USA Advances in the Davis Cup Tennis

The USA fan section with the Davis Cup Team (Oliver is back center behind the flag)

It was awesome to have the USA Davis Cup Team play at my home courts here in Tashkent! The Davis Cup Qualifier Draws found Team USA matched up against Uzbekistan. The USA is seeing a resurgence as a tennis power in men’s tennis with 10 players ranked in the Top 50 ATP Rankings. Uzbekistan had a young team and talking to officials with the Uzbek Tennis Federation, they wanted to put up a good fight and not get embarrassed. They accomplished their goal with well-played, close games throughout the four ties. They can also be proud of the organization and cordial reception they gave us as the hosts.

My big takeaways from seeing the professionals up close? All of them have consistent ground strokes and that should be expected considering how much of their lives have been devoted to tennis. I was amazed at how much of their body goes into their serve. All of them bend and coil and then unleash the power behind their swing. I noticed the ball toss is high and quite further in front of them than I thought it would be. It was also cool to see how seriously the US Tennis Association takes the Davis Cup. They have an entire support team behind the five players including a stringer, practice player, coach, logistics, masseuse, etc. Megan Rose, one of the USTA directors, was so helpful in giving us access to the team.

Oliver and I bond over tennis and that was the best part of the whole experience. We attended the second game on Friday and the two matches on Saturday. Owen, Oliver, Nadia, and I play tennis whenever we are together. The USA has a good chance to go all the way. Their doubles team is ranked in the top 10 and with many singles players to choose from, they will be able to adjust to surfaces and match ups in the next rounds.

Family Journal: February 9, 2023

The past two weeks have flown by and we are already in the middle of February. On Monday I enjoyed chaperoning the grade 8 students during the TIS Ski Season. We are taking grades 5 and up for a day of skiing and winter sports at the Amirsoy Resort. I see the value of introducing students to outdoor pursuits to establish a lifetime of physical activity. I was surprised at how many students have never tried skiing or snowboarding. I think skiing and skating should be one of the essential life skills people should learn like riding a bicycle, swimming, etc. I felt like “Super Dad” assisting students in putting on their ski boots, guiding them through the rental process, giving advice on safer stopping, etc. It was a thoroughly rewarding day and being outdoors just lifts my spirits. The mountains of Uzbekistan are breathtaking and it is good to get out of the city and breathe in the fresh winter air.

Morning Sunrise

All the snow and ice melted earlier this week, but it snowed again two days ago. Temperatures are not as cold as the historic cold spell we experienced in January, with the thermometer at -4C (25F) as I write this on Saturday morning. There is a light dusting of snow on the ground and it was uncomfortably cold last night walking the dog. The rest of the month shows lows around freezing and highs in the 40s and low 50s. I am turning into my father, tracking the weather closely in my later years. 🙂 The rain and snow do clear the air pollution but leave the school grounds. a muddy mess.

I asked my oldest son Owen to take some pictures of him snowboarding at Marquette Mountain. Northern Michigan University students get a season discount and like me, the outdoor exercise is good for him between classes.

Owen in the chair lift

I end this post with a photo of the Intercontinental Hotel. The building will be opening in April and it is amazing to me the growth of Tashkent. I see in the news that the President has put a halt on further building projects because of the increased demand on the gas and electrical infrastructure. The aging system needs investment to meet with increased demand from population and economic growth.

Intercontinental Hotel

Davis Cup Tennis Qualifiers 2023

Davis Cup USA Team 2023 and TIS – Training Session

The Davis Cup is the largest international team sport competition. It is the premier team competition in men’s professional tennis and has a long history, dating back to 1900. It is run by the ITF (International Tennis Federation) not the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tour so there has been tension through the years between the two organizations and players about the format and the role of Davis Cup in the extremely busy, modern men’s professional tennis calendar. Because it is not an event on the ATP Tour, no rankings points are awarded and there is not the big prize money of a Grand Slam or Master’s 1000 event. This has caused some of the top players to skip the event and they would prefer to save their energy and focus on improving their ranking points and increasing their prize money.

Oliver and Papa

On the other hand, it gives players the opportunity to be part of a team in a solitary sport. Camaraderie is not usually a part of tennis and watching one of the training sessions this week, I see that they do enjoy each other’s company and being a team. The Davis Cup also brings the sport all over the world, with 155 nations entering teams this year. For many years, every round was formatted as a head-to-head, best-of-five series with one country hosting the series. I loved attending the Davis Cup ties (Davis Cup calls the 5-match series a “tie”) in Belgrade, Serbia while we were living there. Novak Djokovic of course was the main driver of Serbia’s success and I remember watching the team in their run to the 2010 Davis Cup title. Davis Cup ties are also usually louder than regular tennis matches as players and fans alike are more patriotic and enthusiastic during the matches. Nadia and I also attended the Serbia vs. USA tie in March, 2010 in Belgrade. In looking at my blog from our time living in Serbia, we also attended the Federation Cup tie between Russia and Serbia. The Federation Cup is the women’s professional tennis equivalent of the Davis Cup.

USA Doubles Team Talking Strategy in Preparation for Saturday’s Game

The format of the Davis Cup changed in 2019. The idea was to make it into the tennis equivalent of soccer’s World Cup and to get all of the best players to commit to the event. They brought together the top 16 teams and played a round-robin and then knockout format over two weeks at one site. It has not generated the attention of the world like the World Cup. I think the problem is the ATP and WTA also hold team competitions. There is the United Cup in January in Australia, which is a co-ed preparatory tournament for the Australian Open similar to the old Hopman Cup. The Laver Cup is another team event that pits Europe vs. the rest of the world in September in Vancouver. It is also hard to break the Grand Slam Tournament’s hold on the public. When people think tennis, the US Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros and Aussie Open come to mind, not the Davis Cup.

The Davis Cup did maintain a qualifying round in the old format. It is shortened from 3 days to 2 days and the matches are reduced from best-of-five sets to best-of-three sets. I was delighted to learn that Team USA drew Uzbekistan and the tie is taking place at my home club, the Olympic Tennis School here in Tashkent! Wow! Tommy Paul goes from playing Novak Djokovic in the Aussie Open semifinals on ESPN to playing on Uzbekistan television on a court with a seating capacity of around 500 people and an opponent ranked #491.

The United States Tennis Association has been great! USTA director Megan Rose arranged for our students to visit one of the training sessions and found tickets for our community to attend the Saturday matches. Oliver and I have been so pumped to watch the event! This is the appeal of Davis Cup; it brings professional tennis to places that usually don’t host events. It spreads interest in the sport and I think this will benefit the game more than trying to make a World Cup out of it. I hope they go back to the old format.

Family Journal: January 29, 2023

Today, January 31, 2023, marks the first morning since January 10 that temperatures will be above freezing the entire day. The month of January this year was historically cold, with temperatures not observed in Tashkent since the winter of 1968-1969. The secondary roads are finally starting to melt! There has been a thick, patchy layer of ice and snow on many of the smaller roads in Tashkent for weeks. The main roads are clear due to heavy traffic. I am looking forward to having clear pavement to drive and walk on. However, with the melting ice and snow and rain, it will be a mess.

I see more severe weather events coming to Central Asia over the coming years. The region is one of the hardest hit areas by climate change with almost a 2 degrees Celcius rise in the annual average temperature. I got this from a study that I can’t find right now, the researchers saw a 0.28 degrees Celcius rise every decade since 1950. The higher temperatures mean more fluctuations in precipitations with droughts and deluges. We’ve had some strange weather since I’ve been here, including a historic rainy/snowy March 2022 and a massive dust storm in November of 2021.

Uzbekistan is suffering from a natural gas shortage with long lines of cars waiting to refill the tanks that propel their vehicles. I am also starting to notice longer lines for gasoline as well. However, I was saved on Sunday when our local gas station, Mustang, ran out of the lower octane grade fuels. As you can see on the sign below, the Octane-80 and Octane-92 were not available and they only had Octane-95 fuel for sale. The lines disappeared as the vast majority of Uzbeks fill their cars with less expensive gasoline. I was able to pull right up to the pump! At 11,000 UZS per liter, that equates to $3.68 USD per gallon. That is slightly above the $3.50 national average price of gasoline per gallon in the USA this week.

$3.68 per gallon drives customers away – Mirabad District, Tashkent

It was a quiet weekend after our Lunar New Year holiday in the mountains on Monday and Tuesday. Nadia joined a gymnasium so we went there to swim in the outdoor heated pool and get a workout. I shared a sauna with an Uzbek Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter and his posse. I wouldn’t want to mess with those guys. It was nice to see Nadia exercising! We also enjoyed watching Novak Djoković win Major Tournament #22, tieing Raphael Nadal.

Family Journal: Happy Birthday Nadia!

Ocean is helping mom put on the necklace

It was a short work week of three days after the Lunar New Year holiday. It was a special week because of Nadia’s birthday which takes place on Australia Day, January 26. Because we have been living in the northern hemisphere, and temperate climates for the past 15 years, her special day takes place in mid-winter, which is much different than her childhood birthdays in Melbourne and Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We always try to make the birthday person in our family feel like it is their day. It is nice that our birthdays are spread throughout the year, starting with Nadia’s in late January, Oliver’s at the end of April, mine at the end of May, Ocean’s in late September, and Owen’s in mid-December.

Ocean helped me find a necklace

Ocean was a big help in selecting flowers. We went with Nadia’s favorite, tulips from the Tashkent Gullari shop. We then found a beautiful necklace and some mochi treats at a high-end convenience store. She looked beautiful with her necklace! The best part of the day was our traditional restaurant meal. This year we chose Macom Bar. It is Nadia’s favorite and has delicious food and a lively atmosphere of live music. My big takeaway from the night was our children are quickly becoming adults and we have adult-like conversations. I love these family dinners and we always put a priority on humor and laughter which brightens everyone’s spirits.

Oliver and Nicole

Family Journal: Lunar New Year Ski Trip (Jan 23-24, 2023)

Dad and Ocean at the Top

We headed up to our favorite place in Uzbekistan, the Amirsoy Ski Resort to get away for a couple of days. It was the ideal time due to our school having the Lunar New Year off, and the rest of Uzbekistan was working. We stayed in the chalets at the resort and spent Monday and Tuesday skiing (Bill, Oliver, Ocean) and Nadia and Obi hung out at the chalets. It was the perfect break from the city and school and I feel refreshed and ready to go until the Navruz Break in March.

Oliver and Davron after the Russian Banya

I love spending time with the kids outdoors and Nadia enjoys the atmosphere in and around the chalets. There were blue skies and plenty of snow and fresh temperatures. There was hardly anyone on the slopes so it was great skiing with no wait times for the chairlift or gondola. Oliver has surpassed me and spent much of the time with his much faster friends. Ocean is still skiing at my speed and so we did spend the second day together.

A highlight was going to the Red Rock Hammam and Spa. I feel like a new man after the heat of a Russian sauna and ice bath. Oliver was a bit tentative, but he ended up having a relaxing time and is now a fan. It was the perfect end to a cold, hard day of skiing. Thanks to my friend Phillip for inviting us and to the spa master, Davron, for his treatments and patience. I highly recommend doing the spa!

Nadia cooked some delicious meals and the Uzbek “kasha” (porridge) in the mornings set us up for good days of skiing.

Oliver Looking Cool

Family Journal: January 20, 2023

Oliver studying DP Economics

The story of January has been the historic cold temperatures I blogged about last week. The extreme cold temperatures have lessened and Tashkent is slowly coming back to normal winter conditions. It actually got above freezing for a couple of hours in the late afternoon one of the days this week, but temperatures continue to be between -10 to -13 in the evenings and -2 to -3 in the daytime. Next week, temperatures will continue to have lows of -11 to -9 with highs of 0C to 1C. Next Saturday, cloud cover will come to Tashkent and temperatures will move to 4C. I think I am getting old, I am really interested in the weather! We all become our parents! I remember that was the first thing my Dad every morning, look outside the windows in the front and back of the house to check the thermometer posted on the garage and on our front porch. The weather report was mandatory listening on WIKB radio station in Iron River, Michigan. I wonder what he would do today with the weather app on a mobile phone. 🙂 I miss him!

Gutters are frozen solid, causing water to fall from roofs

The snow and ice are staying put until we get some sustained above-freezing temperatures. The gutters at our home are frozen solid and water is dripping down from the roof in the afternoons and freezing. I took the photo above on our back patio. You can also see the sunrise from the front of our house. Sunrise this week is at 7:42 AM so we are getting slowly closer to being able for me to wake up in sunlight. The darkness of winter can be a bit depressing. Tashkent is mostly sunny and with the trees and roads covered with snow and ice, it is better than the usual browns of a Mediterranean climate winter.

Sunrise View from the front bedrooms

The low gas pressure and intermittent electricity levels around the city have brought our family and the school community closer together. Earlier this week we needed to go to the school gym to take “warmish” showers and Oliver and Ocean have been with Nadia and me downstairs in one of the few warmer rooms in the house. We actually got to see Oliver study with his girlfriend. I call it the “studious girlfriend effect” when teenage boys are dating, the girlfriend is usually more mature and focused on academics and the boy follows suit. If she was not over at the house the other night, Oliver would have been in the basement playing FIFA Soccer or the Elden Ring video games.

I love the change of seasons and taking advantage of what each season has to offer. We have a Lunar New Year holiday 4-day weekend and are heading up to the mountains. I watched Peacock’s coverage of the FIS Mens’ Downhill Race from Austria.

FIS Downhill World Championship Coverage on Peacock

Latest Reading: “Victim Without A Face” by Stefan Ahnhem

I enjoy reading crime/thriller novels. Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, I often count the victims or go through the plot or case in a crime novel to calm my mind and drift off to sleep. The new school librarian recommended Swedish crime writer, Stefan Ahnhem and I read the first book of his Fabian Risk series. He is compared to the more famous Scandanavian author, Jo Nesbo.

The basic plot is a serial killer is murdering an entire graduating class of a secondary school in Helsingborg, Sweden about 20 years after they have left school. He is a Hanibal Lector-type villain, arranging intricate methods to slowly kill them. The deaths of the classmate relate to their characteristics from school, for example, one victim had her tongue ripped out because she was known to have a sharp tongue in school. The plot is obviously unrealistic, but it was a page-turner with lots of action. I also liked the detective Fabian Risk. He is one of the stereotypical detectives in fiction, battling family trouble while being a maverick with his investigation methods, always skirting traditional protocols.

Our family spent a week in Helsingborg, Sweden visiting friends 10 years ago (how time flies!) so I could picture the places in the novel. I love the outdoor scenery of Scandanavia as it reminds me of my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It differs in the infrastructure however, with a socialist-democratic government putting more money into public areas (parks, roads, etc.) than in the USA.

My son Oliver on the Kullaberg Peninsula (Helsingborg Sweden – 2013)

The book is not life-changing but it is a good airplane or easy read to unwind. I might check out a later book in the series to follow the development of the detective, Fabian Risk.

Owen, Ocean and Oliver with Oscar & Emma – 2013

Family Journal: January 15, 2023 “Siberia”

The city infrastructure of Tashkent is struggling with this extremely cold weather. Due to the low temperatures, people are using lots of gas and electricity to heat their homes and apartments. The stress on the infrastructure is causing city officials and companies to ration natural gas and electricity use. On my walks and drives around the city, I noticed about half of the city street lights were functioning. Many of the stoplights were also not working. Luckily, there is not much traffic in the city, partly because of the icy road conditions and lack of sales of natural gas to filling stations. Many cars in Uzbekistan use natural gas instead of gasoline because it is cheaper.

In our house, we have about 80% electricity. One of the three input lines is out and that has caused 2 of our air conditioning/heating units to stop working. We also have low gas pressure but we can still cook and take warm showers.

Uzhydromet, the National Weather Service of Uzbekistan, published some historical weather data. A temperature of -19.9 C was officially recorded yesterday, January 13 in the morning. This is the coldest temperature recorded in the past 50 years, topping the 2007-2008 winter low of -17.4 C. The coldest-ever temperature recorded in Tashkent was -29.5 C in 1930 but I would question the accuracy of that measurement from so long ago.

Lots of Traffic Accidents on the Icy Roads in Tashkent

Regarding snow cover, the maximum amount of snow Tashkent received is 54 cm in that terrible winter of 1969. So far this year, Tashkent received 26 cm. For comparison, Marquette, Michigan, home of Northern Michigan University averages 400 cm per winter.

The cold air mass is slowly moving east and is being pushed out by another, slightly warmer air mass coming from the Caspian Sea region. Temperatures will still be below zero C, but not the bitter cold we are experiencing. I think tomorrow is the last day of the severe cold! This cold air mass came from the northwest of far northern Russia and settled into Central Asia. My colleagues in Kyrgystan and Azerbaijan are also experiencing cold temperatures at their schools.

My Morning View at Gate Duty – January 12, 2023

I was hoping to make the news in the photo below of the waiting area for arrivals INSIDE the terminal at the airport. I went to the airport on Saturday morning to collect a teacher and take him to his hotel. Airports in Central Asia make people wait outside the terminal, but because it was so cold, airport officials cordoned off a small section of the terminal to allow people to wait in the warmth of the building. When I was there early Saturday, it was not as crowded as below, but it may be an area to catch a cold and/or flu.

It was also a sad day today as we said goodbye to Owen. He boarded a flight to Istanbul this afternoon and is heading back to university. We will next see him in May, hopefully, when he is done with the semester.

Checking-in Tashkent International Airport

Family Journal: January 10, 2023 “Snowstorm!”

Snowstorm Vignettes

It was quite exciting yesterday due to the arrival of the much-hyped snowstorm and extreme cold temperatures. The rain started Monday evening and it turned to snow in the early morning hours. It continued to snow all day long, finally stopping around 5:00 PM on Tuesday. I measured in my front yard 16.5 centimeters, which is almost 7 inches of snow. That is a lot for Tashkent and the city does not have the plows and quantities of salt or sand to clear most of the roads. We had school and the students had a great time playing in the snow. The one negative was the possibility of large branches falling because of the heavy, wet snow. We safety-taped off areas under the trees to avoid any possible accidents. Two large branches fell during the day with no one being injured. This is the most snow I’ve experienced in my 3 and 1/2 years of living here.

This morning it was -17C which is a bit warmer than the predictions of -21. The weather app on my iPhone is showing lows below -20 all week through Sunday. A concern for officials is the natural gas shortages. I hope our neighborhood and part of the city can maintain electricity service through the many cold days. We canceled school today due to icy roads and we are evaluating how the city is clearing roads and what the traffic patterns are like. Many high school students wanted the snow day, my kids included.

School Park

Whenever we get snow, it reminds me of my childhood and growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I love the white snow and ice-covered roads, the thick snow in the trees and the quiet blanket the snow gives to everything. I loved walking my dog last night and watching people pulling sleighs. Snow brings out the kid in everyone!