Nadal, Djokovic and Federer join Davis Cup fever
We look ahead to a weekend packed full of Davis Cup action, with the US Open finalists both in action
A full 110 years after its conception, 125 nations make the Davis Cup the largest annual international team event in sport.
The season-long tournament is a vibrant, popular event that combines the patriotic fervour of the Olympics with the individual intensity of the most physically and mentally demanding one-to-one sport.
Men’s tennis is enjoying one of its richest periods as the three-way battle between a triumvirate of multi-Grand Slam winning players””Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic””unfolds.
The Davis Cup is benefitting from a consequent enthusiasm not just for the nations involved but also for these starry individuals. That each of them””along with most of their colleagues””have taken up their nation’s colours with such fervour only adds to the competition’s appeal.
Only days ago, these top three men, along with Andy Murray, were playing the semi-finals of the last Grand Slam of the year in New York at the climax of the tough, six-week US Open series.
All have still chosen to head off to Davis Cup duties: indeed Federer had to cross the globe to Australia, where he was practising on Sydney’s exclusive grass by Wednesday.
Asked if this would affect Federer’s performance, old adversary Lleyton Hewitt was clear: “I haven’t seen a lot that Roger hasn’t been able to do. He’s as close to Superman as it comes in tennis.” After a slow start, Federer indeed won the first rubber in four sets.
The two US finalists, Djokovic and Nadal, combined forces until the early hours of Tuesday””European time””to produce four hours of glittering and body-wrenching tennis, but within 24 hours, Nadal was practising with his Spanish team-mates in Spain. He was, he admitted, tired but “I am trying for my country.”
There were rumours and counter-rumours about whether Djokovic, with 10 titles and 64 match wins in his body, would have enough reserves to play. But he, too, is back home and on the start sheet.
Both men have tasted Davis Cup victory and both have been inspired by their countries’ success. Neither, it seems, is willing to miss out on a chance of playing for the title come December. They faced off once before, in the first round in 2009: Spain won four of the five rubbers and Nadal beat Djokovic.
This time, things could be a lot closer: indeed, it could the Davis Cup final of the decade.
Serbia (2) vs Argentina (4): Belgrade, indoor hard
Beat India in first round, 4-1, and Sweden in the second round, both times without Djokovic;
Current champions, winning their first title over France, 3-2;
Only four years in the World Group, competing as Yugoslavia until 2003 and then as Serbia and Montenegro until 2004;
Winning squad had a pact to shave their heads if they won the title in 2010, and this year have agreed to a sky dive if they win again;
While Djokovic is scheduled for the opening match, he may yet get medical dispensation to postpone, as he did in similar circumstances after the US Open final in 2010″”Troicki is poised to take his place;
Serbia’s singles players are all ranked 16 or higher.
Current squad: Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic, Nenad Zimonjic, Viktor Troicki.
Beat Romania in first round, 4-1, and Kazakhstan in the second, 5-0;
Injury has prevented Nalbandian and Del Potro playing together since they lost in the final against Spain in 2008″”Nalbandian scored the only win;
Runners-up three times, in 1981, 2006 and 2008, and reached the semi-finals last year, falling to France 3-2;
Spent 57 years in the competition and 19 years in the World Group;
Reached the quarter-finals of the World Group Finals for 10 straight years, the best ongoing run by any nation in the competition.
Current squad: Juan Martin del Potro, David Nalbandian, Juan Monaco, Juan Ignacio Chela
Friday: Djokovic vs Nalbandian; Tipsarevic vs del Potro
Saturday: Tipsarevic / Zimonjic vs Chela / Monaco
Sunday: Djokovic vs del Potro; Tipsarevic vs Nalbandian
Spain (1) vs France (3): Cordoba, outdoor clay
Beat Belgium in first round, 4-1″”with Nadal””and the USA in the second””without Nadal;
Won four times in last decade””2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009″”and runner-up in 2003;
Temperatures are expected to reach 37C in this tie’s Spanish bullring venue;
Nadal’s only loss in a singles rubber came in his debut against the Czech Republic in 2004″”he now has a 16-1 singles record, including a perfect 12-0 mark on clay;
Spain leads France, 5-2, in ties but the French beat Spain 5-0 in their last meeting last year;
Spain has not lost a home tie since 1999;
Spain’s four-man squad all feature in the world’s top 30, two of them top five.
Current squad: Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdsaco
Beat Austria in first round, 3-2, and Germany in the second, 4-1;
Joint third on list of champions, winning nine times, most recently in 2001;
Runner-up a further seven times, including last year to Serbia;
First played the competition in 1904, notching up 92 years and 236 ties in their history;
With Gael Monfils injured, Simon takes on lead singles responsibilities;
Even without Monfils, the squad has three top-15 players;
Tsonga is only scheduled to play doubles, though may play the reverse singles, especially as he has wins over Nadal, Ferrer and Verdasco in recent months.
Current squad: Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Michael Llodra
Friday: Nadal vs Gasquet; Ferrer vs Simon
Saturday: Lopez / Verdasco vs Llodra / Tsonga
Sunday: Nadal vs Simon; Ferrer vs Gasquet
Other Davis Cup action in Group 1 (winning nations qualify for World Group in 2012. Losing nations contest Zone Groups in 2012)
Australia vs Switzerland
Outdoor grass, Sydney Australia
Grass was the special concession to tempt Federer Down Under for a rematch with old foe Hewitt. Both teams have depth: Stan Wawrinka for the Swiss and the formidable No59 teenager Bernard Tomic for the home team. The Swiss should win, but the Aussie home support may inspire Hewitt and Tomic to dominate Wawrinka. It’s currently one rubber apiece.
Belgium vs Austria
Indoor hard, Antwerp Belgium
Jurgen Melzer is the top player but Xavier Malisse can turn on big-time tennis. This is a tie that may pivot on doubles. Austria could edge the win.
Chile vs Italy
Outdoor hard, Santiago Chile
With Chilean star Fernando Gonzalez still not back to fighting form, the superior ranked Fabio Fognini and Potito Starace should lead a win: but home advantage may just inspire Gonzalez.
Israel vs Canada
Outdoor hard, Ramat Hasharon Israel
Canada’s big weapon Milos Raonic plus up-and-coming Vasek Pospisil should ensure singles victories are enough for victory.
Japan vs India
Outdoor hard, Tokyo Japan
With only one top-100 singles players apiece””Japan’s Kei Nishikori and India’s Somdev Devvarman””this may pivot on doubles where India has Mahesh Bhupathi. The home team has already has two singles wins in the bag.
Romania vs Czech Rep
Outdoor clay, Bucharest Romania
Key players Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek should see a Czech Rep win.
Russia vs Brazil
Indoor hard, Kazan Russia
Russian depth””Mikhail Youzhny, Igor Andreev, Igor Kunitsyn and Dimitry Tursunov should counter Thomaz Bellucci’s team.
South Africa vs Croatia
Outdoor hard, Potchefstroom South Africa
Croatia’s singles depth””Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig””should just edge this one over Kevin Anderson and his lower ranked colleagues.