The Davis Cup final between the US and Russia gets under way later today in Portland, Oregon. Leading the way for the American team are familiar faces Andy Roddick, James Blake and the Bryan twins, Bob and Mike. The underdog Russians will be without the services of Marat Safin, who ended his season in a month ago, but the squad remains powerful with Nikolay Davydenko, Dmitry Tursunov, Igor Andreev, Mikhail Youhzny and of course head coach Shamil Tarpischev.
I know Roddick takes a lot a heat in the press, on message boards, from fans and even from me, some of it deserving. However, I believe in Roddick and I respect his focus and his ability to win big matches in Davis Cup competition, and that’s why I’ll take the US to bring home the Davis Cup trophy back to America for the first time since 1995, when Pete Sampras won it for the U.S.
The US will also be aided by the Bryan twins who I fully expect to win their doubles match on Saturday, which might even be the clincher depending on how things play out today.
Before the twins, the tie opens 1pm pacific time today (live on Versus TV in the U.S., replay on the Tennis Channel) with Roddick facing Tursunov followed by Blake and Youzhny.
On any other stage Roddick versus Tursunov is a tough matchup to call. The two played a memorable match a year ago in the Davis Cup semis where Dmitry won a five set nailbiter. And pound-for-pound, Dmitry’s the better all-around player. But today I give Roddick the slight edge because he’s at home and he’ll be playing the crowd, strutting his usual stuff and trying to intimidate Tursunov, all of which really shouldn’t faze Dmitry but you never know. Dmitry does reside in northern California so maybe he’ll get some support.
If Roddick drops the opening match, all bets are off on an American victory. In my mind Roddick needs to win both matches for Team US to pull this thing out. Why? Because I just don’t trust Blake in a high stakes showdown such as this. Blake has enjoyed a lot of success in Davis Cup rubbers on Sunday, winning by my count, eight of nine completed matches. Unfortunately for Blake all eight of those wins came in dead rubbers. In fact, Blake’s just 4-7 in live singles matches in his career, defeating Leander Paes, Tommy Robredo, Mario Ancic and Victor Hanescu in matches that count. And lest we forget James isn’t exactly a pillar of strength when under the gun.
Coaching decisions might also play a role in this one. Unlike US captain Patrick McEnroe, who’s only major decision is seemingly who’ll be on the practice team, Tarpischev likes to get hands dirty. He’ll make last minute substitutions, jumble the line-up, change the team uniforms, fly in Yevgeny Kafelnikov to eat any leftovers and even poison opponents when necessary. The guy attacks Davis Cup ties as if they were chess matches.
Already Tarpischev has benched the No. 4 ranked Davydenko in singles, leaving him to partner with Andreev for the doubles slaughter. Smart move? I think so. And if Russia can push to it to a fifth rubber it’s anyone’s guess as to who Tarpischev will tab to face Blake in the finale. Safin? Kafelnikov? Maria Sharapova? Anna Kournikova? Himself? Hell, I’d even fly in Sveta for that one.
But again, I think Roddick will bail this team out, pull out a win over Tursunov Friday and clinch the tie with a victory on Sunday. So I’ll stick with the U.S., which is 5-0 in home Davis Cup finals, to pull it out 4-1.
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