Davis Cup World Group Round 1 Preview
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
Davis Cup 2014 will kickoff at locations around the globe shortly as a fresh season brings some
strong teams and competitive first round matchups in the World Group round of 16.
Here is our preview of all the action.
Czech Republic vs. Netherlands
Defending champions Czech Republic will host the Dutch on indoor hard courts. Led by Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, they will be strong favorites against a Dutch team led by Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling. Rounding out the teams are Jiri Vesely and Lukas Rosol for the Czechs, and Thiemo De Bakker and doubles specialist Jean-Julien Rojer for the Dutch.
Berdych, who comes off the semifinals of the Australian Open, should win both of his singles rubbers, and then the Czechs only need to win the doubles or either of the singles rubbers (likely on the racquet of Stepanek), in order to win the tie. The Dutch have a decent team but not enough starpower to compete, especially with Sijsling and Haase out of form.
The Pick: Czech Republic
Japan vs. Canada
A couple of the newer tennis power countries in the world, Tokyo will be the place and indoor hard courts will be the surface. Japan, led by Kei Nishikori, will face a Canadian team now led by Vasek Pospisil as their top singles player. Milos Raonic had to pull out of the tie because of injury. Rounding out team Japan are the challenger level competitors Go Soeda and Yuichi Sugita, along with Yasutaka Uchiyama.
Team Canada has iron horse Daniel Nestor as their doubles specialist, plus Peter Polansky and Frank Dancevic, a couple of solid experienced competitors who appear to be taking on the responsibility of the 4 singles rubbers.
Pospisil comes off a back injury suffered in Australia, while Nishikori made the round of 16 there and appears to be in excellent form. I expect Kei to win both his singles rubbers against Polansky and Dancevic. It will all come down to the doubles, where Canada likely has the edge with Nestor/Pospisil and the Soeda/Dancevic Soeda/Polansky matches that could very well go either way and will likely decide this tie.
Given the location, I think home court advantage will help Japan get the result it needs, and they should win this tie in close fashion, perhaps 3-2.
The Pick: Japan
Germany vs. Spain
Indoor hard in Frankfurt will give Team Germany a massive chance to upset the Spanish Armada and reach the quarterfinals. They have a strong team made up of Philipp Kohlschreiber, Tommy Haas, Daniel Brands and Florian Mayer. Spain counters with the red hot Roberto Bautista Agut, Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco and doubles specialist David Marrero.
One has to expect RBA, given his excellent form in Melbourne (where he upset Juan Martin Del Potro, and also scored 2 other wins to reach the round of 16), to win both his singles rubbers. He’ll face an out of form Kohlschreiber and an in form Mayer, who is playing well, but probably less skilled on an indoor hard court.
However, Mayer is in superior form to Feliciano Lopez and the Kohlschreiber-Lopez match should be a close one. Peppo has played well in Davis Cup, but Daniel Brands is also a good back up option for the Germans as he is also a good player, especially on the surface.
Lopez also has a positive 3-1 hard court record against Peppo.
The doubles edge goes to Spain with Marrero/Verdasco being such an accomplished team over Brands/Haas. Haas is coming off of injury issues in January. Germany will have a major chance, but RBA winning twice, plus the doubles, and or Lopez getting a singles win, should allow Spain to advance.
The Pick: Spain
France vs. Australia
Probably the most interesting tie, in my opinion, of this World Group first round. Indoor red clay in France will be the location for the star power rich tie of the Tricolor vs the Green and Gold.
Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, both top 10 players, are the trend setters for France against the emerging young star Nick Kyrgios and the wily Davis Cup stalwart Lleyton Hewitt for Australia.
France also has a seemingly healthy and in form Gael Monfils on call and Julien Benneteau to play the doubles, while Australia has Thanasi Kokkinakis, another emerging star on call, and Chris Guccione to play doubles with Hewitt.
Given this is clay, Tsonga and Gasquet (even an out of form Gasquet), should dispatch Hewitt for 2 wins, as would Monfils, and that puts a lot of pressure on Kyrgios. Though he has talent and swagger, and he’s slowly coming into his own with a bright future ahead, I’m not sure it’s generation now quite yet, especially given the surface.
France could sweep this tie if they win the doubles, but every match should be good. It will be a meaningful experience for Kyrgios and also Kokkinakis if he plays, as they are the future anchors of Aussie hopes in the Davis Cup.
The Pick: France
USA vs. Great Britain
Petco Park in San Diego will be the venue for this clay court tie between two of the most legendary tennis playing nations who have fallen on tough times in recent years with their tennis star development. That being said, Team USA still has the legendary Bryan Brothers for doubles, and Great Britain has Andy Murray to lead them out of the gate.
Finishing out the teams are Sam Querrey for the USA, along with Donald Young, who replaces an injured John Isner. For team GB, Colin Fleming the doubles specialist, journeyman James Ward, and the up and coming Kyle Edmund round out the side.
Though the USA went with clay to try and neutralize the best parts of Murray’s game, he still has to be a solid favorite against a seemingly consistent but not red hot Querrey, and in form but less talented Young. Neither of them play that well on clay anyway. Really, none of these players do.
Murray should win both singles rubbers.
The Bryans have to be favored in doubles for the USA over Fleming/Murray though that isn’t a total lock.
Captain Leon Smith has nominated Ward, who has played some good DC matches but is out of form, and generally plays better on faster surfaces, over the less experienced, but better on clay and more talented Edmund for the other two singles rubbers.
Querrey and Young should grab wins, and win this for the USA 3-2 most likely.
The only way I see the result being different is if Smith changes his mind and goes with Edmund for Sunday singles against Young. Team GB could have a chance in that scenario, or if they pull off an upset in the doubles.
Querrey will need to play as he did in the first 2 rounds of the Australian Open, rather than the lethargic performance he put up against Fabio Fognini in round 3, and Young will need to mentally keep it together. All that said, every player will be adjusting surfaces, especially Murray, who is still not 100% back to total performance after his back surgery and has not played on clay in a long while.
The Pick: USA
Argentina vs. Italy
Clay will be the surface in Argentina as they face Italy in an intriguing Davis Cup Tie. Carlos Berlocq and Juan Monaco, both of whom are into clay, but neither of whom are in form at all, will take on Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini of Italy.
Rounding out the teams are Simone Bolelli and Filippo Volandri for Italy, and Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos for Argentina.
Argentina plays exceptionally well at home, but Seppi and Fognini have to be the favorites given their better form against Berlocq and Monaco. That alone would in theory give the Italians the 3 or 4 singles rubbers wins they need, while the doubles is up in the air between Bolelli/Volandri and Schwank/Zeballos, all of whom are out of form and pretty pedestrian.
Argentina may survive but I don’t see it happening, Italy is the favorite.
The Pick: Italy
Kazakhstan vs. Belgium
Astana’s indoor hard courts will play host the Belgian team, as the Kazaks have Andrey Golubev and Mikhail Kukushkin as their top 2 along with Evgeny Korolev/Denis Yevseyev for their doubles pairing against Ruben Bemelmans, David Goffin, Kimmer Coppejans and the veteran Oliver Rochus rounding out team Belgium.
This tie should be close given the middling ranks of all participating players, but I have to give Bemelmans and Goffin a slight edge in singles, though Kukushkin could come through. The Belgians will be favored in the doubles with the rising youngster Coppejans and the veteran Rochus. Golubev qualified for the Australian Open but retired in the first round with an injury, and may not be back into match form.
The Pick: Belgium
Serbia vs. Switzerland
If Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki were competing for Team Serbia, this tie would be quite competitive and star studded. Instead, Serbia has a C team of Dusan Lajovic, Ilija Bozoljac, Filip Krajinovic and the doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic, while Switzerland has their A team of Roger Federer, Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka and also the doubles team of Marco Chiudinelli/Michael Lammer.
With Federer and Wawrinka both in great form (Wawrinka in fact red hot, though he may be slightly fatigued), and Serbia not having a top 100 singles player, outside of the doubles, we could be looking at the home Serbs being swept out of the building on indoor hard by the Swiss.
The mercy rule may need invoking.
The Pick: Switzerland
Notable Action Outside the World Group:
Yuki Bhambri, Somdev Devvarman and India take on Taiwan in Asia-Oceania Group 1 action.
Jerzy Janowicz and Poland face a Russian team led by Dmitry Tursunov and the young Karen Khachanov in Moscow on indoor hard in Europe-Africa Group 1 action.
Joao Sousa and Portugal face Slovenia in EA Group 1 and a Sergiy Stakhovsky led Ukranian team face Victor Hanescu and Romania in the same group.