Davis Cup World Group Semifinal Previews

Posted on September 20, 2005

The Davis Cup World Group semifinals begin Friday, with Argentina at the Slovak Republic, and Russia at Croatia. Here is a look at the four teams vying for the final, with Russia the only team of the four to raise the Cup (only once) in the Open Era:

Argentina at Slovak Republic
Sibamac Arena National Tennis Centre, Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Surface: Hard (Premier) indoors
Ball: Dunlop Fort Duck

The Slovaks take the Argentines off their favored clay, but the quick indoor hardcourts won't faze former Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian, who will likely be backed up in singles by the equally-comfortable Guillermo Coria, with their other fastcourt weapon Guillermo Canas serving a two-year drug ban.

Slovak captain Miloslav Mecir will go with Dominik "The Dominator" Hrbaty, and probably Karol Beck who has been getting more quality court time than either Karol Kucera or Michal Mertinak. Hrbaty has not been defeated this year in Davis Cup singles in wins over the defending champion Spaniards and the Netherlands as the Slovaks make their first World Group semifinal appearance.

Nalbandian beat Hrbaty resoundingly in their only meeting on clay in 2004, but The Dominator has a 2-2 career mark vs. Coria. Beck beat Nalbandian in their only previous meeting this year at the Masters Series-Canada, and lost in his only meeting with Coria on grass in 2004.

If both Nalbandian and Coria prove fit throughout the weekend, not all the cheering in Bratislava can keep the Argentines from moving through to the final in what on paper will be a tightly-contested tie.

Russia at Croatia
Dvorana SC Gripe, Split, Croatia
Surface: Carpet (Greenset) indoors
Ball: Pro Penn ATP

Ever since upsetting the U.S. "Dream Team" of Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi in the opening round, the Croats have had their eyes on the prize, something that couldn't be accomplished even during the heady days of Goran Ivanisevic -- a Davis Cup title for Croatia.

Without Marat Safin, sidelined with a bum knee, the Dvorana will be rockin' as the Croatian fans attempt to cheer the twosome of Ivan Ljubicic and Mario "Baby Goran" Ancic into the final.

Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev will likely draw on Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny in the singles, though Igor Andreev and Dmitry Tursunov are capable substitutes, with Tursunov looking to make his Davis Cup debut.

The final will hinge on the play of Ljubicic, who was unstoppable during the first two months of the year, reaching four finals before almost single-handedly knocking the U.S. out in the first round of Cup play. But since then the dome-topped Croat has failed to reach a single quarterfinal in almost seven months, and will be putting his streak of nine singles and doubles Davis Cup wins dating to February 2004 on the line.

Ljubicic has lost both his career meetings with Davydenko, and beat Youzhny in their only career meeting last year on clay in three sets. Ancic on the other hand, the shakier of the two in singles, is 2-1 career vs. Davydenko and has never faced Youzhny.

Ljubicic will have to find the special sauce that brought him to four tournament finals in January-February to again do the heavy lifting for the streaky Ancic if Croatia is to reach its first Davis Cup final.