QArgentina Claims First Ever Davis Cup with Photo Finish Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The Davis Cup final, hosted in Zagreb, was going team Croatia’s way until disaster on Sunday spelled a photo finish comeback for Argentina, as they claimed their first ever Davis Cup 3-2. The Argentinians, led by a rejuvenated and triumphant Juan Martin Del Potro lost a crucial doubles rubber and were a set away from runner-up status early on Sunday, but they won the final five sets of play in the 2016 Davis Cup final to earn a hard fought victory.
In Friday action Croatian stalwart Marin Cilic eased his way past Federico Delbonis in a fifth set. Delbonis fought hard to make it a match after going two sets down, but Cilic was simply too strong on hard courts. Del Potro evened up the tie though with a narrow four set victory over veteran Ivo Karlovic. The Tower of Tandil withered Dr. Ivo’s serve, and avoided tiebreaks in the three sets he won, dropping the only tiebreak played in the match.
Croatia was riding high when Cilic and Ivan Dodig dominated Del Potro and Leonardo Mayer in the doubles, but they were caught staring at the trophy when Cilic went two sets up against Del Potro on Sunday, and from that point the Argentine’s were able to turn everything around. Del Potro got breaks in the final three sets of his match with Cilic, and with his forehand clicking, he set up Delbonis in the decisive fifth rubber.
Delbonis didn’t disappoint, despite losing a tough match on Friday he was steady against Karlovic, who offered little on return, and was off on his own serve, dooming Croatia’s chances. In straight set fashion, Delbonis and his countryman claimed Davis Cup glory on the road. Argentina had made Davis Cup finals in recent history, but captain Daniel Orsanic was the one able to lead them to glory. The last three editions of the Davis Cup have now featured a different champion and next year’s could be no different.
Argentina and Croatia to Face off in 2016 Davis Cup Final Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The 2016 Davis Cup World Group semifinals saw two upsets, as Argentina and Croatia are set to do battle in the DC final after knocking off Great Britain and France in upsets. The World Group playoffs also saw a few upsets. Here is a recap of all of this weekend’s action.
Argentina got a huge boost on Friday from Juan Martin Del Potro, who stunned Andy Murray in a five set war, coming back from 2 sets to 1 down, to get off Argentina to a 1-0 start. Del Potro’s win was essential for Argentina to triumph, and he fended off Murray, and the Glasgow crowd in a thrilling opening rubber.
Guido Pella then followed up Del Potro’s win with a spirited performance to shock the favored Kyle Edmund in four sets. Edmund took the first set, but tailed off from there, and although Pella had a limited track record on hard courts, he didn’t appear fazed by the crowd, or Edmund’s game.
Team GB was on the ropes, but the tie would last into Sunday thanks to the Murray brothers beating Del Potro and Leonardo Mayer in doubles. After a grueling match on Friday, both Murray and Del Po returned to court, which was a bit of a surprise.
Murray got the job done vs. Pella in the 4th rubber, setting up Dan Evans vs. Mayer in the key 5th rubber, as Del Potro was skipped in favor of the fresh veteran Mayer. Evans fought mightily, but once again team GB saw their hopes slip away after taking a 1 set lead. Mayer battled back from a set down, and sent Argentina into the DC final with a spirited performance.
Croatia and France split rubbers on Friday, as was predicted, with Richard Gasquet cruising past Borna Coric, and Marin Cilic defeating the young gun Lucas Pouille in 4 sets.
From there the tie swung in favor of the underdog Croatians. Ivan Dodig and Cilic stunned doubles specialists Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in 4 sets, setting up Cilic to finish the tie off and send his nation into an unexpected DC final on Sunday. Cilic faced Richard Gasquet, who struggled, and the former Grand Slam champion won in straight sets, setting him up for a chance to add Davis Cup champion to his resume.
Lucas Pouille won the dead rubber against Marin Draganja, regardless, Cilic was the hero of the weekend, and will be likely to face off with fellow big hitter and former US Open champion Del Potro in the DC final.
World Group Playoffs
Switzerland d. Uzbekistan 3-2
An undermanned Swiss team pulled off an amazing road upset against Uzbekistan to remain in the world group. Denis Istomin won his pair of rubbers against Antoine Bellier and Henri Laaksonen, but Laaksonen and Bellier won both of their other singles rubbers against Sanjar Fayziev, and Jurabek Karimov respectively. The deciding point turned out to be the doubles, as Laaksonen, the most experienced member of the Swiss team, teamed with Adrian Bossel to beat Farrukh Dustov and Denis Istomin, both of whom have ATP experience. Bellier won a live fifth rubber to send France through, as the unknown Swiss player made a splash this weekend.
David Goffin and Steve Darcis were all team Belgium needed, as they dominated Brazil, dropping just one set in their first two rubbers. Ruben Bemelmans and the unknown Joris De Loore combined to win the deciding doubles point, as they stunned Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares to clinch the tie. Both Thiago Monteiro and Thomaz Bellucci struggled for Brazil as well. Bellucci lost twice, as he fell to De Loore in a dead 4th rubber.
Australia d. Slovakia 3-0
Traveling to Sydney to face a solid Australian team turned into a nightmare for Slovakia, as Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic dominated Andrej Martin, and Jozef Kovalik on Friday. The Slovak team conceded the tie meekly to Sam Groth and John Peers, as they won the doubles point over Martin and Igor Zelenay. The Green and Gold are back in the world group, and look ready to do damage next year.
Canada dominated a weaker Chile team to maintain their spot in the world group. Frank Dancevic and Vasek Pospisil both dropped sets against Christian Garin and Nicolas Jarry in Friday rubbers, but won anyway, and Pospisil teamed with Adil Shamasdin to beat Jarry and Hans Podlipnik-Castillo in a tie clinching doubles match.
Denis Shapovalov made his DC debut as a teenager in a dead 4th rubber, he dispatched Garin, while Dancevic beat Gonzalo Lama in straights to complete the sweep.
Rain delayed the start of Russia vs. Kazakhstan, but it turned into home joy for the Russian fans as Andrey Kuznetsov came up big with a pair of critical wins over Aleksandr Nedovyesov and Mikhail Kukushkin respectively to take the tie. Kukushkin beat Evgeny Donskoy in the second rubber, but Andrey Golubev and Nedovyesov disappointed as they lost to Andrey Rublev and Konstantin Kravchuk in the doubles. The Kazakh’s veterans proved to not be enough.
The Lopez brothers carried Spain as Feliciano Lopez beat Ramkumar Ramanathan, and Marc Lopez teamed with Rafael Nadal to beat Saketh Myneni and Leander Paes in a tie clinching doubles rubber. David Ferrer snuck in an expected 2nd rubber win over Saketh Myneni, and he also beat Ramanathan, while Marc Lopez beat Sumit Nagal in dead rubbers. India put on a good showing, but they had no chance against an ATP quality Spanish team.
Jan-Lennard Struff was the hero for Germany, as his five set win over Kamil Majchrzak, and his three set win over Hubert Hurkacz carried the day for the German team over their Polish neighbors. Florian Mayer also beat Hurkacz, but wins by Majchrzak over Mayer on Sunday, and Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski over Daniel Brands and Daniel Masur in Saturday doubles kept Poland alive. It fell on Struff’s shoulders to get the critical fifth win, and he came through.
Japan d. Ukraine 5-0
Taro Daniel and Yoshihito Nishioka beat Sergiy Stakhovsky and Illya Marchenko right off the bat to put Japan 2-0 up before Kei Nishikori even took the court. Japan saved their #1 to clinch the tie, and with Yuichi Sugita they won the doubles and the tie over Artem Smirnov and Stakhovsky, who continues to struggle.
Daniel and Nisihoka finished out the sweep with dead rubber wins over Smirnov and Danylo Kalenichenko.
2016 Davis Cup World Group Semifinals Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Post US Open, the attention in the tennis world shifts to the Davis Cup as Great Britain battle Argentina in Glasgow, and France travels to Croatia for a home tie for the Croats. The World Group playoffs also take place this weekend, with a host of teams looking to either remain in, or make next year’s World Group. Here is your comprehensive preview.
Juan Martin Del Potro and Argentina have a great chance to upset team GB at home and reach the Davis Cup final, after dispatching the defending champions. The British refuse to give up their title that easily though, and a hard court surface will help their team perform its best.
Andy Murray will lead off against Del Potro, in a match I make him a slight favorite in after Murray won their Olympic gold medal match. Kyle Edmund, coming off a strong showing at the US Open, should defeat dirtballer Guido Pella, and that would put team GB 2-0 up. The Murray brothers, including US Open champion Jamie Murray are in for the doubles as well, opposite Federico Delbonis and Leonardo Mayer. Dan Evans is also on team GB as a reverse.
Team Argentina is a gutsy, working man’s team, but unless Del Potro can win two singles rubbers, and Argentina can snag the doubles, it’s hard to see them winning this tie. Murray+Edmund should be enough to get the Brits into their second straight Davis Cup final. British tennis is on the rise and Great Britain are my pick.
Marin Cilic and Borna Coric are solid players for Croatia, but neither are in great form, and even though they get a home tie, the combined skills of Lucas Pouille and Richard Gasquet make France the favorites. The French doubles team of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut is one of the elite teams in the world, the Croatians counter with the less accomplished Ivan Dodig and Marin Draganja.
Pouille’s strong showing at the US Open bodes well for him, and although Gasquet may be a bit shaky, I don’t see him losing both rubbers, and the French losing the doubles, thus France should will their way to a win.
A Swiss team without US Open champion Wawrinka, and the injured Federer, is more than likely going to go down in defeat to Uzbekistan on clay in Tashkent. The Swiss will fall from the World Group almost certainly, given Antoine Bellier, Henri Laaksonen, Adrien Bossel, and Johan Nikles aren’t even that accomplished on the challenger tour, much less the ATP level. Denis Istomin and Farrukh Dustov are both credible enough for Uzbekistan, and they are joined by young guns Sanjar Fayziev and Jurabek Karimov.
The indoor hard court surface and home venue make Belgium the favorites to stay in the World Group vs. Brazil. Thiago Monteiro and Thomaz Bellucci are a bit more comfortable on clay, although the Brazilians have a great doubles team in the form of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares.
Belgium‘s balanced team features a solid ATP player in the form of David Goffin, and veteran serve and volleyer Steve Darcis. Joris De Loore and Ruben Bemelmans are on hand for doubles. Goffin should get two wins, and I’d favor Darcis over Monteiro, even if Brazil can take the doubles and keep the tie alive.
A grass court in Sydney gives team Australia the edge against Slovakia. Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic are leading the way, with Sam Groth and John Peers in for doubles. Slovakia counters with challenger tour regulars Andrej Martin and Jozef Kovalik, with Martin and Igor Zelenay scheduled for doubles. Tomic, Kyrgios, and Groth all love playing on grass, and they should dominate on this fast surface.
Canada is playing at home in Halifax, and despite not having their strong team, they should still be able to dispatch a Chilean team that prefers clay. Vasek Pospisil leads team Canada, although he’s had a miserable year and could drop a match or two. Frank Dancevic, young gun Denis Shapovalov, and doubles specialist Adil Shamasdin round out the team.
Chile has challenger level players Gonzalo Lama, Christian Garin, Hans Podlipnik-Castillo, and Nicolas Jarry. Garin and Jarry may yet mature into ATP caliber players, but I doubt this will be a week to remember for them given Canada has a well rounded team.
This hard court matchup in Moscow starts out with Russia being slight favorites, but Kazakhstan clearly capable of bridging that gap and winning this tie to remain in the World Group. Russia has a solid pairing of Andrey Kuznetsov and Evgeny Donskoy as their top two, with Konstantin Kravchuk and Andrey Rublev set for doubles.
Kazakhstan counters with veteran Mikhail Kukushkin, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, and Andrey Golubev, with Dmitry Popko in reserve. The Kazak team always plays with great chemistry and heart, but Russia has a stronger team, their players simply need to step up and will out a win.
Rafael Nadal will be the talk of India, as he leads the Spanish armada into New Delhi to face an upstart Indian team. Nadal, David Ferrer, and the Lopez brothers, Marc and Feliciano, make up a loaded Spanish team.
India counters with the improving Ramkumar Ramanathan, and Saketh Myneni, with veteran Leander Paes for doubles. Sumit Nagal is in reserve. Team India has no business winning a single rubber in this tie, and anything less than a sweep for Spain, with their experienced ATP veterans, would be a shock.
A battle of European neighbors on clay in Berlin. J.L Struff and veteran Florian Mayer feature for Germany, alongside Daniel Brands and Daniel Masur for doubles. Poland counters with a weaker team of challenger level players Kamil Majchrzak, Hubert Hurkacz, and a doubles team of Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski.
If Poland had Jerzy Janowicz, they might have a chance here, but even with Germany bringing their B team, they are still stronger at everything except the doubles. A Polish win in doubles would bring this tie into Sunday.
Ukraine travels to Japan, led by their new national #1 Illya Marchenko, who achieved a best ever second week showing at the US Open. Marchenko is joined by Artem Smirnov, and Danylo Kalenichenko, with ATP veteran Sergiy Stakhovsky on the team, but not scheduled to play.
Japan has their top player Kei Nishikori, plus the solid Taro Daniel, Yoshihito Nishioka, and Yuichi Sugita. With Nishikori leading Japan, I’d be shocked to see them lose at home, as Ukraine is missing Stakhovsky and Alexandr Dolgopolov. Japan are clear favorites.
2016 Davis Cup World Group Quarterfinals Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
A busy week of tennis will expand with the Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals, and ties in lower level groups starting tomorrow. Here is your preview with predictions for the final Davis Cup ties before the Olympic games in Rio.
Two recent Davis Cup champions will face off in Belgrade on clay. Serbia has a b-level squad that is anchored by the veteran presence of Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic, while Dusan Lajovic, and Filip Krajinovic, a pair of fringe ATP dirtballers round out their squad. Team GB is unlikely to get the services of Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, although he’s on the squad. Andy’s brother Jamie, Kyle Edmund, and DC hero Dan Evans are on Leon’s Smith team though, as team GB looks to defend their DC title.
Zimonjic and Jamie Murray should cancel each other out as doubles specialists, on clay, Edmund is credible, Evans much less so, having not played on clay in two years, and Lajovic and Krajinovic both have a chance to win the three singles rubbers out of four needed to take the tie on their own. Tipsarevic is a shell of his former self after injuries, and Krajinovic hasn’t played in weeks however, thus team GB has a puncher’s chance, but they will need the doubles rubber. Unless Andy Murray plays, Serbia is the favorite.
Italy vs. Argentina
Home court advantage should be crucial for Italy as they try to win an evenly matched tie against Argentina on clay. Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi are leading the Italian team, with veteran Paolo Lorenzi and Marco Cecchinato also on the squad. Argentina counters with a newly rejuvenated Juan Martin Del Potro, veteran performer Juan Monaco, and younger dirtballers Guido Pella and Federico Delbonis.
This is a tough tie to predict, if Del Potro plays, and plays well, Argentina has a clear advantage. Regardless, Pella, Delbonis, and Monaco are all steady on clay, while Fognini, and Seppi are more erratic in form. Italy could win, but I’m going with the more consistent Argentina.
Czech Republic vs. France
On indoor hard in the Czech Republic, veteran Radek Stepanek leads a Czech squad that also features upward rising Jiri Vesely, big hitter Lukas Rosol, and the challenger level Adam Pavlasek. France counters with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the lead, the world class doubles pairing of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, and rising young gun Lucas Pouille.
Despite playing at home, France has a clear advantage if Tsonga is fit and plays. Pouille may not win a match, but he’s capable of playing well, Mahut and Herbert are perhaps the best doubles team in the world, and the Czech’s don’t have Tomas Berdych to rely on for this tie. Only multiple upsets would prevent France from advancing.
The Pacific Northwest will get a taste of professional tennis on outdoor hard courts as Portland hosts the USA vs. Croatia. Jim Courier opted to go with his usual squad, skipping Wimbledon hero Sam Querrey, and the in-form Steve Johnson. John Isner leads the way, with Jack Sock as the #2 singles player, and the Bryan brothers for doubles. Croatia has most of their best players, with their #1 Marin Cilic leading the way, the young Borna Coric as his #2, and Ivan Dodig and Marin Draganja for doubles.
The Wimbledon quarterfinalist Cilic should prevail in both of his singles matches against Isner and Sock. Isner and Sock aren’t in great form, but will be happy to return to outdoor hard courts. Coric isn’t in great form himself, and I see him losing both singles rubbers, which means this match is likely decided on the Saturday doubles point. The Bryans are in decline, but still a tremendous pairing, and assuming they win, the USA will advance.
Action outside of the World Group
In Americas Group 1, Thomaz Bellucci’s Brazil are favorites against Ecuador and Santiago Giraldo’s Colombia should knock off Chile on the road. In Europe-Africa Group 1, Spain are heavy favorites on the road against Romania as they have ATP regulars Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta, and Feliciano Lopez on their squad. Romania has a great doubles team with Horia Tecau and Florin Mergea, but little else. Veteran former top ATP player Jurgen Melzer is playing for Austria in Ukraine, his team are underdogs against a team led by Sergiy Stakhovsky.
Russia vs. Netherlands should be a close tie in Moscow, young gun Andrey Rublev is playing for Russia, while the Netherlands have fringe ATP veterans Robin Haase and Thiemo De Bakker on their squad. In Europe-Africa Group 2, Jarkko Nieminen is unretiring to help Finland against Denmark.
Andy Murray nearly did it alone for team GB in Birmingham. The British #1 demolished Taro Daniel on Friday, then teamed with his brother Jamie to handle the Japanese doubles team of Yasutaka Uchiyama and Yoshihito Nishioka on Saturday. Kei Nishikori had beaten Dan Evans in a competitive three set contest on Friday to force competitive action on Saturday, but he would need to get past Murray to force a live fifth rubber.
Murray quickly build a two set lead, at which point Nishikori had his back against the wall. Kei forced a fifth set with improved play, but after five breaks of serve in the final set, Murray served the match out to win the tie. The fifth rubber was then canceled as Birmingham native Dan Evans was only needed once. Next for the defending champion Brits is team Serbia on the road.
Serbia d. Kazakhstan 3-2
Serbia had a top 20 doubles player,the world #1 singles player Novak Djokovic, and top 30 player Viktor Troicki on their squad. On paper, they should have swept at Kazakh team playing on the road without a top 50 player. When it came to the actual matches, the result ended up being quite different. Djokovic started the tie with a routine win over challenger veteran Aleksandr Nedovyesov in straight sets, but team leader Mikhail Kukushkin steadied his team and upset Viktor Troicki in straight sets to even the tie at 1-1 on Friday.
Andrey Golubev and Nedovyesov then combined to stun Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic for the biggest win of their career in doubles. Even more shockingly, the Golubev/Nedovyesov tandem got the job done in straight sets, as Djokovic was well off his game.
Facing elimination, Djokovic went up against Kukushkin in an all out war for the first three sets. Kukushkin won the first set in a tiebreak, lost the second set tiebreak, and then came back to win the third set, putting Serbia just a set away from elimination. Djokovic upped his game at that point however, overcoming any injury or rust he may be carrying to win the final two sets 6-3 6-2 and force a live fifth rubber.
Called on for the third time in the tie, Nedovyesov lost in straight sets to Troicki, who shook off his poor showing on Friday to erase any doubts of a Kazakh miracle win. Serbia still has some great players, but they won’t be able to afford to play so poorly against team GB in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, you have to admire the fight and warrior’s heart of the underdog Kazakh team.
Italy d. Switzerland 5-0
On indoor clay, Italy proved too much for a lowly ranked Swiss team. Marco Chiudinelli gave it his all in the opening tie, only to lose in a long fifth set to Paolo Lorenzi, a true dirtballing warrior. Andreas Seppi then finished off Henri Laaksonen in four competitive sets to give Italy a 2-0 lead.
In the final live rubber, Seppi and Simone Bolelli dominated an exhausted Chiudinelli/Laaksonen in straight sets to win the tie. In the dead rubbers, Lorenzi beat Davis Cup débutante Antoine Bellier, and Marco Cecchinato beat Adrien Bossel, both in straight sets. Italy will host Argentina in the quarterfinals.
Argentina d. Poland 3-2 (3-1 on live rubbers)
This tie was live on Sunday, but the Poles simply lacked the talent to defeat Argentina, even with the crowd behind them. The experienced Leonardo Mayer defeated Hubert Hurkacz, and Guido Pella defeated Michal Przysiezny in straight sets on Friday to give Argentina 2-0 lead. Poland then called on their veterans Marcin Matkowski and Lukasz Kubot to keep the tie alive, and they did so, defeating Carlos Berlocq and Renzo Olivo in four sets.
Mayer then defeated Przysiezny from a set down to win the tie, with Hurkacz winning his first Davis Cup rubber over Olivo in a dead fifth rubber. Argentina will travel to Italy for their next tie.
The Caribbean paradise of Guadeloupe saw the French tricolore waved proudly as a loaded French team dominated a weakened Canadian one without dropping a set. Gael Monfils demolished Frank Dancevic, and Gilles Simon outdueled Vasek Pospisil on clay to take a 2-0 lead on Friday. Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga then defeated Pospisil and Philip Bester to win the doubles rubber and capture the tie. Gasquet beat Bester in the dead fourth rubber, and Dancevic retired in the dead fifth rubber. France will next travel to the Czech Republic with a great chance to win the Davis Cup.
An injury to Tomas Berdych resulted in this tie going to a live fifth rubber, but young gun Alexander Zverev was the weak link for team Germany at home. Philipp Kohlschreiber lead the way for Germany, winning an opening fifth set match against Lukas Rosol. Berdych then fired back with a tough five set win over Zverev, who put his heart and soul into the match. Berdych and veteran Radek Stepanek won the doubles in straight sets over Kohlschreiber and veteran Philipp Petzschner.
In the live fourth rubber, Kohlschreiber won the first two sets over Berdych, who then promptly retired with an injury. That thrust Zverev into the spotlight against Rosol, but the big hitting Czech demolished him 6-2 6-3 6-1. Zverev was never really into the match, even though it should have been more competitive. The Czech Republic will host France next.
The unretirement of Lleyton Hewitt wasn’t enough to save Australia on grass against team USA in a battle between two of tennis’ historical giants. John Isner was the hero for team USA as the big server won matches over Sam Groth in straights on Friday, and Bernard Tomic in four sets on Sunday to clinch the tie. Isner had a surprisingly great return game on grass.
Tomic beat Jack Sock in four sets on Friday, and the Bryan Brothers beat John Peers, and Aussie captain Lleyton Hewitt in the doubles tie, though it went five sets, and Hewitt played quite well for a (just) retired player. Despite the leadership of Hewitt, the Australian team had a running spat all weekend about whether young gun Nick Kyrgios was fit enough to play and should have helped his country out. A frustrated Bernard Tomic accused Kyrgios of faking an injury in the match against Isner.
With the result, team USA will host Croatia in the quarterfinals.
Croatia d. Belgium 3-2
The young Borna Coric won a live fifth rubber to send Croatia into the quarterfinals of the World Group, and end the hopes of Belgium to reach the Davis Cup final once more. Coric lost his five set contest with David Goffin on Friday, though he battled to the end from 2 sets to love down. Marin Cilic beat Kimmer Coppejans in straight sets on Friday though to even the tie at 1-1.
Ivan Dodig and Franko Skugor then got the job done for Croatia over Ruben Bemelmans and Goffin. Goffin scored a minor upset over Cilic to force a live fifth rubber. With Bemelmans injured, Coppejans was called on again, and that was when Coric won in straight sets to send Croatia through.
Action outside the World Group
Wins for Ecuador and Chile in Americas Group 1 one set them up for battles with Brazil and Colombia respectively for a spot in the World Group Playoffs. India will face Korea, and China will face Uzbekistan in the final round of Asia’s Group 1. In Europe/Africa Group 1, Romania beat Slovenia, Dominic Thiem and Austria handled Portugal, Russia beat Sweden, and Hungary slipped past Israel. Romania hosts Spain, Ukraine hosts Austria, Russia hosts the Netherlands, and Hungary hosts Slovakia for spots in the World Group playoffs.
In notable Europe/Africa group 2 ties, Bosnia’s Mirza Basic won an 18-16 fourth set tiebreak and went on to lead his nation to a win over Malek Jaziri and Tunisia. Marsel Ilhan won twice to give Turkey a win over Bulgaria in a battle of neighbors in Ankara, Turkey.
Team GB was going to have two chances to advance to the Davis Cup quarterfinals in Sunday singles action, and their leader Andy Murray ensured they only needed one to get the job done. Murray went head to head with the Japanese #1 Kei Nishikori in a nearly five hour thriller in Birmingham, and came away the victory to secure a 3-1 tie victory for team GB.
Andy Murray d. Kei Nishikori7-5 7-6(6) 3-6 4-6 6-3
Murray had won the previous two meetings against Nishikori, and lead the h2h 5-1 overall, thus he was the favorite on home court. He got off to a quick start, breaking for a 3-1 lead, after saving a break point in the opening game of the match. From there he would save another break point to go up 4-1. He was broken for the first time all weekend by Nishikori, who worked himself into the match and eventually got it to 5-5 after saving a set point. However, Murray would convert his third set point of the opening set to take it 7-5.
Nishikori was now firmly in the match at this point however, he broke Murray to open the second set, before being broken back for 2-2. The second set would then go to serve without another break point chance until Kei was serving 5-6, at which point he saved two set points and got it to a tiebreak that he lost 8-6 after having a set point chance.
With team Japan facing elimination from the World Group first round, Nishikori didn’t give an inch, forcing a break point chance at 1-2, and going on to break Murray for 5-3, eventually taking the third set 6-3 without facing a break point. In the fourth set, Murray upped his game and generated two early break point chances in two different games, but Nishikori held on by the skin of his teeth, and broke Murray for a 5-2 lead in two consecutive service games. Murray clearly didn’t want a fifth set, as he broke back and got it to 4-5, but Kei converted his second set point chance to send the match into a decisive fifth set.
The fifth set was a complete circus, featuring five breaks of serve, the fifth and final going to Murray’s benefit. Nishikori broke to open, and was broken twice in a row in his own right to go down 3-1. He didn’t fade though, getting it back to 2-3, before being broken one final time in a long game to go down 4-2. Nishikori fended off two match points on his own serve, but with the crowd at a fever pitch, Murray converted his fourth match point to give team GB victory in the tie.
The fifth rubber between Taro Daniel and Dan Evans was not needed, and was canceled. Team GB will now travel to Serbia and face them in the quarterfinals as they continue the quest to repeat as Davis Cup champions.
A fresh Andy Murray gave team GB an edge in the Saturday doubles tie, and they took advantage, as Andy and his brother Jamie Murray defeated the young Japanese pairing of Yasutaka Uchiyama and Yoshihito Nishioka in the Saturday Davis Cup doubles tie 6-3 6-2 6-4 in just under 2 hours.
The experienced Murray pairing was comfortable from the start, with a raucous Birmingham crowd behind them. Uchiyama/Nishioka held their mettle until 3-4 serving in the opening set, where they were broken, and lost the next game to surrender the opening set. The Murray boys then took firm control of the match momentum, striking quickly to break in the opening game of set 2 on their second break point chance, and holding serve from there, adding another break along the way to take the second set 6-2.
The Japanese pairing gathered themselves and played tough in the third set, but they couldn’t generate any break point chances against the British pairing the entire match, and the third set was no different. Under intense pressure in their final two service games of the match, they were finally broken for 5-4, and the British pairing would serve the match out at love in the next game for 6-4.
The win was the fourth in a row for Andy and Jamie in Davis Cup play, dating back to last year The Murray brothers are likely to end up representing team GB in Men’s doubles at the Rio Olympic games. Doubles specialist Dominic Inglot ended up being held in reserve, but GB captain Leon Smith said that didn’t bother him, stating in the post-match press conference.
“As usual it was professional, the decision on the doubles has been talked about in the team before the tie and all the rest of the weekend. Dom knows the situation and understands it. He respects both Andy and Jamie (both ranked #2) and respects the decision. Dom always prepares as if he will be playing and came out and practiced this morning with the team.”
Today it will be Andy Murray against Kei Nishikori with a possibility of clinching the tie. If needed, Dan Evans will go up opposite Taro Daniel. Murray and Nishikori both posted wins on Friday without dropping a set, though Evans put up a tougher fight than Daniel. Japan would have to pull off a shock to end up winning the tie.
Team GB is defending their 2015 Davis Cup title at home in their opening tie against Japan. New father Andy Murray led them off in the opening rubber against Taro Daniel, a young Japanese player who trained in Spain.
Andy Murray d. Taro Daniel 6-1 6-3 6-1
Murray, an experienced top 5 player, looked at ease from the start, while Daniel wasn’t very comfortable on the hard court surface. Unlike most Japanese players, he much prefers clay. Daniel was broken in his first two service games, and wasn’t competitive in rallies against Murray until the fourth game of the match. Daniel would save a break point/set point chance to grab a hold finally, but Murray then held from 0-30 down to take the first set 6-1.
Daniel couldn’t compete from the baseline against Murray, and struggled mightily when trying to play more aggressively. Feeling the pressure midway in set 2, he double faulted to get broken, and went 4-3 down. Murray would then break Daniel once more to take the second set 6-3 and take full control of the match.
Set three saw an overwhelmed Daniel get broken to go down 2-0, and Murray would go on to save a break point and take a 4-1 lead. Eventually capping off the opening rubber 6-1. Murray not only gave team GB a lead at the start, he also kept the match at a very short hour and a half, meaning that he’ll be fresh for a potential doubles rubber tomorrow, and another match on Sunday against Kei Nishikori.
Daniel has a lot to improve and work on if he’s going to compete with the likes of Murray in big matches, he generated very little in the way of break point chances.
Kei Nishikori d. Dan Evans 6-3 7-5 7-6(3)
Team Japan needed their own superstar, Kei Nishikori, to even the tie and give the away team confidence heading into the weekend matches. With the pressure on, Nishikori stepped up for his country and got the job done. Dan Evans is ranked well outside of the top 100, but he’s beaten Nishikori before, and with the home fans behind him, we he wasn’t overwhelmed to face the Japanese #1. The 25 year old got the call over an injured Kyle Edmund, and he has reached one challenger final on the season.
Evans had a tough hold in the opening game of the match, but then went on to take it smoothly to 2-2. Nishikori came alive at that point, breaking for a 3-2 lead. Evans fought back to get it back to 3-3, after taking his third break point chance, but then he peppered double faults in the next game and ended up going 5-3 down. Evans fought hard to keep the opening set alive, Nishikori had four set point chances before he finally broke due to tremendous ground strokes and speed from the baseline.
In set 2 Evans had to fend off more break point chances at 1-2, and generated his own trio of break point chances at 3-3. Neither player could generate a break until late in the set though, as both had steadied their games and focus. Nishikori struggled to step up in the key moments of set two, but Evans double faulted serving 5-6, as Kei won his third set point chance of the set without hitting a return.
Rather than going into a defeated mindset, the third set was the toughest battle of all, and the most entertaining tennis of day 1. Nishikori saved two break points in his opening service game of the third set, and then Evans was broken. He broke back right away however, as Nishikori was smacking errors. Kei would then be broken again the next time he served, but Evans couldn’t maintain his newfound lead in the set, saving two break points, before losing the third.
Nishikori lost his third service game in a row at 3-3, but once against Evans couldn’t maintain his advantage when given the opportunity. Both players steadied their nerves on serve to get it to a third set tiebreak, Evans needing to save a match point in the process. Nishikori would then reel off three straight points from 4-3 in that tiebreak to capture the match and conclude the day of tennis with the tie knotted at 1-1.
For a straight set match, Evans put his heart and soul into it, and he could be called on again against Taro Daniel if the tie comes down to that.
Looking ahead to Saturday, Dominic Inglot and Andy’s brother Jamie Murray are still scheduled for the doubles against Yasutaka Uchiyama, and Yoshihito Nishioka. Andy Murray is more likely to take part in the doubles with Jamie however. Murray stated “I’d love to play the doubles if my body pulls up ok tonight”. A Murray brothers pairing would make Team GB the clear favorite for the rest of the tie, as the doubles rubber could prove decisive. Look for coverage of the doubles tie on Tennis Atlantic tomorrow!
2016 Davis Cup World Group First Round Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The 2016 Davis Cup will kickoff with the first round of the World Group and a host of ties at levels below the world group as many of the top players in men’s tennis will be donning the national uniform and representing their country in an Olympic year. Here is a look at the World Group matchups.
The defending champion Brits take on a rising Japan, in a tie that Tennis Atlantic is proud to have credentialed coverage from. Andy Murray will be in action for team GB, and the decisive match is likely to take place in the 4th rubber between Murray and Kei Nishikori. Dan Evans is GB’s #2, with Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot available for doubles. Japan counters with Taro Daniel as their singles #2, and has Yoshihito Nishioka, and Yasutaka Uchiyama scheduled for doubles, though Nishioka can also play singles.
Given the indoor hard court surface, with GB hosting, they should be the favorite. Murray is 4-1 against Nishikori, and Evans likely has a slight edge on indoor hard against Daniel, who prefers clay. Team GB also has a stronger doubles team.
With world #1 Novak Djokovic participating after an eye infection forced him out of ATP Dubai, team Serbia are heavy favorites against Kazakhstan at home in Belgrade on indoor hard court. Djokovic is joined by Viktor Troicki, one of the strongest players on tour this year, with Filip Krajinovic as a reserve player, and Nenad Zimonjic as the doubles specialist.
Kazakhstan has Mikhail Kukushkin, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, and Andrey Golubev, with Dmitry Popko in reserve. None of the Kazakh players are stronger than fringe ATP regulars, and it would take a miracle, or an injury, for Serbia to lose this tie.
Indoor red clay is the surface as Italy plays host to a Swiss team that lacks a top 100 player. Andreas Seppi, Paolo Lorenzi, Simone Bolelli, and Marco Cecchinato get the call for Italy, with Lorenzi having a good year on clay, and Seppi and Bolelli ATP regulars.
Switzerland has a veteran presence in the form of Marco Chiudinelli, along with Henri Laaksonen, and Adrian Bossel. Just like in the previous tie, it would be a shock if Italy even lost a match in this tie given the mismatch between the players. If the Swiss had Federer and Wawrinka, things would be quite different.
19 year old Hubert Hurkacz will have a heavy weight on his shoulders as he makes his Davis Cup debut at home on indoor hard courts for Poland. Former top 100 veteran Michal Przysiezny, now a challenger level player, joins him, with veterans Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski set for doubles.
Argentina is disadvantaged greatly by the surface, but has a more accomplished team with Guido Pella, Leonardo Mayer, veteran Carlos Berlocq, and Renzo Olivo. Given Hurkacz has never played an ATP match, Przysiezny is playing for the first time this year, and Mayer is a decent hard court player, Argentina should win rather comfortably.
This tie is played on French soil but it’s practically on a neutral site given it’s in the Caribbean on outdoor clay. France should have an advantage if they can stay healthy and focused. Veterans Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga form their team, while Canada is missing Milos Raonic, and Daniel Nestor. Frank Dancevic is now leading off in singles, with Vasek Pospisil, and Philip Bester also scheduled to play. They also subbed in Adil Shamasdin for doubles.
Pospisil is the only ATP caliber player on the Canadian team, while the French have any combination of four solid clay court stars. This tie could well be over in three rubbers.
Indoor hard courts in Hanover are the venue as Germany are slight underdogs against the Czech Republic, in one of the most interesting ties of the week. The veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber will lead them off against big hitter Lukas Rosol, and the young gun Alexander Zverev will follow against top 10 player Tomas Berdych.
The exciting Dustin Brown, and veteran Philipp Petzschner are also available for Germany in doubles. The Czechs counter with Jiri Vesely, and Radek Stepanek, with Vesely available for singles and doubles.
Kohlschreiber leads Rosol 4-1 in h2h matches and his form recently has been strong. Berdych is 2-0 against Zverev over the last two seasons, but both matches were competitive on indoor hard courts, Zverev can’t be counted out. The doubles should prove crucial and decide the tie if Berdych wins over Kohlschreiber in the fourth rubber, but if Germany wins the doubles, Zverev is a slight favorite against Rosol in rubber #5.
Home grass courts will give Australia plenty of hope against Team USA, but they are still underdogs as Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis are both out. Bernard Tomic will be leading the way, with the big server Sam Groth joining him, John Peers as a doubles specialist, and the captain Lleyton Hewitt nominating himself as a reserve player if needed. Should Hewitt play, this will be his final Davis Cup tie most likely.
Team USA has John Isner to match Groth’s serves, Jack Sock, and the Bryan Brothers for doubles. Isner has lost three straight matches, but Groth has lost five straight, giving Isner the edge in his first match. Tomic is 0-3 against Sock in the h2h, but has been in better recent form compared to Sock. On grass, Tomic should be the favorite, and Isner is 1-0 in the h2h against Tomic.
The Bryans have an edge in doubles, and Sock also has an edge over Groth, meaning team USA should find a way to win.
Last year’s David Cup finalist have a tough defense on indoor clay against Croatia at home. David Goffin is leading them, and he has a 2-0 h2h record against his first opponent, the young Borna Coric. Marin Cilic will have a big edge over challenger level player Kimmer Coppejans in his first match though, and the veteran performer should grab a win.
After an expected 1-1 opening day, Ivan Dodig and Franko Skugor should have a big edge in doubles over Bemelmans and Arthur De Greef, both challenger level players.
Goffin and Cilic have never played before, though I give Goffin a slight edge on clay to extend the tie, and force Coric to defeat Coppejans. The young gun has proven his mettle thus far in his career though and I expect him to get the job done if needed.
Notable action outside of the World Group
In Europe-Africa Group 1, Marius Copil and Romania take on Blaz Rola and Slovenia on indoor hard courts. Joao Sousa and Gastao Elias are slated to face Dominic Thiem and Austria on indoor hard courts in Portugal.