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08 February 2013

Blog: The merry mayor plays stand-up comedian


NEWS ARTICLE

By 

  • Sandra Harwitt

Photo: Lee GoodallMayor of Bern, Swizterland Alexander Tschäppät

by Lee Goodall in Bern


There are normally more than a few moments of lighthearted banter during the official dinners that take place prior to Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties, and the comedy in Switzerland on Thursday night was provided by the larger-than-life mayor of Bern, Alexander Tschäppät.

Tschäppät, who has been in office since 2005, reduced the gathered players and dignitaries to howls of laughter with his enthusiasm for his home. “Welcome to Bern - the greatest city on earth,” he announced. “I know every mayor in the world says that, but this time it’s really the truth!”

After urging visitors to part with as much cash as possible during their stay - “We have many shops more than happy to take your money,” Tschäppät joked - he went on to explain the significance of the evening’s venue.

The message, he said, was simple. Sports stars who had stayed at Hotel Allegro in the past were blessed with success and he had his own idea how this would affect the outcome of the weekend's tennis.

“We had the Dutch football team staying here during the 2008 European Championships and they won all three of their matches,” he explained, before recounting how many million litres of beer the visiting Dutch fans had drunk in the process.

“Wladimir Klitschko stayed here before his heavyweight boxing bout against Tony Thompson last year - and he won too.

“And now we have Switzerland and Belgium here before their Fed Cup tie this weekend.

“All I can predict is that definitely one of these two teams present will win on Sunday.”

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A fine date

by Chris Bowers in Ostrava

They are the obvious pair for a romantic date, but how often they've  been seen together in public is not known - certainly very rarely.

But at the official dinner in Ostrava, they were together,  side-by-side: the Davis Cup and Fed Cup trophies. They are both held  by the Czech Republic after the two finals in Prague's O2 Arena in  November left the Czech Republic as the world's dominant team tennis  nation (for six weeks the Czechs also held the mixed Hopman Cup as  well), so both trophies are in Ostrava for a unique double-appearance.

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Dolonc ready for action

by Zoran Milosavljevic in Nis

If her appearance at Thursday evening's gala in the posh Tami Residence hotel in Serbia's southern city of Nis is anything to go by, Fed Cup newcomer, Vesna Dolonc, is set to take the competition by storm.

The 23-year old Russian-born Dolonc - she started life in Moscow - will make her maiden appearance for Serbia when she takes on Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova in Saturday's second singles rubber. Dolonc’s mother is Russian, but her father is Serbian and in May 2012 she switched allegiance to represent Serbia.

Dolonc, currently 92nd ranked, certainly won the hearts of all those who attended the gala with her confidence as she addressed the gathering in English, having explained that Serbian is in fact her third language.

"I really feel welcome here and I like the girls because they have taken me on board instantly,” said Dolonc, smiling broadly. “We are a great bunch and I can't wait for the tie to begin because I've never played in a team competition."

Wearing a slick-and-silky black dress, Dolonc showed no nerves after Friday's draw, when she dismissed any talk of stage fright in front of a vociferous 3,500 fans in the Cair Hall.

"Honestly, I can't wait for the tie to begin because I've heard so much about fan support at this venue and the noisy atmosphere can only inspire me to do my best," she said. "I hope I can win my first Fed Cup match and bring what could be a valuable point to Serbia."

The home team will miss its top two players - Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. But should Dolonc and Bojana Jovanovski lead Serbia to victory, the absence of Ivanovic and Jankovic because of injury will no longer be the talk of the town.

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Spy in the camp

by Chris Bowers in Ostrava

An English-speaking team like Australia can be forgiven for not  understanding a word of Czech, so everything was translated in the  draw ceremony in Ostrava as the Czech and Australian teams gathered  to find out who would be playing whom this weekend.

But as it happens, one member of the Australian team is fluent in Czech, or at least can understand it.

Jarmila Gajdosova was born in Czechoslovakia and grew up in Slovakia, before becoming Australian after her junior career. As Czech and Slovak are very similar, she had no difficulty understanding the speech of the deputy-mayor of Ostrava, and burst
into spontaneous applause as he finished.

Only then did it dawn on her that her colleagues, who had been woken from their polite stupor by Gajdosova's clapping, hadn't understood a word. Maybe she can eavesdrop the Czech team talks and pick up some inside information.

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Practice power

by Stuart Fraser in Limoges

As the draw for France against Germany took place at the City Hall, a familiar face was spotted standing at the back of the room in a French tracksuit: Jerome Haehnel, who is best known for famously knocking out Andre Agassi in the first round at Roland Garros in 2004.

The 32-year-old retired from the tour four years ago, but still continues to keep his game in shape by playing tournaments in France and is here in Limoges this weekend in his capacity as a hitting partner for the French Fed Cup team.

“I have been the sparring partner for two years now because I am still playing and I know the girls on the tour, so that’s why they called me to play with them,” said Haehnel. “They play very well.  When we practice they hit as hard as we can play in the men’s circuit.”

Haehnel was a modest pro, reaching a career-high ranking of No.78 in 2005, but can boast a victory over a young Roger Federer in the Italian Junior Open in Milan in 1998. The 64 76(4) 63 win over Agassi in Paris, though, is the stand out match of his career.

“It’s one of my best souvenirs of course,” he said. “The best one was when I won Metz the same year [beating Richard Gasquet in the final], but beating Agassi was the biggest match I think.”

Haehnel may only have been away from the men’s tour for a few years, but already he notices a massive difference in the physicality of the sport.

“When I recently saw my match against Agassi, you can see the difference,” Haehnel said.  “I was feeling so good physically but it was not as fast as it is today.  It is getting harder and harder. Physically it is going to be very hard in the next year.”

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The new princess

by Maximiliano Boso in Buenos Aires

If we put the name of Nadia Podoroska on the table of tennis, anyone would probably think: “She comes from Eastern Europe, sure.” Wrong.

The fact is that the girl we are talking about was born far, far away from any place in Eastern Europe, although her ancestry is of a Ukrainian background. Podoroska’s birthplace was Rosario, one of the main cities of Argentina - apart from Buenos Aires. It is located in the Province of Santa Fe, about 300 kilometers from the country’s capital city.

Nadia, who will turn only 16 on Sunday, is already enjoying the best present she has ever been given: being the practice partner for the Argentine Fed Cup team this weekend.

“I can’t believe I’m here,” Podoroska said. “It’s very important for me to share training sessions with the team. It allows me to learn a lot. I’ll take many things for my career. Sleeping in the same hotel with the team, going to dinner with them makes me feel a little bit like them and it is an unbelievable experience.”

When it comes to the official dinner – women in nice dresses, men in elegant suits - Podoroska just said: “Awesome!”

The truth is that her rookie speech deserves that adjective. Everybody fell in love with Podoroska as she closed her words by saying: “I would like to say something to the Argentine team. Girls, if you feel any pressure, try to enjoy the tie. I’d give anything to be in your place”.

Coached by Carlos Rampello, Podoroska is the new Argentine hope in female tennis. Having won her first WTA ranking point last year in Chile, when she was only 14-years-old, she is considered the princess: “First it was kind of pressure for me, but I started to slowly incorporate it and right now I feel ok. In fact, it motivates me to improve.”

When Gabriela Sabatini retired from professional tennis, Nadia was not even born. What is more, she can barely remember a few things about Gisela Dulko’s career, just to mention the last Top 30 Argentine woman in the rankings. It is understandable if we take into account that the last best moment for Dulko in singles was a couple of years ago, when Podoroska was only in the beginning of her teenage years.

This is the reason why her role model isn’t an Argentinean player. She idolizes Serena Williams. And, leaving aside any breeze of shyness or insecurity, she firmly says: “My goal is to become the World No. 1.”

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Debutantes steal the show

by Chris Bowers in Ostrava

Two Fed Cup debutantes were the stars of the official dinner at the tie between the Czech Republic and Australia, which took place in a converted industrial warehouse in Ostrava. Ashleigh Barty, the Aussie 16-year-old, made her rookie speech which was full of fun and sincerity.

After saying how much she always wanted to play Fed Cup because she could think of little better than representing her country, Barty said: “At 16 I still have a lot of things to tick off in life, such as graduating from school and learning to drive, but at least I'm now doing Fed Cup.”

She finished by saying “I'd like to wish the Czech team all the best, but I won't because that would be insincere, so I'll just wish everyone a weekend of good tennis.”

Yet, Barty was trumped by Alicia Molik, who's in her first tie as Australian Fed Cup captain in succession to her former coach David Taylor. Molik wrote her five-minute speech, asked for it to be translated into Czech, and read the whole speech in Czech at the dinner. Her gesture went down phenomenally well, and she was treated to several rounds of applause.

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