The first round of Davis Cup play is upon us, and Jared Pine of The Second Serb joins me to preview all 8 ties. In most places around the world it is winter, so many of these ties are being held indoor. Let’s break down the lineups and analyze the match-ups for each.
United States of America vs Great Britain
Location: Petko Park. San Diego, California, USA
Jared: This is one of the most historic rivalries in Davis Cup history. The first ever Davis Cup Title was determined between USA and the UK, when the Americans won 3-0 in Boston. Since then, 14 other Davis Cup finals have been between these two teams. Now, the countries meet again for the first time since 1999 and just the fourth time on clay. The last time Great Britain won the matchup was in 1935 on Centre Court at Wimbledon. USA is currently on a four-tie winning streak against the Brits, pushing the all-time head-to-head record to 10-7 in favor of USA.
The UK earned its spot in the World Group thanks to a gutsy performance by Andy Murray, who won both of his singles matches and paired with Colin Fleming for the win in doubles while battling a back injury. Fleming and Murray will be joined by 18-year old Kyle Edmund, who has won four futures titles on clay and is making his Davis Cup debut, and James Ward, who came up through qualifying to win a clay court challenger in Florida back in 2009. USA is led by the world No. 1 doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan. For singles, the Americans have John Isner and Sam Querrey, who are both well established players on the ATP World Tour.
Although defending Wimbledon champion Murray considers clay his worst surface, the world No. 6 is still the favorite to win both of his singles rubbers. The crucial match of the tie will be Saturday’s doubles rubber. Fleming boasts an 8-1 record in doubles at Davis Cup matches and won the only time he partnered with Murray. The defending Roland Garros Champion pairing of the Bryans is 20-4 in Davis Cup play, including a perfect 10-0 on clay. The doubles and No. 2 singles rubbers will determine who wins the tie. The Americans need both to advance to the quarterfinals.
United States 3-2
Switzerland vs Serbia
Location: Nopens Sport Centre, Novi Sad, Serbia
Joey: News came out today that Roger Federer will play in Novi Sad, only his second time playing a first round tie since 2004. That other time was in 2012 when the swiss faced the USA, and things didn’t go so well for Roger. However this time around things look much, much better. Novak Djokovic is not playing, neither is Janko Tipsarevic, and Viktor Troicki is still under suspension. So that leaves the Serbian number 1 spot to Dusan Lajovic,(ATP 102) who played his first tie last year. The second singles spot is between Filip Krajinovic(ATP 237) and Ilija Bozoljac(ATP 268). My guess would be Bozoljac gets the call because he’s the more experience of the two, however both of these guys have little to no shot against the Swiss duo of Wawrinka and Federer. For the first time in his career, Federer will play at the number 2 singles position, and rightfully so with the form Stan showed in Australia. The tie is being played on an indoor hard court, so while that might not favor Stan all that much, it certainly favors Federer. The only chance Serbia has in this one is to get the home crowd absolutely nuts and hope that Stan or Roger have historically bad days.
France vs Australia
Location: Vendéspace, La Roche sur Yon, France
Jared: This is a matchup that historically has heavily favored Australia, but this year, France has brought its best crop of players to the first round tie. France’s lineup features top 10 singles players Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. They are backed up by former world No. 7 Gael Monfils, who hasn’t lost a match to anyone other than Rafael Nadal yet this year. For doubles, France has Julien Benneteau, who ranks 29th in the world despite being primarily a singles player at tournaments where ranking points are on the line. The home team is positioning itself as one of the favorites to win the Davis Cup this season. Meanwhile, Australia is led by Lleyton Hewitt, who is arguably the best active Davis Cup player in the world. However, it is going to take more than a 32-year old Hewitt to stop France. Kyrgios and Kokkinakis will be fun to watch, but don’t have the maturity in their games to seriously threaten the talented French.
Germany vs Spain
Location: Fraport Arena, Frankfurt, Germany
Joey: Potentially the most evenly matched tie, with Spain’s top 3 players(Nadal, Ferrer, Almagro) all sitting out. I found it intriguing that Germany decided to play on an indoor Rebound Ace surface. Rebound Ace is known to be pretty slow, and that could work out in their favor when they compete against the likes of Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco. Also on the Spanish roster in Roberto Bautista Agut, who had a very impressive run down under, taking out Delpo and Paire before falling in the round of 16. However it’s likely that Verdasco and Lopez will play singles due to their far superior experience. The German team is pretty stacked, with Tommy Haas, Phillip Kohlschreiber, Florian Mayer and Daniel Brands rounding out their lineup. However both Haas Kohlschreiber are coming off slight injuries in Australia, so we’ll see how their health holds up over the weekend. I think this one could come down to doubles, where David Marrero and Verdasco are by far the best team. It’s in Germany, and this is extremely tough to pick. Toss Up?
Czech Republic vs Netherlands
Location: Cez Arena, Ostrava, Czech Republic
Jared: Two-time defending champion Czech Republic will be the heavy favorite in this tie. The Czechs will rely on their duo of Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek to win each of the first three rubbers before Sunday. The pair has a combined 21-8 record in Davis Cup rubbers on hard courts. The pair are equally good in doubles with a 14-1 record as a team. The odds are definitely stacked against the Netherlands. Even if Robin Haase or Igor Sijsling manage to pull off an upset, the Czechs can send Berdych and Stepanek both back out on Sunday. Both players proved again in the 2013 Davis Cup final that they are capable of playing best-of-five matches on three consecutive days. Add the fact that the tie is being played in the Czech Republic, and we have a winner.
Czech Republic 3-0
Argentina vs Italy
Location: Patinodromo Municipal ¨Adalberto Lugea¨, Mar del Plata, Argentina
Joey: Argentina has been somewhat of a DC powerhouse lately, reaching the quarterfinals or better every year since returning to the top flight in 2002. Juan Martin Del Potro is not playing as he gets treatment for his left wrist, but Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq are still a pretty formidable team, especially on the Clay in Argentina. The Italian pairing of Fognini and Seppi are potentially very solid, but you never really know what to expect with Fabio. It’s going to be a serious grind no matter what, because the clay is the preferred surface for all 4 of these players. This definitely could be the longest tie, with extended points and constant grunting. Doubles…uhh..nobody on either team is very good, but I’ll give the slight advantage to the Argentines because they’re at home. I usually get burned my picking Fognini, but from what I’ve seen in the past, he usually shows up to play in DC. Still, two serious grinders in Berlocq and Monaco will feed off the home crowd and pull this one out.
Kazakhstan vs Belgium
Location: National Tennis Centre, Astana, Kazakhstan
Jared: It has been three years since Kazakhstan pulled off the massive upset of beating the Czech Republic 3-2 in the first round of the World Group in 2011. Kazakhstan won both of the reverse singles rubbers in that tie, which included Andrey Golubev’s win over over Tomas Berdych before Mikhail Kukushkin won the deciding rubber that sent his country to the quarterfinals. Things have changed since then. The Czech Republic have won each of the last two Davis Cup titles, while Kazakhstan has only won a single tie. Belgium hasn’t had much success lately either with the country’s last world group win coming in 2007. The only player returning from that squad will be Olivier Rochus. Belgium will turn to David Goffin and Ruben Bemelmans to counter the duo of Kukushkin and Golubev for Kazakhstan. The experience in Davis Cup for Kazakhstan’s singles players will be key, but nothing is a sure victory in this tie.
Japan vs Canada
Location: Ariake Coliseum, Tokyo, Japan
Joey: Initially this tie looked to be heavily in favor of the Canadians, but with Milos Raonic pulling out and Vasek Pospisil only being fit for doubles, Japan now has the clear edge. Kei Nishikori is far and away the top player now, and he should win both of his singles matches, while Go Soeda is about even with both Frank Dancevic and Peter Polansky. The Canadiens will likely take the doubles point with Nestor/Pospisil being the far superior team, but it will be a major struggle for them to win more than one singles match. I’ve never watched a DC tie held in Japan, so I’m not sure how boisterous the crowd gets, but I imagine that they hold their weight in the loudness department. Best of 5 singles matches really favor Japan, with Dancevic and Polansky not having as much experience and fitness in pressure situations.