Davis Cup 2017: Novak Djokovic only top-12 player in gruelling opening round action
Novak Djokovic, who has played the first round with Serbia in each of the last two years, will look to take his nation to the quarters again
There is no doubting the significance of playing for their national teams for any of the top players in men’s tennis. In recent years, every one of the ‘big four’ has laid their tennis and athleticism on the line to help their countries to Davis Cup glory.
Novak Djokovic used the springboard of a famous Serbian victory at the end of 2010 to launch an astonishing 2011, with its 10 titles, and claim the No1 ranking
In 2014, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka won Switzerland’s first Davis Cup, away from home, even though Federer had been forced to pull out of the title match against Djokovic at the World Tour Finals just days earlier.
Rafael Nadal first played for Spain as a teenager in 2004, has played 17 ties, and was a member of four Spanish victories in 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011.
And in 2015, Andy Murray spearheaded Great Britain to its first Davis Cup since 1936, and though it had been a team effort of several years’ duration, few would deny the singular effort of Murray: 11 winning rubbers in singles and doubles in that 2015 campaign. And like Djokovic, Murray would go on to his best ever season and end 2016 at No1 for the first time.
Many more of the top ranks have also thrown their weight into Davis Cup, some with strong support—Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic, and a slew of French and Spanish players have helped their nations to the final stages—and others with little, such as David Goffin for Belgium and Kei Nishikori for Japan.
But the tennis year has a demanding schedule, and for the most successful players who often go deepest into the biggest tournaments, the commitment is even greater. This year, for example, the quarter-finals of the World Group follow hot on the heels of arguably the toughest double-header of the year, the Indian Wells-Miami Masters. The semis are played within days of the Montreal-Cincinnati-US Open run. And the first round takes off less than week after a packed first month to 2017 in Australia.
Little wonder, perhaps, that the non-stop-playing Rafael Nadal, who won in Abu Dhabi, reached the quarters in Brisbane and then the final in Melbourne—and this on his return from a long injury absence—has withdrawn from the Spanish squad against Croatia with fatigue. But then Cilic and Borna Coric are also absent.
Murray, who exhausted himself through a remarkable final six months last year—after reaching the final of the French Open he lost only three matches on the way to eight titles—made the finals in Doha before making a fourth-round exit in Australia, and has opted out of the difficult transition to a cold northern hemisphere in Ottawa. But then Canada’s leading light Milos Raonic is also missing after picking up an adductor injury during his quarter-final loss to Nadal in Australia.
Japan is without Nishikori, Belgium without Goffin, and champions Argentina will miss a still-injured Juan Martin del Potro. Berdych, a prolific winner during 13 years of Davis Cup play, has also counted himself out: He, rather like Federer and Wawrinka, have given sterling service, but as members of the over-30s club, they need to think about self-preservation, too.
Djokovic, though, who has played the first round with Serbia in each of the last two years, will look to take his nation to the quarters again, ably supported by the No37-ranked Viktor Troicki against the lesser-ranked players of Russia.
Indeed Davis Cup is one constant in part of a reduced schedule after he made a surprise exit from the defence of his Australian title in the second round. He is also bypassing Dubai for the first time since 2007.
Who will make the quarter-finals?
Djokovic’s decision makes Serbia favourite to reach the quarters, where they could meet a still-strong Spanish squad that features No16 Roberto Bautista Agut, No26 Pablo Carreno Busta and No33 Feliciano Lopez, plus Olympic doubles gold medallist Marc Lopez.
Even without Murray, Great Britain will fancy their chances against Canada, bolstered by two top-50 players in Daniel Evans and Kyle Edmund, plus Grand Slam doubles champion Jamie Murray. In the quarters, the winners may expect to meet the always-strong French, who have No18 Richard Gasquet and No24 Gilles Simon, along with former doubles No1s Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert in support.
In the top half, Italy may get the better of Argentina, even without home support, via three strong singles players in Paolo Lorenzi, Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi. The Italians should hold their own on clay against the lower-ranked Argentine quartet—though the likes of Leonardo Mayer are never more dangerous than in Davis Cup.
Awaiting the winner in the quarters is likely to be Germany, with Zverev brothers Sascha and Mischa fresh from strong performances in Australia, and the evergreen No29 Philipp Kohlschreiber, all playing at home against an under-strength Belgium.
The at-home Australia, with No15 Nick Kyrgios plus Australian Open doubles champion John Peers, may have a battle on their hands against the big Jiri Vesely and dangerous Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, but local support should give them the edge, and it’s hard to see a winner other than the USA against Switzerland: the latter has not one man in the top 100 while all four of USA’s men are ranked 31 or higher—and they have home advantage.
· The USA will be without Bob and Mike Bryan, who have announced their retirement from Davis Cup. Their 24-5 win-loss record in doubles makes them the most successful American Davis Cup doubles team of all time.
· Djokovic is aiming to extend his 10-match winning streak in singles rubbers.
· Leander Paes, playing in India’s Zone 1 tie, will aim to set a new record for the most doubles wins in Davis Cup history. He is currently level with Italian legend Nicola Pietrangeli on 42.
· Five of the nations playing in this week’s World Group have won the Davis Cup just once, with defending champions Argentina the most recent.
· The USA is playing its 287th tie, the most for any nation, in its 103rd Davis Cup.
· Canada’s Daniel Nestor, age 44, is set to play his 50th Davis Cup tie, 25 years after making his debut.
· For Argentina, Leonardo Mayer, ranked 147, is bidding to extend his 10-match winning singles streak in Davis Cup, while Diego Schwartzman, ranked 53, is hoping to win his first.
· Great Britain is the only nation that has competed in all editions of the Davis Cup since 1900.
· 134 nations will play in this year’s tournament.
Ties and teams
Argentina (1) v Italy (10), H2H 2-1
Buenos Aires, Argentina—clay outdoor
Argentina: Diego Schwartzman, Carlos Berlocq, Guido Pella, Leonardo Mayer
Italy: Paolo Lorenzi, Fabio Fognini, Andreas Seppi, Simone Bolelli
Germany (14) v Belgium (7), H2H 8-0
Frankfurt, Germany—hard indoor
Germany: Alexander Zverev, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Mischa Zverev, Jan-Lennard Struff
Belgium: Steve Darcis, Ruben Bemelmans, Arthur de Greef, Joris de Loore
Australia (9) v Czech Rep (6), H2H 7-1
Melbourne, Australia—hard outdoor
Australia: Nick Kyrgios, Jordan Thompson, Sam Groth, John Peers
Czech Republic: Jiri Vesely, Radek Stepanek, Jan Satral, Zdenek Kolar
USA (11) v Switzerland (5), H2H 3-1
Birmingham, USA—hard indoor
USA: Jack Sock, John Isner, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson
Switzerland: Henri Laaksonen, Marco Chiudinelli, Adrien Bossel, Antoine Bellier
Japan 13) v France (4), H2H 0-3
Tokyo, Japan—hard indoor
Japan: Yoshihito Nishioka, Taro Daniel, Yuichi Sugita, Yasutaka Uchiyama
France: Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon, Nicolas Mahut, Pierre-Hugues Herbert
Canada (12) v Great Britain (2), H2H 0-1
Ottawa, Canada—hard indoor
Canada: Peter Polansky, Vasek Pospisil, Denis Shapovalov, Daniel Nestor
GB: Daniel Evans, Kyle Edmund, Jamie Murray, Dominic Inglot
Serbia (8) v Russia (15), H2H 0-1
Nis, Serbia—hard indoor
Serbia: Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki, Dusan Lajovic, Nenad Zimonjic
Russia: Karen Khachanov, Andrey Kuznetsov, Daniil Medvedev, Konstantin Kravchuk
Croatia (3) v Spain (17), H2H 0-1
Osijek, Croatia—hard indoor
Croatia: Franko Skugor, Nikola Mektic, Ante Pavic, Marin Draganja
Spain: Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta, Feliciano Lopez, Marc Lopez