Tennis: no hope for Sweden in Hopman Cup

Sweden crashed out of Hopman Cup contention here Wednesday losing 2-1 to top seeds Russia and setting up a three-way race for a berth in the final of the international mixed teams tournament.

Both teams needed a win to have any chance of topping the group in the 725,000 US dollar event after losing their opening ties.

But the weakened Russian combination of Yuri Schukin and Svetlana Kuznetsova showed greater passion than the Swedish team of Thomas Johansson and Sofia Arvidsson, although they had to rely on a tight mixed doubles to clinch the tie.

The result meant that all eight ties in the tournament, being played at the Burswood Dome, have so far finished 2-1.

Earlier in the day, second seeds Argentina, represented by Gisela Dulko and Gaston Gaudio set up an equally-intriguing race to top Group B after they beat the German pair of Anna-Lena Grönefeld and Nicolas Kiefer.

Only hosts Australia are now out of contention in that group with the Netherlands, Argentina and Germany all still in with a chance to reach Friday’s final.

Russia had come close to claiming a 2-0 lead in their tie when the unheralded Schukin, ranked 299 in the world, took Johansson, a former Australian Open champion, to the wire before losing 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/4).

Schukin was only drafted into the tournament at the last minute following the withdrawal of first choice Marat Safin and second replacement Teimuraz Gabashvili.

The 26-year-old was rushed to Perth from Moscow on New Year’s Eve as organisers searched frantically for an available replacement.

In the end it was only Johansson’s serve that saved him in two tie-breaks after he landed 19 aces to one but clocked up 40 unforced errors.

The Swede said Schukin had used the bounce of the hardcourt surface to throw his game out.

“Today I was struggling with the high ones. I think he played a good tactic against me but luckily I was serving well and I just tried to hang in there,” Johansson said.

“If we had gone three sets, he looks pretty strong so I was a little bit worried there so luckily I could finish it in two.”

Former US Open champion Kuzsnetsova had earlier claimed the women’s singles with a 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 win over Arvidsson.

In an extraordinary match which included 29 break points, the pair exchanged service 13 times with the first set lasting 57 minutes.

“It’s women’s tennis — we do lose lots of serves,” Kuznetsova laughed.

“The match was not very consistent. I did so many unforced errors, I had so many chances and I didn’t use them.

“Today I didn’t move my legs behind the ball as well as I have to put so many forehands in and that’s why I did so many unforced errors.”

Kuznetsova also revealed she would team with France’s Amelie Mauresmo in the mixed doubles at the Australian Open later this month after her regular partner Alicia Molik of Australia was forced out with illness.

Earlier in the day, former world number four Kiefer signalled his intentions for the Australian Open when he cruised past Argentina’s Gaudio 6-3, 6-3, but the German’s efforts weren’t enough to carry his team to victory.

Instead Argentina, the second seeds for the event, kept their hopes alive with a 2-1 win in Group B, inspired by solid performances from Dulko in both the women’s singles and the deciding mixed doubles.

Dulko set her team on a course for victory when she took just 57 minutes to trounce Grönefeld 6-1, 6-0.

She then teamed with Gaudio in the mixed doubles, where the pair clawed back from the brink of losing the first set, to take the rubber 7-5, 6-0.

Unseeded Germany were favourites with local bookmakers to win the tournament and Kiefer’s effort to level the tie showed why.

On Thursday Australia play Argentina, Germany meet the Netherlands, Russia take on Serbia and Montenegro and the United States are pitted against Sweden.



Could Scandinavian countries lead the way in taking stand against Qatar World Cup?

Vehemently opposed to Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, football federations in the Nordic countries are putting pressure on Doha and FIFA to improve conditions for migrant workers in the emirate.

Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event.
Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Together with rights organisation Amnesty International, the federations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have ratcheted up the pressure in recent months, raising their concerns and presenting recommendations in letters, meetings with officials and pre-game protests.

“We are against holding the World Cup in Qatar, we thought it was a bad decision,” the head of the Danish federation DBU, Jakob Jensen, told AFP.

“It is wrong in many ways. Because of the human rights situation, the environment, building new stadiums in a country with very little stadium capacity,” he said.

Denmark is the only Nordic country to have qualified for the tournament so far. Sweden face a playoff next year to secure a place and Norway, Finland and Iceland have been eliminated.

Leading the charge, the Danish federation regularly publishes the Nordic countries’ letters sent to FIFA and holds talks with Qatari officials, including an October meeting with Qatar head organiser Hassan Al-Thawadi.

The main concern is migrant workers’ rights.

Qatar has faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are involved in the construction of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure.

Campaigners accuse employers of exploitation and forcing labourers to work in dangerous conditions.

Qatari authorities meanwhile insist they have done more than any country in the region to improve worker welfare, and reject international media reports about thousands of workers’ deaths.

The Nordics have also raised other concerns with al-Thawadi, Jensen said.

“Will homosexuals be allowed to attend the World Cup? Will men and women be able to attend the matches together? Will the press have free access to all sorts of issues to do investigations in the country?”

“And all the answers we received were ‘yes’. So of course we’re going to hold him responsible for that,” Jensen said.

The Danish federation said its World Cup participation would focus on the games played on the pitch, and it will not do anything to promote the event for organisers.

It will limit the number of trips it makes to Qatar, the team’s commercial partners will not take part in official activities there, and its two jersey sponsors will allow training kit to carry critical messages.

In Norway, whose qualification bid fell apart when its best player Erling Braut Haaland missed games through injury, the issue culminated in June when its federation held a vote on whether to boycott the World Cup.

READ ALSO: Norway’s economic police call for boycott of Qatar World Cup

Delegates ultimately voted against the idea, but an expert committee recommended 26 measures, including the creation of a resource centre for migrant workers and an alert system to detect human rights violations and inform the international community.

Like other teams, Norway’s squad also protested before each match by wearing jerseys or holding banners like the one unfurled during a recent match against Turkey, reading “Fair play for migrant workers”.

But the Nordic countries have not always acted in line with their own campaign.

Last month at a Copenhagen stadium, a Danish fan was ordered to take down his banner criticising the World Cup in Qatar, as FIFA rules prohibit political statements.

And Sweden’s federation recently scratched plans to hold its winter training camp in the emirate as it has done the past two years.

Sweden’s professional clubs had protested against the hypocrisy of holding the camp there while at the same the federation was leading the protests with Nordic counterparts.

The professional clubs wanted to send a “signal”, the chairman of Swedish Professional Football Leagues, Jens Andersson, told AFP.

Individual players have also spoken out. 

Finland’s captain Tim Sparv last week issued a joint appeal with Amnesty demanding that “FIFA must ensure that human rights are respected”, adding: “We are in debt to those people who have worked for years in poor conditions.”

So far, none of FIFA’s 200 other member federations have joined the Nordic campaign.

“Hopefully all these Nordic neighbours of ours and us taking these steps will have an impact on other countries,” Mats Enquist, secretary general of the Swedish Professional Football League, told AFP.

“We need to ensure that all the aspects of football, not just the richest, are really taken care of when we come to a place.”