Steen Kirby, TennisEastCoast.com
The stars of men’s tennis, along with some of the lesser known players, will put on the national colors once again. The opening round of the Davis Cup begins its 2013 edition this weekend. Here is a preview of all the world group weekend action.
Canada vs. Spain
The defending finalists and normally DC dominant Spanish will have a much weaker armada and will have to head to Vancouver to take on a strong-looking Canuck team in a tie ripe for a surprise. The Spanish had Nicolas Almagro withdraw from the tie this week, replaced by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. He will be complemented by Marcel Granollers, Albert Ramos and doubles specialist Marc Lopez, with the M&M’s Granollers and Lopez forming the core of the doubles team.
The Canadians counter with AO quarterfinalist Milos Raonic (who was nursing a bit of an injury from AO but should be ready to go), Vasek Pospisil (who hasn’t played any since last year and withdrew from a couple of January events), Frank Dancevic, (who made the quarters of the competitive Heilbronn Challenger, an event also on indoor hard courts), and doubles specialist Daniel Nestor.
The Spanish still have the rankings advantage, but the Canadians get home court advantage and home surface advantage on indoor hard. Ramos is slumping, and Pospisil hasn’t played. Seriously, this tie could come down to the doubles rubber.
The Pick: Spain
Italy vs. Croatia
Italy gets home advantage on indoor clay in Turin as AO 4th rounder Andreas Seppi, along with Fabio Fognini, Paolo Lorenzi and Simone Bolelli, all top 80 players, will take on the Croats. Croatia is led by Marin Cilic and his teammates Ivan Dodig, Antonio Veic and Mate Pavic.
Italy will have not only home advantage, but also performance advantage as all of their players are solid consistent clay courters and Seppi just beat Cilic in Melbourne. Ivan Dodig may grab a rubber, but otherwise things don’t look good for Croatia, who have two players ranked outside the top 130 on their squad.
The Pick: Italy
Belgium vs. Serbia
This will be a tie worth watching as the young David Goffin and his teammates Steve Darcis, Ruben Bemelmans and the veteran Olivier Rochus have home court advantage on the red clay of Charleroi, Belgium. They will take on the dominant Novak Djokovic, and the solid Serbian supporting cast of Viktor Troicki and doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic. Janko Tipsarevic has withdrawn.
Rochus and Goffin also enjoy spending time on the golf course.
Belgium coach Johan Van Herck will have his work cut out for him as there are few weaknesses in this Serbian side and the Belgians may struggle to win a rubber in this tie. A big advantage goes to Serbia.
The Pick: Serbia
USA vs. Brazil
On indoor hard at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, the red, white and blue are lead by a hopefully fresh John Isner, Sam Querrey and the AO champion Bryan Brothers. Team USA will face a tough tie against the flamboyant Brazilians who are lead by top 35 player Thomaz Bellucci along with Thiago Alves and the doubles team of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares, who are accomplished in their own right.
The Americans still look to have the advantage here, especially because of surface, assuming that Isner’s knee is ok. As long as they win the doubles rubber, Querrey and Isner should be counted on to grab the rubbers needed and advance the USA to the next round.
The Pick: USA
France vs. Israel
On indoor hard in Rouen, France, Les Bleus, headed by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet along with Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra will take on Israel, led by the veteran Dudi Sela. Alongside him will be doubles specialists Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram. The other core of the Israeli team, Amir Weintraub, is dealing with a leg infection and may or may not play. His replacement would be an unranked player. This is a big blow to the Israeli team.
This is a very lopsided tie as the French are stacked with two top 20 and three top 40 singles players, while the Israelis don’t have either singles player ranked in the top 110. On a side note, the French are now coached by former pro Arnaud Clement.
The Pick: France
Argentina vs. Germany
In a rematch of last year’s DC tie, Argentina will look to advance on the home clay of the Parque Roca in Buenos Aires over Germany. The Argentines are lead by Juan Monaco along with Horacio Zeballos, Carlos Berlocq and the old DC grinder David Nalbandian. Germany counters with Phillip Kohlschreiber, Florian Mayer, Tobias Kamke and doubles specialist Christopher Kas. Both sides have different squads compared to last year and the Argentines will most notably be missing Juan Martin Del Potro.
This tie could go either way, as Monaco is not in the greatest form and Nalbandian has not played since last August. Meanwhile, Berlocq and Zeballos will be adjusting to the change in surface.
Kohlschreiber is solid on all surfaces for Germany, while Mayer is usually competitive on clay and Kamke can be inconsistent. I have a feeling Germany will get revenge here.
The Pick: Germany
Austria vs. Kazakhstan
At the national tennis center in Astana on red clay, Kazakhstan will seek to advance to the next round of the DC world group with a team that consists of Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Evgeny Korolev and Yuriy Schukin. Austria will counter with the reliable Jurgen Melzer, a struggling Andreas Haider-Maurer, Julian Knowle and doubles specialist Alexander Peya.
Both teams have reasonable shots to win this tie, as both are made up of basically challenger level players who have done better in the past, excluding the ATP level Melzer and Peya. It really comes down to which team is more motivated and shows up, but because the Kazaks have the home advantage, I will give them the slight edge.
The Pick: Kazakhstan
Switzerland vs. Czech Republic
The Swiss are lead by the now memorable Stan Wawrinka, with Marco Chiudinelli, Michael Lammer and Henri Laaksonen behind him. They’ll take on defending DC champs Czech Republic on indoor hard in Geneva.
The Czechs have the same core team of Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol back, while Radek Stepanek had to pull out with a back injury and has been replaced by Ivo Minar. Also returning are Jiri Vesely and coach Jaroslav Navratil. Though they are away from home for this tie they will still have a slight edge, Wawrinka aside, look for them to stay in the hunt to repeat.
The Pick: Czech Republic
Notable action outside of the World Group:
Asia/Oceania Group 1: The Aussies, led by Lleyton Hewitt and Matt Ebden, take on Taiwan on hard courts in Taiwan, while the Japanese, with Go Soeda and Tatsuma Ito, get a home tie on hard against Indonesia.
Europe/Africa Group 1: Poland, with Jerzy Janowicz and Lukasz Kubot will take on Grega Zemlja, Aljaz Bedene and marathon man Blaz Kavic of Slovenia in a tie worth checking out on hard courts in Wroclaw, Poland.
Ukraine will finally get the participation of Alexandr Dolgopolov, who seems to have finally resolved his dispute with the Ukrainian tennis federation. He teams up with Sergiy Stakhovsky, and they will take on Slovakia, lead by Martin Klizan and Lukas Lacko on hard courts at home.
Have fun enjoying all the national action!