6th March 2009
Roberto Forzoni’s phone rang last night, for certain. One of the Great Britain Davis Cup squad, either those selected or left out of the team to face Ukraine this weekend, will have poured out his emotions to the psychologist whom Andy Murray summoned to the 2007 US Open when bothered by a weakened wrist and having sensed that his partnership with Brad Gilbert, his coach, was draining the life from his game.
Forzoni works 21 hours a week for the LTA, and given the ills that have beset the British game these many years, it is unlikely he has time to twiddle his thumbs. His strategy is to “maximise opportunities by minimising interferences and hassles”.
He recalls the Murray case clearly. “There was an issue with a strained relationship, and my suggestion was that Andy might interact better by getting a team around him which I had thought would include Brad,” Forzoni said. “But Andy didn’t want to carry on with him anymore. Now he has the people who complement him, and their progress has been excellent.”
If you can command the respect of the present world No 4 during such a career-defining change, taking care of Josh Goodall and Chris Eaton should be a doddle. Today, at the Braehead Arena in Glasgow, the world-ranked Nos 192 and 383 head an improbable-looking team into a Europe/Africa Zone tie in which the crucial element that will separate victory and ignominy for Britain is between their ears.
As someone who works in football, athletics and boxing, Forzoni speaks from varied experience. “Everyone uses much the same training and fitness regimes,” he said. “Coaching hasn’t changed that much over the years, techniques don’t really alter, but the one dimension people haven’t addressed is the psychological side. It is the No 1 reason they fail. As an example, a player might be 5-3 up in the final set but they will say they couldn’t handle it because instead of focusing on what got them into a winning position, they begin to think of the consequences of losing: ‘How can I fail now? The press will be on me. The LTA will pull my funding.’ All these irrational thoughts come into their heads. If they continue like that, they have no chance of succeeding.”
Player/psychologist privilege prevents Forzoni going into explicit detail, but it is clear that Goodall had been a highly volatile player — a line call with which he disagreed often led to a mental meltdown. He has curbed that and his reward is No 1 status in the team. Eaton visited Forzoni the day before his 6hr 45min play-off victory over James Ward last week, stressed about his inability to cope with long matches.
“I gave Chris specific things to focus on: like, after two sets, go off, change your shirt, have a wash, start over as if it is a new match,” Forzoni said. “I told him not to look at the scoreboard, just focus on his performance.”
Ward, bitter at the potential consequence of that defeat, which was confirmed when the team was named yesterday, broke his personal weightlifting record the day after the Eaton loss.
The calls made on this match are among the most controversial of John Lloyd’s three-year captaincy: he did not select Alex Bogdanovic, the British No 3, or Richard Bloomfield, the No 5, for the team; he left Eaton out of his original play-off line-up, but now names him in the team; and he did not pick Jamie Murray, the nation’s highest-ranked doubles player. We do not know if he visited Forzoni before any of them.
All that and we discovered yesterday that Goodall, who plays Illya Marchenko in an opening rubber of debutants, has developed a fixation about stepping into the tramlines when he plays, which, as he says, is not a good thing in tournaments where there are no ballboys, which is 90 per cent of the time for him. And his lucky chain broke this week. Yes, Forzoni’s phone would have been hot last night.