Men’s doubles had for long been Denmark’s forte, with the country producing a few top pairs in every generation.
However, recent months showed what Danish fans had feared for a while – that there was no ready backup for the senior players at the end of their career. With the retirements of Mathias Boe, Carsten Mogensen, Mads Pieler Kolding and Mads Conrad Petersen, Denmark were left with only one pair – Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen – in the top 50, a situation unprecedented in recent memory. The situation is in stark contrast to men’s singles, in which Denmark have two players in the top five.
The coach in charge of reviving Denmark’s fortunes in men’s doubles is Jakob Hoi, who was previously head coach of Germany and Great Britain. Part 1 of a two-part interview conducted during the DANISA Denmark Open:
Denmark have had to contend with the retirement of several senior men’s doubles players over the last few months. What does this mean for the team?
They could have chosen to stop their career earlier, but we saw some opportunities going into the Thomas Cup about holding on and building something… the situation is going to change. We shouldn’t be too surprised when someone stops their career. Obviously they’re not all going to be 39 before they stop, no one would even be surprised if someone stops at 32… so we just have to respect that someone had a long and strong career, and that leaves a gap.
That’s true about Boe and Mogensen, and to some degree, Kolding and Conrad… in Denmark we had world champions and good pairs, but Boe and Mogensen were extraordinary. Obviously we feel it (their absence) in daily practice, obviously we feel the overall level is lower.
After the best training (session), the players might be fatigued, but when we evaluate, (the feedback is) we did our best, but we didn’t do world class. That’s a massive change, for culture, for communication, for expectation, for how to be around each other. To try to do everything you can, being happy about the effort, but still signalling that you’re not happy or impressed with the level.
The players are very much aware of this. So as long as the awareness is there, and the demands and asking critical questions… We’ve invited some young guys (to train), two, three or four days a week, and there’s learning from that. The players are ready to understand that it takes more than just a good day.
So, to me, that’s important when you talk men’s doubles in Denmark — building a culture of respect for what is world class compared to where are today… because we are not world class.
With the powerhouse nations, you commonly see senior players being paired with younger partners to enable the junior partner to gain knowledge and benefit from experience. This hasn’t happened with Denmark in recent times – didn’t that create a vacuum when four senior players retired around the same time?
It has been part of the Danish model, but for several reasons, it hasn’t happened because of short-term, medium-term interests.
And it’s also about finding that young guy. Is the change worse than what we have at top level, at that point of time? Because maybe that young guy had a long-term injury. So there are lots of little things. We missed that train, and that hurts, and it’s not that we forgot that option, because it’s a model we believe in, it’s a model that we want to take later, but I would say the last two years we missed that train and I don’t think it’s something any of us is proud or happy about. But we understand the reasons, and so we’re not crying about it.
What are the takeaways from this Denmark Open for your young men’s doubles pairs?
The primary takeaway is that we should just be so happy that this happened. We should be grateful to the organisation that allowed this to happen. Because it’s so easy to say let’s not do it.
From a sporting perspective, this has been a level of men’s doubles at best of a European Championships, but to me, not even (that). So the learning is, what is development, what is performance, what is relative performance… because even the guys standing here today, it hasn’t been top level at all, all week. The whole decision-making around how to play, that’s been a learning, but it’s still just a learning at the European level. Even if you win a quarterfinal, that’s special, but as a coach, I can’t sit back and be too impressed, and I don’t want them to be too impressed.
I’ve heard lots of comments, that this is their breakthrough. No, the breakthrough is when you do this five out of seven tournaments. I’ve seen some good performances, but to me that’s about looking into what the next step should be. You can’t be happy about beating Europe, or each other. We don’t practice to beat each other.
Having said that, you must be happy at the way Rasmus Kjaer and Joel Eipe stepped up.
Yeah, that’s what I see, that is the guys playing against England (semifinal). In the first round against the same English pair (Ellis/Langridge), Daniel Lundgaard and Mathias Thyrri just went in and didn’t give a damn about who’s on the other side, and being that close, they were disappointed. That’s what I appreciate.
If we get cautious, we get slow, we’re just surviving, and no one’s winning.
Is this the core of the Denmark team; are these the guys we will be seeing over the next ten years?
Hopefully. Of the young boys that stepped up for the tournament, they’re not even full time with us. Lasse (Moelhede) just turned full time. Mathias (Thyrri), Daniel Lundgaard, Kjaer, are not even full time. They’re in different stages of the process, finding out if this is their way. Some of them just joined half a year ago, some two years ago… they are in different stages.
Part 2 of the interview to follow