Gavin Manders relishes Davis Cup return as senior figure
Gavin Manders is confident he still has something to offer to the country after being named to the four-man Bermuda team for the rescheduled Davis Cup Americas Group III qualifying in Panama next month.
Manders is the veteran in the team at the age of 35, but will not be just making up the numbers as he lends his experience to younger team-mates Tariq Simons, 20, who is the Bermuda No 1, Trey Mallory, 19, and newcomer James Finnigan, who turns 23 next month.
The team will be led by coach Ricky Mallory, who is also the national team director for the Bermuda Lawn Tennis Association. Manders, Simons, Trey Mallory and Neil Towlson represented Bermuda at the last Davis Cup in 2019, which was Simons’s first and Mallory’s second appearance. Now Finnigan is set for his debut.
“These guys are the future, Tariq and Trey have really proven themselves to be international level players while James Finnigan has been in college playing some good tennis,” said Manders, who has made 13 Davis Cup appearances since making his debut at age 17.
“James and I are going to be focused on the doubles side, although it’s not like we won’t be ready to play singles if needed. I feel confident, though. This is a bit different role because usually I’m guaranteed to play singles.
“This time I’m more leading the squad in discipline, preparation and intensity, and making sure I’m ready in whatever role Coach Rick needs me.”
Manders runs Manders Tennis Management, coaching developing players such as Simons. “This is what I do, this is my life,” he said.
“I don’t know how many people are still at a level to play and then their top student is the No 1 player as well. I’m still in good-enough shape to be a relevant singles player, but the younger guys are in a lot better shape and in their prime.
“I can focus on the role of doubles which is just as important and then the leadership qualities that I bring to the team. If Trey or Tariq need a break or get injuries, because anything can happen in Davis Cup, I’ll be ready to do whatever is needed.
“This being my fourteenth Davis Cup, I fully understand what it takes to be prepared and be ready on each day. My role is to help Rick in the areas he needs me, to make sure the team is ready every day to go to battle.”
Two of the four players are based overseas, Mallory at the SVB Tennis Centre in Tampa under Belgian director Pascal Collard, while Finnigan is a graduate student at St Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
They will be up against 12 others countries, including Panama, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago and the United States Virgin Islands.
There will be three pools of three and a fourth pool of four. The winners of each pool will advance to a promotion play-off with two spots in the 2022 World Group II Play-offs on the line.
Mallory has been working with a training squad of about 14 players since last summer. “I am very pleased with the final four players selected to represent Bermuda this year,” he said. “James actually represented Bermuda before at junior level.
“He’s an excellent doubles player, and what I like about it is we have a real good chance of clinching doubles ties. We have an outright doubles team in Gavin and James, as James plays a lot of college doubles.”
Mallory noted that teams are not allowed to arrive in Panama more than three days before the start of the tournament because of Covid restrictions.
“Unfortunately, the players did not get to participate last year due to the cancellation of the competition related to Covid,” he said. “The entire team is excited to finally be back playing international competition.”
Michael Wolfe, the president of the BLTA, is excited to see the team return to Davis Cup action after what has been a difficult year for local tennis.
“The BLTA is very pleased for the resumption of this event,” Wolfe said. “It certainly has been a difficult period for everyone, and although the event will be held under strict Covid guidelines, the players are ready for the challenge ahead.”