By Richard Fleming in Charleroi
Snow and wintry weather has been the talk of Charleroi over the past day or so. First, we speculated on how much snow – if any – would fall. According to locals “there wasn’t going to be a great deal.”
And then, as the first flakes began to fall, we began talking of how different nations cope in cold conditions.
Martina Lutkova is the match referee for Belgium’s home tie with Serbia. She originates from Czech Republic – no stranger to a fair sprinkling of snow. She now resides in Russia, with husband and children. Her kids are at kindergarten and she amazed us all when matter-of-factly remarking: “They have not been able to play outside the last few days because it’s been minus 23.”
Umm, I should think so!
“The teachers won’t allow them out,” she continued. And that, speaking as a parent, is absolutely right and proper. “Unless it’s minus 18 or above,” she added.
Coming from the UK, where schools would close and the nation would grind to a standstill at the mere rumour of possible snow, I was speechless. Children in Russia are happy playing outside in temperatures which would have polar bears rifling through their wardrobe, looking for at least a scarf!
The driver taking us to the venue on Saturday told me that, at the height of the congestion on Friday, there was a combined total of 1250km worth of traffic jams across Belgium. Thankfully, by Saturday morning, the snow ‘storm’ had stopped. Panic over.
Of course, coming from a country where children play outside in subzero temperatures, Lutkova was wondering what all the fuss was about.
By Clive White in Fribourg
Fribourg, which is swiftly gaining international repute as the venue of this past week’s Fed Cup tie and the coming week’s Davis Cup tie, when Roger Federer will honour it with his presence, is a charming little town in western Switzerland. It is is well known for its processed food, in particular Gruyère cheese and chocolate. And now also tennis.
It’s not to be confused with Freiburg, which is also a delightful town, if somewhat larger, and two and a half hours by fast train – with two changes - further north in Germany.
This ITF journalist, however, did manage to confuse them.
It was a smart move – or so he thought - flying from London to Basel which was 8 km closer to the venue than Geneva and 28 km closer than Zurich.
However, it just so happens that Basel is also the nearest airport to Freiburg and as a result they run a regular bus service there for residents and tourists. So if you ask the information desk at the airport – as I did - where to catch the bus into town for the railway station in order to get to “Fribourg” – which, I might say in mitigation, is pronounced exactly the same way as Freiburg - they are more than likely to point you in the direction of the Freiburger-Reisedienst airport bus service, unless you stipulate “Fribourg in Switzerland, please.”
“It’s much more convenient,” said the woman on the information desk. It is if you are traveling to Freiburg. But a bit out of the way if you’re going to Fribourg.
“Fancy that,” said the border police, laughing, when I was on the train heading back south to my intended destination. “You’re traveling from Freiburg to Fribourg” as if no-one had ever done it before.
Thank goodness they had. “You’re not the first and you won’t be the last,” said the woman on the information desk in Freiburg bus station, not a little unsympathetically.
Red suits for Spain in Red Square
By Richard Van Poortvliet in Moscow
First round Fed Cup ties in Moscow are always cold affairs but, thankfully, only outside as Russia is in the grip of a long and seemingly never-ending winter. While the Russian players are more than used to temperatures plunging to minus 20, the Spanish team are not.
Carla Suarez Navarro hails from the Canary Islands and is more used to sandy beaches than snow-covered roads. However, the 24 year-old took advantage of a stroll around Red Square to engage in a snowball fight with some of her colleagues, much to the amusement and surprise of the many onlookers.
The Spanish team was at Red Square for more than enjoying the sites -- the Kremlin stands in immediate view as does St. Basil’s. There was business to be done as the GUM shopping centre -- or the ‘Main Department Store’ when translated from Russian -- also borders Red Square and was the site of the official draw on Friday.
The event certainly had a glamorous feel to it, with fur coats and high heels the order of the day. The Spanish entourage was well equipped for their stroll around the heart of Russia’s capital. They seemed to be wearing every item of clothing they owned to brave the subzero temperatures as they took the time to take in some of the country’s finest architecture.
Cold beans, no thank you
By Fred Varcoe in Hyogo
The current temperature in Slovenia is around 10-degree C, which is roughly what it is also feeling like here at the Bourbon Beans Dome n Hyogo, Japan. The country is having a cold spell, although the Pacific coast areas tend to escape the worst of it.
But the area between Nagoya and Kyoto was sufficiently inundated with snow to cause major delays on Japan’s usually punctual bullet trains this week. Journalists heading to the Kansai region to cover the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas tie between Japan and Slovenia had to travel through major snowstorms to reach Kobe.
Kobe itself was relatively unscathed, even though temperatures have barely rose above freezing. Watching tennis indoors will make a nice change from watching football outdoors, I thought.
But then the news came through: The Bourbon Beans Dome has no heating. Indeed, the players wanted more heat, the spectators would need more heat and the journalists would not be happy writers/cameramen, etc. (mainly because they specialise in not being happy).
The organizers hurriedly brought in a couple of dozen industrial-sized heaters and placed 16 of them courtside to warm up the players. The spectators also got a few heaters, which left the journalists a little chilly.
Kimiko Date-Krumm confessed to playing in three layers of clothing and a pair of black tights (well, she didn’t need to confess to the tights; we could see them), but teammate Ayumi Morita was happy to take to the court bare-legged and with a sleeveless shirt.
“It was fine,” said Morita, afterward.
Morita’s opponent, 17-year-old Nastja Kolar, was the happiest of the lot.
“When I practice at home, the conditions are the same,” she said. “So it’s just like home for me.”
The truth is the Bourbon Beans Dome was the only ITF-approved venue available in Japan as Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo is being renovated. The Dome is a beautiful venue in the Hyogo countryside.
But you really can’t serve cold Beans to journalists.
Dreams don’t always come true
By Clive White in Fribourg
The proposed dream team of Roger Federer and Martina Hingis in the mixed doubles at the 2012 London Olympics was only ever that – a dream of Swiss fans and, come to that, all tennis fans alike. And the Fed Cup and Davis Cup ties in Fribourg this week and next, respectively, would have been the ideal place to celebrate such a coming together.
Hingis would have had to have played in a Fed Cup tie for Switzerland between now and the summer to have qualified. This tie would’ve been the perfect opportunity for Hingis to do so: the Swiss would benefit from such skillful help against Australia. Unfortunately, it was not to be: Hingis was too comfortable in retirement to consider the idea seriously.
The partnership would have been particularly apposite since Federer once revealed to this ITF journalist that Hingis rather than, say, Rod Laver or Pete Sampras, was his role model when growing up. That was rather interesting as at 31, Hingis is only a year older than Federer.
It may surprise some to hear that the 16-time Grand Slam winner - who will be facing the United States in a Davis Cup World Group tie in Fribourg next week - doesn’t consider himself a born champion like Hingis or golf’s Tiger Woods.
“They were born to become heroes because they were always pushed,” he said. “Early on their parents had a dream. They wanted them to become the best and they achieved it, which for me is mind-boggling. My father never believed I could become No 1. I've just done the best I can.”