One of my favorite events of the tennis season is the Davis Cup. Despite its mindless schedule, lack of promotion and occasional complexities, it’s a true jewel of our sport, one that brings umatched tension and drama where players compete not just for themselves but for their country. And that’s a different kind of pressure. With that, it’s time again to pick apart the Davis Cup draw and come up with a winner for the 2011 season.
Last year the Serbs came through led by Novak Djokovic. Before them Spain had conquered back-to-back titles in 2008, 2009. And from looking over the draw I think Team Spain comes up victorious again at the of the season.
The winning Davis Cup team often has at least one star Top 10 player and most importantly a good bit of luck because it’s luck that goes hand-in-hand with injuries and it’s luck that determines home field, and in DC playing at home on the surface on your choosing means everything! And Spain has that in 2011.
Let’s go to the draw.
The first round begins today with eight matches, some of which are easy picks. I like Serbia over India, USA to handle Chile, Spain to walk over Belgium, Argentina to beat Romania, Croatia to knock out Germany and Sweden and Soderling to nudge past Russia in a close one.
That leaves two more ties that I think could go either way. With Tomas Berdych nursing a small quad injury and Radek Stepanek on the sidelines, Kazakhstan could be a legitimate threat with their nice youngsters Andrey Golubev and Mikhail Kukushkin. And if Berdych isn’t healthy I think they’ll pull the upset in the Czech Republic. If Berdych is 100% then I like the home team. So right now I have to lean toward the Czechs because Berdych is playing.
The the other interesting tie this weekend puts France in Austria where they’ll play in “Vienna Airport Hangar 3”. That’s right, in an plane hanger, on clay. That advantage alone should worth a point to Austria! But France we know is among the deepest teams in the field, however they will be without the services of JW Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils. Stll, they’ll bring Gilles Simon and Jeremy Chardy to cover against lefties Jurgen Melzer and an aging Stefan Koubek on the clay. If Melzer gets hot and wins both his matches – very possible – France/Chardy could get tight in the fifth rubber and make a donation, but I do think France scraps through behind Simon and a critical Saturday doubles win.
If all goes as planned in the QFs we’ll see:
Sweden at Serbia
Czech Republic at Argentina
Spain at USA
France at Croatia
As you can see those are some excellent battles in July! From the top, Serbia, provided Djokovic does play, is just too deep for Sweden and will come through and same for Argentina with Del Potro back at full strength. Even though USA has the home field if what could be the biggest home tie in many years, Nadal should win both his matches regardless of surface and I think Ferrer or Verdasco will sneak out a third singles victory to clinch it for Spain. And if healthy (a big if), France just has too much depth for an aging Croatian team.
So in the semifinals:
Serbia at Argentina
France at Spain
Doesn’t it seem like Argentina always plays at home? It does to me and it means bad luck for Serbia who must travel to South America for the semifinals. If Djokovic plays they’ll have a chance, but without him (remember, he will be coming off a long hardcourt season and the US Open), they won’t. Argentina will have Nalbandian and Del Potro with the additional help from Monaco if needed. And even without Delpo, on the clay it’s a tough match and a tough trip for Serbia. So I’ll go with the home team Argentina to advance back to the finals.
In the second semifinal I think Spain and Nadal will overwhelm France. Spain will slow down the red clay in the bull ring of their choosing and behind Rafa and Ferrer dismantle the French putting them back into the finals and in a rematch against Argentina.
Spain beat Argentina in Argentina to win the Cup in 2008. Now Spain plays at home in the finals and even though it’s on red clay (a good surface for Argentina) I can’t see DelPo or Nalbandian, both of whom do match up well against Rafa, winning in that environment. So I like Nadal & Co. to walk away with another Davis Cup title.
For those in the U.S., Davis Cup comes on live via the Tennis Channel at 9am with Roddick v. Massu from Chile. DavisCup.com also has some live streaming option. It doesn’t look free however.
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