.
PF - The question would be maybe from your point of view, what is wrong with American tennis? You are watching all the time right?
ML - The Americans are not the only nation to be struggling from where they were to where they are now. I think maybe some of the other nations like South Africa and Sweden are even worse. They have no idea what happened It happened so fast. The game is growing. More nations come up with players. It is so international now. There are only 100 players in the top 100 and there are more and more nations fighting for those spots. So those spots become more and more rare and they are working as hard as they can. They brought in José Higueras to try to develop the clay philosophy and training center. Now they are projected to build a 100-court facility in Orlando with indoor courts – with clay courts and hard courts and they are trying to find a way to get in the game. It is tough and I am proud of what we have done. We don’t have the numbers of Spain or France or some of the other world nations at that level. But the few that we have pro rata wise we are doing very well. In the last 7 or 8 years since we have had the training center, its not like we have had 50 kids training there and if you have 1 or 2 players out of 50 that’s great odds. And we’ve had 3 out of 8 or 3 out of 10, which are phenomenal odds. Things are going our way and hopefully we can keep that up.
We have passionate people who really care. Debbie Kirkwood is here doing meetings now. Jack Graham who was on the board and is now with the ITF he’s here. Our international presence has really come along well with Stacey Allaster (Chairman and CEO of the WTA) and Michael Downey, Vanessa Webb (on the WTA Board for the players).
JM - Do you feel that when you go around to different places that there is more respect for Canadian tennis?
ML – Definitely. It comes down to results and when you have results something must have been done right somewhere. But it is not always Federation driven, sometimes or maybe down the road, we may have 3 guys in the top 50 that come down to having driven parents or having a great coach in their neighbourhood that has brought them to be where they are. Tennis Canada is not the only way. The next wave could be an exodus of kids going to the United States. We have Brayden Schnur that went to the NCAs – he was voted freshman of the year. He played no. 1 for Carolina. He only lost two matches and ended up top 10 player and that is another way to go about it. I think that the more we have Genie’s and Milos’ and Vasek’s and Nestor’s and Fed Cup and Davis Cup results, the more that it is on TV and in the papers, the more the kids believe that is not just an odd thing that one player is making a living out of that, they believe that they can do that. They are inspired by that and think that they can make the quarterfinals here one day or play Wimbledon one day. That is what I did, and that is what has to happen with the next generation of ball kids being there at the Rogers Cup, and they want to play tennis there one day as a professional. All these good results just pull up everyone up to the top and there is this mass belief that we can do it.
PF - I spoke with Louis Borfiga, when we saw each other in Montreal, I asked what is next for you and he said that within the next 5 years Davis Cup, Fed Cup or a Grand Slam. What is your take on that?
ML - Yes. We have two players - one in the semis and two in the quarters here. The more you get to these stages, you are two or three matches away so you increase the odds of it happening. And the more this happens, the more you need programs because when you have player that shoots up, it gets the kids excited and you need the programs to welcome these kids. If there is nowhere to go or it is expensive. It kind of happened in Brazil when Guga Kuerten was winning this 3 years in a row, they lost their window, this guy had an impact as a player for his country but where are the hundreds of Brazilians that could be playing here as a result of that? You need good facilities when people come knocking at the door, you need to be able to say you can go here, you can do this, you have this program, this place where you can train. You are at this level, we have this for you and you can put the pieces together and you can accelerate the results this way. This is where I think that we have improved at lot. When the chips are coming together now it is not because of one thing but a lot of things were in place that reaches a lot of different levels for the sport.
PF - The last question - Milos and Novak on Tuesday?
ML - It’s a tough draw. You know he had a good draw, he’s made the most of it so far and you have to run into a top 4 guy somewhere. He’s got to run into Novak it looks like. Its tough, for me the match against (Gilles) Simon was key in his development. Because both guys knew that the draw was opening up and it was a really good chance to make the quarters and you won’t meet a guy like Djokovic or Nadal before the quarters or Murray or those guys. The way he served for the match and lost it, he kept his composure on Center Court against a Frenchman, I think we may look back on this as a key moment in his career, because he has been in 4th round a few times already and that allowed him to play today and make the quarterfinals, he may need a few semis. That is what happened to Federer, to Nadal and that’s what happened to Djokovic. They didn’t just shoot through and do it all in one go. He’s on track with his targets and Novak is going to be a major obstacle and if he wants to win a grand slam you need to a major hurdle or several major hurdles for you to go through. So that is why this match, as difficult as it is going to be, is necessary in his development.