Thursday, March 4, 2010

Davis Cup 2010 First Round Preview

Tomorrow, the 2010 Davis Cup kicks off with all 16 teams in action. That means there will be 32 singles matches in the next three days and 8 doubles matches. Half of the teams in the World Group will be eliminated, while the rest will move on to the quarterfinals. There are some intriguing match-ups here, but with a surprising majority of the top players sidelined, maybe not the matches we would have anticipated when the draw first appeared. For example...

Spain v. Switzerland, in Spain on indoor red clay

Everyone expected this to be a meeting between Nadal and Federer. But neither player is in action this week. That leaves Switzerland with its number two man, Stan Wawrinka, in the lead spot. Thankfully, in the past year, the Swiss number 3 player Marco Chiudinelli has made some noise on the tour, and he may be a force in this tie. Especially considering that the Spaniards are down to their number four player to lead their singles. After Nadal, Verdasco and Ferrero are both out for the weekend as well, leaving David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo as the top two players. Surprisingly, Spain isn't sending out Robredo for the singles, opting instead for Nicolas Almagro. Robredo will be playing doubles, which makes sense. In addition to having the fifth highest-singles ranking, he has the highest doubles ranking among any of his countrymen. He'll be partnering with the second-highest ranked Spaniard in doubles, Marcel Granollers. For the Swiss, Wawrinka will be partnering Yves Allegro.

As Spain is the twice-defending champion of the Davis Cup scene, it's unlikely that they'll lose in the first round, despite missing many of their top players. Wawrinka needs to win both of his singles matches and hope that Chiudinelli can pull of an upset. If I were the Swiss captain, I would actually pull Wawrinka from the doubles and just consider that a lost point, rather than tiring out the team's anchor. Advantage to Spain, definitely.

France v. Germany, in France on indoor hard court

France has its top two players in action this week, which should help their chances immensely against Germany, which is without its Davis Cup stalwart Tommy Haas. The Germans are still fielding their next best options, with Kohlschreiber and Benjamin "Not Boris" Becker. It's going to be tough for them to do much against Tsonga and Monfils, though. Add to that the fact that the French have Llodra and Benneteau for the doubles, who have already won a title this year, and Germany will have a tough road to travel. Christopher Kas is a perfectly competent doubles player, but the French team will have to play well worse than their best for the Germans to have a chance here.

Russia v. India, in Russia on indoor hard court

One of the two stone-cold locks of the first round this year, Russia will never lose to India at home. Even without Safin, even without Davydenko, who withdrew with injury, Russia should have very little trouble. The Russian team is headed by Andreev and Youzhny, who should have no trouble with either Somdev Devvarman or Rohan Bopanna. Russia may lose the doubles point, as Bhupathi and Paes are both top 10 doubles players, but they will need an absolutely stunning performance to win even one singles point, much less two.

Croatia v. Ecuador, in Croatia on indoor hard court

This would be the other lock. Marin Cilic is one of the hottest players on tour at the moment, and Karlovic is deadly on this kind of surface, with no wind to worry about on his toss. And their opponents will be the hard-working but not especially accomplished Lapentti brothers, Nicolas and Giovanni. Tough to pick the Ecuadorians to win more than a point, here.

Sweden v. Argentina, in Sweden on indoor hard court

This one looked like it could have been a rout, with Argentina's best players out of the picture, they were left with Horacio Zeballos and Leonardo Mayer leading the charge. But at the last minute, David Nalbandian rejoined the team. While his health may be an issue, he should at least give the Argentines a chance of escpaing this round and being one of the few possible home-court upsets this weekend. The Swedes have top player Robin Soderling but strangely enough, he's the only Swedish player in the top 100. For Argentina, Zeballos, Schwank, and Mayer are all inside the top 75, and Nalbandian is a former world number 3. If Nalbandian is healthy and able to play, the visiting team has a shot here.

Serbia v. United States of America, in Serbia on indoor clay courts

Tough first round for the Americans, especially without Roddick, Blake, or Mardy Fish. First-timers John Isner and Sam Querrey will face off against Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki. A win by Isner on either day would be an upset, but Querrey is the more experienced and capable clay court player. Unfortunately for the U.S., the doubles point isn't even a sure thing, as the Bryan Brothers will be facing Nenad Zimonjic, currently a part of the best doubles team in the world. If the U.S. can win the doubles, then either Querrey will need to upset Djokovic or Isner will need to upset Troicki. Otherwise, Serbia's through.

Belgium v. Czech Republic, in Belgium on indoor clay courts

This is an interesting match-up. One of the toughest home ties (the top teams seem to all have the home field advantage, except for the Czechs) the Belgians have four moderately good players on their squad, but no real stand-outs. The Rochus brothers, a recovering Xavier Malisse, and challenger regular Steve Darcis will be facing Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek, Jan Hajek and Lukas Dlouhy. Dlouhy is an excellent doubles player, but there's not much to say about Hajek. Berdych's power will be slowed by the clay, somewhat, and Stepanek has not had a great year so far. It's tough to bet against the Czechs, as they just came back from an appearance in the finals last year, but the Belgians have a shot.

Chile v. Israel, in Chile on outdoor clay courts

The most poignant first-round match-up, for sure. After the recent earth-quake in Chile, how will the fans, the players, the stadium hold up to play there so soon? The Chileans have their best players, and they always play their best at home. Gonzalez, Massu, Capdeville and Aguilar are a tough team. The Israeli team is going to be struggling to match the effort they made last year, beating the Swiss in Sweden and then upsetting the Russians at home. This match will hinge entirely on how the Chileans, fans and players, are able to get into the tennis after such an enormous tragedy. I hope that this presents an opportunity for the country to come together for a short while and relish in international competition, the way they usually do. They actually need it now more than ever.