Davis Cup 2014: Murray, Wawrinka, Federer head starry first-round ties
Davis Cup preview: Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer are all in action in round one
Since its first tie in 1900, the Davis Cup has grown into the world’s largest annual international team competition, involving over 5,000 players from across the globe.
Last year, more than half a million spectators turned out, flags at the ready, in the tournament’s 100th year, and in 2014, 122 nations are involved. In the World Group alone, the tennis will race across time-zones from Japan, through Asia to Kazakhstan, on into Europe, and finally go trans-Atlantic to both North and South America, as one by one, the eight first-round ties get underway.
But it is the stars in those teams who make the headlines, and in this golden era of men’s tennis, the Davis Cup is reaping the rewards. It has seen world No1 Rafael Nadal at the heart of multiple wins for Spain, No2 Novak Djokovic win a career-defining title for Serbia and, in its centenary year, No7 Tomas Berdych took the Czech Republic not just to his nation’s first title in the 20 years since it ceased to be Czechoslovakia but to two titles back to back.
And Berdych is aiming for still more, but this week he is not alone. While Nadal and Djokovic may be absent, there is no shortage of star-appeal among the other World Group ties—remarkably so, at this first hurdle in the 2014 campaign. No fewer than six top-10 men will be wearing their national colours as play gets underway, including this week’s Australian Open champion, the new No3 Stan Wawrinka.
France is always a major presence, claiming nine titles between 1927 and 2001—and can draw on no fewer than five top-30 players. Indeed its line-up boasts two top-10 men set to thrill their home nation against Australia: No9 Richard Gasquet and No10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. They even have the resurgent No30 Gael Monfils in the wings to help.
Those impressive rankings, though, have been put in the shade by the late arrival of the biggest name in this sport, Roger Federer. He may be newly down at No8, but his presence is headline news—and not surprisingly. The Swiss team has become the first to feature two Grand Slam singles champions since 2005, when Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick played for the USA and Juan Carlos Ferrero and Nadal did the same for Spain.
With Australian Open semi-finalist Federer shoulder to shoulder with the formidable Melbourne champion Wawrinka, Switzerland swiftly turned into hot favourites to reach the quarter-finals over a depleted Serbia.
Two ties stand out from the rest, however.
In Germany, a strong squad of No12 Tommy Haas, No27 Philipp Kohlschreiber and No29 Florian Mayer will hope to use home advantage to beat a below-strength Spain that is without not only Nadal but its three other top-20 players, David Ferrer, Tommy Robredo and Nicolas Almagro.
Not that Spain is short of talented substitutes: No27 Feliciano Lopez, No33 Fernando Verdasco and Roberto Bautista Agut, who reached the semis of Auckland and the fourth round at the Australian Open this month, will put up stern opposition. Interestingly, Haas and Verdasco will only play the doubles rubber, making this tie even tougher to call.
The other big contest is between the oldest of Davis Cup foes—indeed the original pair who launched the Davis Cup 114 years ago in Boston. Since then, the USA has played 100 times and Great Britain 103 times, with the USA winning more titles than any other country, 32 of them. GB went on to become the only nation to compete in every single tournament since 1900.
Yet since GB’s glory days in the 1930s, when it won four titles, it has not won another—and has played and lost to the USA four times, most recently in 1999. Indeed GB has not won a World Group tie since 1986.
However, the American No6 seeds, boasting the likes of John Isner and Sam Querrey in the singles and the Bryan brothers in the doubles, are not the insurmountable force they once were—though they play at home in front of one of the most vociferous nations in the competition.
World No6 Andy Murray, just a handful of matches into the season following his back surgery last September, teamed strongly with Colin Fleming to win their doubles rubber in Croatia, but the prospect of the Bryans this weekend is an altogether different challenge.
The venue is a tricky one, too. The American’s have gone for the bold setting of Petco Park that is usually home to Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres. And they have opted for clay, as captain Jim Courier explained: “Clay is a surface that all four of our guys wanted to play this tie on… Unlike a lot of American teams in the past, they are quite comfortable on clay, have good results on clay, so that’s what we’re going to go with in San Diego.”
However according to Murray, the clay is very quick and slippery—and it has never been his favourite surface—but the last-minute withdrawal of Isner, still carrying the ankle injury that forced his retirement in the first round of the Australian Open, means No79 Donald Young will make his Davis Cup
As for who will back Murray in the singles rubbers, that position has gone to James Ward, who played a role in GB’s rise back to the World Group with a five-set win over Dimitry Tursunov when the team came back from 0-2 down against Russia last April.
If GB does beat the USA, their next opponents will be either Argentina—playing this weekend without Juan Martin del Potro—or the solid team from Italy topped by No15 Fabio Fognini and No31 Andeas Seppi. Should GB make the semis, their most likely opponent will be the winner of that Serb-Swiss tie.
Favourites to come through in the top half will be, once again, the Czech Republic but their next opponent, instead of shaping up to bring the young Canadian duo Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil to the party, looks now to favour Kei Nishikori’s Japan: Both Raonic and Pospisil have been hit by injury.
Meanwhile, France look good to reach a quarter-final against Spain or Germany.
World Group first round (seeds)
Czech Republic (1) v Netherlands
Venue: CEZ Arena, Ostrava, Czech Rep: hard indoor
Friday 14.00 GMT
R1: Radek Stepanek v Robin Haase
R2: Tomas Berdych v Igor Sijsling
Saturday 13.00 GMT
R3: Lukas Rosol/Jiri Vesely v Thiemo de Bakker/Jean-Julien Rojer
Sunday 12.00 GMT
R4: Tomas Berdych v Robin Haase
R5: Radek Stepanek v Igor Sijsling
Japan v Canada (7)
Venue: Ariake Coliseum, Tokyo, Japan: hard indoor
Friday 04.00 GMT
R1: Kei Nishikori v Peter Polansky
R2: Go Soeda v Frank Dancevic
Saturday 04.00 GMT
R3: Yuichi Sugita/Yasutaka Uchiyama v Daniel Nestor/Vasek Pospisil
Sunday 04.00 GMT
R4: Kei Nishikori v Frank Dancevic
R5: Go Soeda v Peter Polansky
Germany v Spain (3)
Venue: Fraport Arena, Frankfurt, Germany: hard indoor
Friday 13.00 GMT
R1: Philipp Kohlschreiber v Roberto Bautista Agut
R2: Florian Mayer v Feliciano Lopez
Saturday 12.00 GMT
R3: Daniel Brands/Tommy Haas v David Marrero/Fernando Verdasco
Sunday 12.00 GMT
R4: Philipp Kohlschreiber v Feliciano Lopez
R5: Florian Mayer v Roberto Bautista Agut
France (5) v Australia
Venue: Vendespace, La Roche sur Yon, France: clay indoor
Friday 12.30 GMT
R1: Richard Gasquet v Nick Kyrgios
R2: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Lleyton Hewitt
Saturday 13.00 GMT
R3: Julien Benneteau/Gael Monfils v Chris Guccione/Lleyton Hewitt
Sunday 12.00 GMT
R4: Richard Gasquet v Lleyton Hewitt
R5: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Nick Kyrgios
USA (6) v Great Britain
Venue: Petco Park, San Diego, California, USA: clay outdoor
Friday 19.00 GMT
R1: Donald Young v Andy Murray
R2: Sam Querrey v James Ward
Saturday 20.00 GMT
R3: Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan v Andy Murray/Colin Fleming
R4: Sam Querrey v Andy Murray
R5: Donald Young v James Ward
USA: John Isner, Sam Querrey, Mike Bryan, Bob Bryan
GB: Andy Murray, James Ward, Kyle Edmund, Colin Fleming
Argentina (4) v Italy
Venue: Patinodromo Municipal, Mar del Plata, Argentina: clay outdoor
Friday 14.30 GMT
R1: Carlos Berlocq v Andreas Seppi
R2: Juan Monaco v Fabio Fognini
Saturday 16.00 GMT
R3: Eduardo Schwank/Horacio Zeballos v Simone Bolelli/Filippo Volandri
Sunday 14.30 GMT
R4: Carlos Berlocq v Fabio Fognini
R5: Juan Monaco v Andreas Seppi
Kazakhstan (8) v Belgium
Venue: National Tennis Centre, Astana, Kazakhstan: hard indoor
Friday 06.00 GMT
R1: Mikhail Kukushkin v Ruben Bemelmans
R2: Andrey Golubev v David Goffin
Saturday 08.00 GMT
R3: Evgeny Korolev/Denis Yevseyev v Kimmer Coppejans/Olivier Rochus
Sunday 08.00 GMT
R4: Mikhail Kukushkin v David Goffin
R5: Andrey Golubev v Ruben Bemelmans
Serbia (2) v Switzerland
Venue: Spens Sport Centre, Novi Sad, Serbia: hard indoor
Friday 13.00 GMT
R1: Ilija Bozoljac v Roger Federer
R2: Dusan Lajovic v Stanislas Wawrinka
Saturday 14.00 GMT
R3: Filip Krajinovic/Nenad Zimonjic v Marco Chiudinelli/Michael Lammer
Sunday 12.00 GMT
R4: Dusan Lajovic v Roger Federer
R5: Ilija Bozoljac v Stanislas Wawrinka