Bicknell calls for clarity over tennis team selection
JAMAICA’S top tennis player Blaise Bicknell is calling for clarity from Tennis Jamaica (TJ) in the selection process for the country’s players for next month’s Group Two Davis Cup tie against host Lebanon.
Bicknell has accused TJ of being “biased” with its selection of the team after Daniel Azar, the son of TJ President John Azar, was given an automatic spot on the Davis Cup team without taking part in the recently held National Trials at Eric Bell Tennis Centre in Kingston.
However, the TJ boss has insisted that the selection of the team was done based on established criteria.
The young Azar, currently ranked 1,931 in the world, was a member of Jamaica’s team that defeated Estonia 3-2 in their Davis Cup Group play-offs tie in February of this year at Eric Bell Tennis Centre in Kingston.
Bicknell noted that Daniel has been out of action since April due to injuries and only recently returned to practice, and therefore should not have been included on the team without taking part in the trials.
The 21-year-old Bicknell, who won the country’s first-ever medal at the Central America and Caribbean Games when he copped the bronze in El Salvador last month, said he stands by his position that there is a lack of fairness and transparency in the selection of the team that will represent Jamaica in the Davis Cup tie in September.
“TJ’s criteria for selection of the national team is imperative to follow [so as] to preserve the integrity of the organisation, and to send the right message to attract the best players to represent our country. It is also critical that existing and future players have clearly defined guidelines to prepare and follow,” Bicknell said.
“The challenge I am having is not seeing consistency in the selection process, and at times a contradiction of the criteria for selection. If the objective is to send the best-suited players to represent Jamaica to increase our chances for success, then let us do so,” he said.
“This is not a direct attack on any one player, but rather the emphasis on the selection process for this Davis Cup being biased when every detail of the national selection criteria is compared for current Jamaican players,” Bicknell stated.
He said that in 2022 John Chin, at age 18, was denied an exemption from Davis Cup trials despite having attained an International Tennis Federation (ITF) Junior ranking of 211 and a 12 UTR, playing Divisional One tennis at a top 20 tennis college in the United States at the time. Bicknell noted written requests for John Chin to members of the TJ board were repeatedly denied, with TJ citing trials as mandatory and necessary for fairness and transparency.
“The question then is: If TJ didn’t think that in the case of John Chin an exemption from trials was deserved, then why is it allowed now in the case of Daniel Azar?” Bicknell questioned.
“Nicholas Gore, who is playing Divisional One men’s college tennis in United States, played in the trials earlier this month and almost tied for first place, was rightfully asked to play trials for this Davis Cup, and played. But how is it justified that Daniel Azar did not have to play when Nicholas Gore has a UTR of 11.64 and Daniel has a UTR of 10.12? Daniel Azar was not required to participate in the trials as he was granted an automatic pass,” he said.
“Surely, one would expect that Gore should have been given the chance to compete against Daniel as well in the trials — especially based on the fact that Daniel has been inactive for months and is still only at 80 per cent, according to his father John Azar,” Bicknell reasoned.
He pointed out that even though the TJ president stated that he has removed himself from the selection of the Davis Cup team because of his son Daniel, he still believes he has an obligation to ensure that the criteria for selection are applied consistently for transparency and protection of the sport, as well as to give Jamaica the strongest opportunity to have the best representation.
However, the senior Azar has reiterated that he has nothing to do with the selection of the Davis Cup team because this was done by the captain, coach and members of the technical committee.
He said that recommendations were put to the seven-member technical committee and they were unanimously accepted by all members and put to the board to be ratified, at which point both himself and his wife — who also serves on the board — recused themselves from anything pertaining to that decision.
“So prior to reaching the board level, 10 individuals — each of the highest integrity to include the Davis Cup Captain Mel Spence, who is also Bicknell’s personal coach — made the same unanimous decision around all players automatically selected,” said John.
“For hopefully the final time I played absolutely no part in the decisions made which were fully in keeping with the unchanged selection criteria document which has been in effect from October 1, 2022,” he said.
“As relating to what Blaise is asking for, again, that is a question for him to clarify. That said, it is clear from what I have been told by all parties who have spoken or met with him, along with correspondence I have seen from him and from those closest to him, that his issues surround Daniel’s selection to the team and the fact that his brother Jacob was not automatically selected as he has been in the past, but instead invited to trials on this occasion,” John said.
In the meantime, Bicknell, who is ranked 526 in the world, has been in excellent form this season. He is set to contest the quarter-finals of an ITF Challenger in Lima, Peru, this afternoon. Bicknell defeated number one seed Juan Oablo Ficovich from Argentina, who is ranked 271 in the world, yesterday.
He said he is very committed to representing his country in the future. “I love my country, and any opportunity to represent my country is an honour,” he said.”I want to win; and I am a winner that strives for excellence, and so my goal is to have the strongest possible team represented at the Davis Cup. My aim is to be a beacon for the sport and contribute to a positive legacy,” Bicknell said.