Davis Cup is again nipping at our heels, and without the gobbledygook, let me jump right into my thoughts on this weekend’s first round showdowns and on the outlook for the remained of 2009.
In my mind, of all the ties this weekend the only one that’s really up for grabs is France at Czech Republic. The match will be played indoors on carpet in Ostrava which I think marginally helps the Czech Republic. But France, led by Gilles Simon and Jo Tsonga, should prevail over Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych on Sunday. Though this one could really go either way.
As for the rest of the ties, Argentina shouldn’t have much trouble defeating the Sjeng Shalken-less Netherlands. No Roger Federer means no problem for Andy Roddick and Co. who will blast through the Swiss. Croatia at Chile is a scary match, but Chile at Croatia means the home team survives. Russia should get through Romania, Sweden avoids the upset against Israel, Germany in a touchy one over visiting Austria and despite the “wind-out” Friday, I like Spain at home beating up on Serbia.
Regarding the last tie, as I mentioned before I hope we do get to see Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic play. And if it does come to pass, my guess is it would come in a rubber-clinching match for Spain who I figure at worst will be up 2-1 entering Monday. In that scenario it’s a near impossible task for Novak. We’ll see.
While Nadal will surely have his way with Janko Tipsarevic on an opening day now rescheduled for Saturday, Djokovic will have to reprise his Dubai win and again beat David Ferrer, this time only on clay in front of a hostile crowd. Certainly possible for the Serb, but regardless Spain’s going to advance in the end here.
After really a relatively bland first round of match-ups, things get much spicier in the quarterfinals. If my predictions come correct (recall I only got one wrong last year, that being the final!), in July we’ll see Argentina visiting France, USA traveling to Croatia, Sweden hosting Russia and Germany journeying to Spain.
From those pairings, I’ll take the French over the Argys. The home crowd benefited Argentina in their final run last year, but now it favors the French. Plus, France is so deep even with injuries, which they will have, there are just too strong with Richard Gasquet, my man Gael Monfils, etc. I also think the U.S. will be in big trouble against Croatia. Just a week or so after the grass of Wimbledon, the match could very well be played on slow red clay and with that I have to give the slight edge to the improving Marin Cilic and a healthy Mario Ancic. Both Croats are faster court players but better on clay than Roddick and James Blake.
In the bottom half, Russia should take care of the reeling Swedes and Spain may struggle but they’ll advance over a tricky Germany team.
So my September semifinals look like France at Croatia and Spain at Russia. Now it gets real tough. The French and Croats are pretty even regardless of surface which my guess will be indoor harcourts. But again, France is just too deep with Tsonga, Simon, Richard Gasquet and they even have a strong doubles pair. I like France.
In the second semifinals it’s hard to pick against Spain. The match would likely be on a fast indoor court with Dmitry Tursunov and perhaps Marat Safin playing in his farewell Davis Cup match – assuming he keeps his word and retires at the end of the year (frankly, I don’t buy that). But I still like Spain regardless of the surface, the situation and the site, especially if Fernando Verdasco continues his improved play.
That leaves my final as France hosting Spain for Davis Cup supremacy in December. Will it be a Spanish repeat or will France reach double digits in Davis Cup titles? Given it’s so far away and there’s just so much tennis yet to be played between now and then, it’s awfully hard to say. The tie will most surely depend on who’s healthy and who isn’t, and by that I mean Nadal.
If Rafa is busted up again come season end, his teammates like Lopez and Verdasco (the French will play this match on an ice rink) aren’t going to do to France what they did to Argentina. Simon and Tsonga are also in my mind tougher outs in crunch time situations than David Nalbandian and Juan Martin Del Potro were last year. And even if Rafa does play, remember Tsonga matches up nicely with him. So I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m picking France to win the ’09 Davis Cup. Let the fun begin.
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