A clay-themed Davis Cup quarterfinal weekend gets underway Friday however many of the big stars are absent. Because of the compacted Olympic calendar season schedule, top names like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have passed up the chance to represent their countries to better prepare for the French Open next month.
The four ties in the crosshairs are Austria at Spain, USA at France, Serbia at Czech Republic and Croatia at Argentina.
Even without Nadal, Spain, armed with Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer on their home soil, shouldn’t have too much trouble with Jurgen Melzer’s one-man Austrian crew.
Croatia is a formidable foe thanks to Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic, but travelling all the way to Argentina where Juan Martin Del Potro, Juan Monaco and David Nalbandian await smacks more of an ambush. Argentine should also advance.
Serbia isn’t just Djokovic anymore. Janko Tipsarevic is a Top 10er and Viktor Troicki is more than capable. The Czechs are also tough with Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek.
“My players were actually born on the clay courts,” said Obradovic, Serbia’s captain. “We’ve practised for four days and before that Janko and Viktor [Troicki] had two days on clay in Serbia so we’ve had the same court time as the Czech team.”
Berdych opens with Troicki tomorrow and that should set the tone. I also like the Czech doubles team as well. In the end of the what is an evenly matched tie, I think the home fans pull the Czechs through in tight affair.
Speaking of tight, that’s one thing the U.S. will have going for it when it travels to Monte Carlo to meet the French on the red clay. If Big John Isner and co. can keep it close and put the pressure of JW Tsonga and Gilles Simon, maybe they can escape with a win. But it’s a longshot.
With Mardy Fish unavailable, Ryan Harrison will make his Davis Cup debut in the opener tomorrow against Tsonga and despite his spunk I don’t think he’s going to get a live rubber win this weekend. That said, if Isner can get to tiebreakers, get the French nervy, he can certainly steal a win, but two against decent competition is asking a lot.
In his last two clay matches Isner nearly beat Nadal at the French Open and he did beat Roger Federer, so regardless of surface the giant is a force and he’s been playing well.
But France won’t make the same mistake with the clay the Swiss made with their uneven surface. And there’s a hint of rain that could further slow the courts down.
“The rule of thumb is pretty simple,” said US captain Jim Courer. “When it’s warmer and dry, the balls are going to bounce higher, they’ll go faster; when it’s damp and cooler, it will be slower.”
Added Harrison, “We’re very prepared. We have a great team, a great coach and captain. I think we’re as prepared as we can be. We’re all confident in ourselves and each other.”
The French also suffered a withdrawal when Gael Monfils couldn’t go. But replacement Simon is a much, much bigger step-up than Harrison.
The Bryans will get their Saturday win but France should win in four.
Tennis Channel has live coverage of the US tie starting at 6am ET Friday.
USA v FRANCE SCHEDULE
R1:Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v Ryan Harrison (USA)
R2: Gilles Simon (FRA) v John Isner (USA)
R3: Julien Benneteau / Michael Llodra (FRA) v Bob Bryan / Mike Bryan (USA)
R4: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v John Isner (USA)
R5: Gilles Simon (FRA) v Ryan Harrison (USA)
SERBIA v CZECH REPUBLIC SCHEDULE
R1: Tomas Berdych (CZE) v Victor Troicki (SRB)
R2: Radek Stepanek (CZE) v Janko Tipsarevic (SRB)
R3: Frantisek Cermak / Lukas Rosol (CZE) v Nenad Zimonjic / Ilija Bozoljac (SRB)
R4: Tomas Berdych (CZE) v Janko Tipsarevic (SRB)
R5: Radek Stepanek (CZE) v Victor Troicki (SRB)
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2014 Davis Cup Draw: USA Hosts Britain, Spain Travels To Germany; Early Predictions