2015 Davis Cup World Group Round 1 Preview
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The 2015 Davis Cup World Group begins on Friday and runs through Sunday as the sixteen top teams in the World will battle it out to avoid having to fight against relegation, and, to reach the quarterfinals. There are at least two marquee ties this weekend, and six other intriguing ones, all but one of which take place on indoor hard court. Here is a look at all the action in Davis Cup this weekend, with an exception of one of those marquee ties, Great Britain vs. the USA in Glasgow, which our journalist Joe Craven will be previewing since he has media credentials and will have reports from Glasgow through the weekend.
Czech Republic vs. Australia
Australia, my personal favorites to win the Davis Cup this year, have a great shot at pulling off a road upset, and their case for victory is further advanced by the fact the Czechs lack their usual tandem of Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek to lead their team in the tie. Berdych and Stepanek are filled in for by Lukas Rosol, and Jiri Vesely both of whom have Davis Cup experience, and Jan Mertl and Adam Pavlasek, who aren’t as experienced. Australia has Davis Cup legend Lleyton Hewitt, who is playing his final DC as a player, and will be taking over as their coach next season, leading a young upstart squad that has Bernard Tomic, Sam Groth, and Thanasi Kokkinakis all available to participate. On indoor hard, and home soil, the Czechs do have at least some chance, but Tomic has had a solid season, Hewitt always ups his game for Davis Cup, and Groth’s powerful serve is always dangerous on this surface. Vesely, and Rosol, the two players expected to play singles for the home team, are both carrying four match losing streaks going into this tie, and with form playing a factor, Australia could well blank their opponents, and at minimum should win 3-1. The young Kokkinakis will be serving as the #2 singles player for the Aussies, and should garner much needed experience.
The Pick: Australia
Germany vs. France
France won this matchup last year, this year it’ll be on indoor hard in Frankfurt, and the French should still be favored with a team of Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils, Julien Benneteau (a late addition), and Nicolas Mahut. With Mahut on the team as a doubles specialist. The defending Davis Cup finalists will be up against a German team led by Philipp Kohlschreiber, along with Jan-Lennard Struff, Benjamin Becker and doubles specialist Andre Begemann. With Simon and Monfils in better form than Kohlschreiber and company, 2 singles win are likely assured for team France. That said, the play of Struff, and especially Becker will be key if Germany is to pull an upset, both can rise to the occasion, with Struff having some of his previous best results indoors, and Becker in career best form over the past 8 months or so. I don’t expect it to happen, but the chance is there, and if Kohlschreiber was in better form, the German team would pack a stronger punch and this tie would be more of a battle, but as it stands France should get through something like 3-1 or 3-2.
The Pick: France
Canada vs. Japan
Japan won this tie last year, and Kei Nishikori continues to be the marquee player for them, but Canada should be favored given they will be on home soil in Vancouver, and have a stronger all around team with Milos Raonic joined by Vasek Pospisil, Frank Dancevic, and doubles specialist Daniel Nestor. Outside of Nishikori, Japan doesn’t have another top 80 player with Tatsuma Ito, Go Soeda and Yasutaka Uchiyama making up the rest of their team. Personally I was surprised that Japan didn’t choose at least one of their young guns, Taro Daniel and Yoshihito Nishioka for the team. Raonic-Nishikori will be a quality singles rubber match, and Raonic won their meeting this year in a third set tiebreak in Brisbane, though Nishikori has a long term 4-2 h2h edge in their rivalry. No matter who wins that, Pospisil has to be favored to go 2-0 in singles, and Pospisil-Nestor is a strong doubles pairing, so look for Canada to win 3-2 or 3-1 no matter the efforts of Nishikori.
The Pick: Canada
Serbia vs. Croatia
If Marin Cilic, or even Ivo Karlovic and Ivan Dodig, were able to represent team Croatia, this tie would be much more competitive, but as it stands, the Croats have no top 100 singles players besides the teenager Borna Coric, who is rising, and coming off a run to the semis in Dubai, but lacks experience. Coric’s “B Team” teammates are Mate Delic, Franko Skugor and Marin Draganja with the latter two expected to serve as doubles specialists. Serbia counters with a very strong team led by Novak Djokovic, who is joined by Viktor Troicki, playing his first Davis Cup in a while, having re-entered the worlds top 50 in singles, Filip Krajinovic, who prefers clay, and doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic, a battle tested veteran who helps anchor the team. On indoor hard, and on home soil in this battle of the Balkans, the expected Djokovic-Coric singles rubber should be fun to watch (though it may not even take place as it’s currently scheduled for Sunday), but Serbia overall has to be favored to whitewash their opponents 3-0 (and possibly 5-0) with Troicki and their doubles team both formidable.
The Pick: Serbia
Argentina vs. Brazil
This tie is perhaps the biggest toss-up of the World Group opening round ties, on clay in Buenos Aires, streaky dirtballers will be battling it out, and I expect a lot of 4 and 5 set matches. Argentina has a motley crue of mid tier clay courters with Leonardo Mayer, Federico Delbonis, Diego Sebastian Schwartzman and Carlos Berlocq, with their team having spent quite some time in Buenos Aires on clay, since this DC tie came right on the heels of the ATP 250 clay court event in Buenos Aires (where Berlocq made the semifinals). Brazil has the veteran Thomaz Bellucci, along with Joao Souza for singles and Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares for doubles. All of these players are notably streaky, and this will be a very passionate South American rivalry, with the dedicated fans of both nations assured to be rowdy, channeling the spirit of their battles in football (soccer). Even though Mayer isn’t in great form at the moment, the Argentinian team has more options in regards to Sunday rubbers, and overall slightly better form with Berlocq and Delbonis playing well, along with the home court advantage. I feel that will get through, either 3-1 or 3-2, with Brazil favored to win the doubles (Melo and Soares are a high quality pairing), and the pressure really falling on Bellucci to perform or Souza to pull an upset. I wouldn’t be surprised with a Brazil win but I can’t pick them this weekend.
The Pick: Argentina
Belgium vs. Switzerland
This tie would would be intriguing and star studded if the defending Davis Cup champion Swiss had Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka again donning the national colors of red and white and representing their nation, but instead they will not be in Liege, Belgium this weekend on indoor hard, and journeymen have taken their place as coach Severin Luthi will be doing all he can to inspire his team of Adrian Bossel, Michael Lammer and Henri Laaksonen to pull off a miracle and prevent the Swiss from facing relegation in their next tie. Belgium counters with a strong core of David Goffin and Steve Darcis, one a top 30 player, the other a reliable veteran, and the secondary additions of Ruben Bemelmans, a skilled challenger level player, and Niels Desein. Goffin has an injury and isn’t expected to play, but simply put, even the lowest ranked Belgian player, Desein, is ranked more than 100 spots higher in the ranking than the highest ranked Swiss player, and without form, ability, or experience on the Swiss team, Belgian could well win a blowout victory at home, and I don’t see how they lose this tie. Late breaking news made headlines in this tie, as one of the Swiss players, challenger journeyman Yann Marti, was kicked off of the team a day before the tie by coach Luthi. According to media reports, Marti was outraged that he was not selected to play in one of the opening singles rubbers. It’s shocking to see a player of Marti’s caliber and status (292 in the world), act so put out and entitled about representing his nation in Davis Cup. His decision to abandon his teammates leaves the Swiss team with just 3 players for this tie.
The Pick: Belgium
Italy vs. Kazakhstan
Not to be forgotten this week, Italy will have to travel to Astana, Kazakhstan to battle on indoor hard. They have a much stronger team, as the in-form Andreas Seppi and Simone Bolleli are complimented by the experienced Fabio Fognini and Paolo Lorenzi. Kazakhstan has just two top 100 players, Mikhail Kukushkin and Andrey Golubev, who are expected to carry the load for them, with Aleksandr Nedovyesov and Dmitry Popko as secondary choices. Fognini, and especially Lorenzi, are far from top tier players on indoor hard, but Seppi and Bolelli can both hold their own, and with their great form this season, and a team that has good chemistry and balance, they should win this tie given neither Kukushkin nor Golubev have been in great form as of late. Seppi and Bolelli are playing the singles rubbers so Italy 3-0 or 3-1 is the pick.
The Pick: Italy
Action outside the World Group
Some of the other top players in the world of men’s tennis will be representing their nations outside of the world group in Davis Cup action this weekend. In the Americas region group 1, Pablo Cuevas, who has been in great form on the clay court Golden swing, and his brother Martin Cuevas, a challenger level player, will face off with Santiago Giraldo, Alejandro Gonzalez and Colombia. Though Uruguay has home court advantage, Colombia has a stronger all around team and should advance in their bid to reach the World Group.
In Europe-Africa Group 1, Jerzy Janowicz leads Poland against Ricardas Berankis and Lithuania, The Polish team at home is much stronger all around and should advance. A veteran Austria team led by the Melzer brothers, Jurgen and Gerald, along with Andreas Haider-Maurer and new coach Stefan Koubek, are strong favorites against Sweden. The young gun Elias Ymer leads them, and he will have to perform some heroics if Sweden is to have a chance to get any wins outside of the doubles rubber. Martin Klizan, Lukas Lacko and Slovakia should win at home against Blaz Kavcic and Slovenia. Dudi Sela will need to perform at his best if Israel is to upset Romania on the road, with Romania having Marius Copil for singles and a strong doubles pairing with the top team of Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau.
Diving into group 2, Joao Sousa should assist Portugal in dispatching Morocco, Marsel Ilhan and Turkey are slight favorites at home on indoor hard against a South African team that does not have Kevin Anderson, and a young Chile team should be fun to watch on clay against Peru, as the home fans will get to see Nicolas Jarry, Gonzalo Lama, and most of all Christian Garin of the 1996 generation in action.
Enjoy all the Davis Cup thrills and spills this weekend, a recap of everything will come on Monday!