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10 Reasons to be Excited for Davis Cup Weekend

Switzerland's Davis Cup team member Federer speaks to Wawrinka during a practice session in Fribourg

The time has come!  While Andrea has done a great job breaking down the World Group match-ups, I thought I’d spell out for you the specific reasons why you should set your alarm for 5AM, skip work, cancel all of your social plans, and dedicate your entire Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to the wonder that is Davis Cup.

 

10. The Newcomers

It’s been 8 years since Canada has been in the World Group.  For Japan it’s been 27.  In both cases the newcomers, led by youngsters Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori respectively, will be looking to prove that they belong with the big guns.  Both teams have uphill battles- Japan hosts Croatia and Canada hosts France, but there’s nothing quite as exciting as fresh blood.

 

9.  Fedmania!

In a giant reversal of storylines, Federer is the only one of the “Big 4″ playing in Davis Cup this weekend.  To top it off, he’s playing in Switzerland, against a depleted but still fun-to-beat American squad, and with good buddy Stanislas Wawrinka by his side. Love him or not, it will be fun to see the Legend soak in the well-deserved adoration and play in a team atmosphere on his home turf.

8. Russian Roulette

The Russian Davis Cup Team has undergone a bit of a makeover.  Alex Bogomolov, Jr. is not only making his Russian debut, but he’s the team’s #1 player.  Dmitry Tursnov and Igor Andreev, team mainstays, are absent while the struggling Nikolay Davydenko and the wildcard Igor Kunitsyn take their place.  Mikhail Youzhny is coming off singles and doubles victories in Zagreb, but has been complaining to the press about an injured shoulder.  All in all, there’s absolutely no telling what to expect from Team Russia as they travel to Jurgen Melzer’s Austria this weekend, and as always- that’s part of the fun.

 

7. Veterans Day

Some players have proven time and time again that they adapt to the Davis Cup atmosphere better than others.  Whether it’s Melzer leading his Austrian team, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek becoming mental giants for the Czech Republic, or David Nalbandian discovering the game (and legs) of his youth, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing the veteran guys play their hearts out for their country.

 

6. The Battle of the Misfits

One of the ties I’m most looking forward to is Spain/Kazakhstan.  The Spanish Davis Cup stalwarts (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, and Fernando Verdasco) who have dominated the team competition for the past few years are sitting out this year, paving the way for their less heralded countrymen (Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Legend and Former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez). Meanwhile Kazakhstan’s team is full of former Russians (Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Yuri Schukin, and Evgeny Korolev) who migrated over to the neighboring country for a chance to shine.  It will be fun to see all of these former “back-ups” take the stage and fight for Davis Cup glory.

 

5. Tommy Haas

Do I really need to explain this one? The often injured but forever adored German (when he’s not American) is back in Davis Cup action for the first time in five years! How lucky are we?  Let’s just sit back and enjoy.

 

4. The Other Groups

Believe it or not, the World Group Playoffs aren’t the only Davis Cup action happening this weekend. There are some pretty crucial ties happening in “Group I” and “Group II” (don’t you dare ask me to explain what that means).  Teams in action that you might be interested in are: Ukraine (Sergiy Stakhovsky! Sergei Bubka- yes, Vika’s boyfriend!) vs. Monaco, Uzbekistan (Denis Istomin- am I the only one interested in him?) vs. New Zealand, Australia (Hewitt! Tomic! You know them!) vs. China, P.R., Great Britain (Murray-less) vs. Slovak Republic (starring recent ATP Zagreb finalist Lukas Lacko).  You’d be amiss if you didn’t scavenge for some (surely static) streams for the lesser-known teams this weekend too.

 

3. The New Heroes

Every year Davis Cup weekend, especially the first round, breeds unheralded heroes.  Something about the five-set format, the team unity, and the pressure/invigoration of playing for one’s country brings out the best in some unsuspecting players.  Who will it be this weekend? Could Milos lead the Canadians past the accomplished French team? Could the upstart Japanese make Davis Cup history against Croatia? Could the Swedish team find a miracle and cause the Serbian team to sweat? As cliche as it sounds, expect a new Davis Cup legend to be born.

2. Double Trouble

Davis Cup is the time for Doubles to shine, and this weekend is no different.  This weekend we have spectacular Doubles storylines: the reunions of fan favorites Fedrinka (Federer and Wawrinka) and Bendra (Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra), the eternal mystery of who the other Bryan Brother will be (Bob Bryan is home playing father duty, so either Mardy Fish, John Isner, or Ryan Harrison will take his place alongside Mike Bryan in Switzerland), and the always delightful Davis Cup return of BerdWorm (Berdych and Stepanek). Whether you’re a fan of doubles, awkwardness, hysteria, or just misplaced volleys, Saturday will be a special day for you.

1. The Cheerleaders

Let’s be honest- Davis Cup really isn’t about the tennis.  It’s about seeing the bromance on the benches as the fellow team members watch and frazzle along with us.  Nothing is as great as seeing a good cheerleader- whether it be Roger Federer on his feet urging on Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Carlos Ferrero fist-pumping a Nicolas Almagro winner, or John Isner and Ryan Harrison embracing when Mardy Fish gets to set point, there is no better reason to watch Davis Cup than to inspect the camaraderie on the benches.

Previewing the Davis Cup World Group First Round

Roger Federer+Stanislas Wawrinka Davis Cup

There’s always a tennis lull for a week or two after a Grand Slam. How many of you were really paying attention to what happened in Zagreb or Montpellier or Viña del Mar? Tell the truth, do you even know where Viña del Mar is? Well, perk up, Davis Cup weekend is coming up. It’s an excellent way to ease back in to watching tennis. There are ties in watchable time zones for almost any part of the world and there are only three days to keep track of. Sounds too easy? Well, it kind of is. There are eight ties to keep track of, spanning three continents. Here’s a short guide to this weekend’s action.

 

Spain vs. Kazakhstan

Venue: Oviedo, Spain

Spain’s been the team to beat for the last several years, led by the nearly invincible Rafael Nadal. They’re the defending champions, and it would be embarrassing if they were to lose to Kazakhstan in the first round. Kazakhstan has exactly one player in the Top 100. Spain has thirteen, a veritable smorgasbord of options to compile a four man team. Spain’s top guys, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, have chosen to sit out, so the team will be led by No. 11, Nicolas Almagro. Throw in Marcel Granollers, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez for the doubles, and the home advantage and I’m pretty sure they will be able to conquer Team Kazakhstan.

Austria vs. Russia

Venue: Wiener Neustadt, Austria

This tie is notable because Alex Bogomolov, Jr. will be making his debut on the Russian Davis Cup team, as the top ranked player no less. Mikhail Youzhny will be second in command and coming in strong off both a singles title and a doubles title in Zagreb last week. Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Kunitsyn round off the Russian team. Team Austria has the hometown advantage but their star, Jurgen Melzer, has been struggling lately and they don’t have much in the way of depth.

Canada vs. France

Venue: Vancouver, Canada

Canada is kind of like the little engine that could. Not known for a strong tennis tradition, they put in a very impressive performance to beat Israel in the playoffs. But, France is no Israel. France is a Davis Cup power house. Much like Spain, their options for Top 100 players number in the double digits. They will also be bringing their two strongest players to Vancouver, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. Versatile players Julien Benneteau and Michael Lloda will also make the trip. Either player can be called up for singles or doubles. Vasek Pospisil stepped up as the hero of the Israel tie, but it will take some serious team work to get past France. Canada will likely need a great performance from Milos Raonic.

Switzerland vs. USA

Venue: Fribourg, Switzerland

I’m not one of the believers that US tennis is dead, but I don’t give them great odds when it comes to beating Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, on indoor clay, in Switzerland. Mardy Fish and John Isner are reasonable clay players, but neither is up to Federer’s level on any surface. The US can usually count on a doubles win by Bob and Mike Bryan, but Bob has chosen to sit out the tie to spend some time with his newborn daughter so Mike will be making the trip solo. He could play with either Fish or Isner, as both are fair doubles players, but they almost certainly won’t have the magic that Bob and Mike create. Switzerland might as well be a two man team. Federer and Wawrinka will play until the tie is won and the doubles will be good practice as they will be looking to defend their Olympic title this summer.

Czech Republic vs. Italy

Venue: Ostrava, Czech Republic

Tomas Berdych was triumphant last week in Montpellier and Radek Stepanek is fresh off a doubles title at the Australian Open. Much like Federer and Wawrinka, they will likely make up a two man team that should easily conquer the crafty Italians.

Serbia vs. Sweden

Venue: Nis, Serbia

Both of these teams will be missing their best players this weekend. Novak Djokovic is sitting out the tie and Robin Soderling has been sidelined since Wimbledon. Lucky for Serbia, they have two singles players in the Top 25 and Sweden doesn’t have a singles player in the Top 300. It’s going to be a tough ask for Michael Ryderstedt and Carl Bergman.

Japan vs. Croatia

Venue: Hyogo, Japan

Kei Nishikori is the high ranked Japanese player in history and the first to make it to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. He leads a reasonably strong team on home turf. I’m calling upset potential on this one. Croatia is a tough opponent, but if Nishikori can win his first singles match and Japan can swing the doubles, I would give them a strong chance.

Germany vs. Argentina

Venue: Bamberg, Germany

This is possibly the most interesting tie on the schedule for this weekend. Argentina had a rather gut wrenching loss to Spain in last year’s final and is still in search of their first Davis Cup crown. If Juan Martin del Potro was participating, I would give Argentina the strong edge. Even without their best player, Argentina has a very good team. Juan Monaco won his first title in five years last week and David Nalbandian always brings his best in Davis Cup. I honestly can’t reason out why Germany chose indoor clay. The Argentines love clay. Why not go for a hard court? Either way, the German team is also pretty strong this time around. There’s not really a weak link among Mayer, Kohlschreiber, Petzschner, and Haas.

Vancouver Stoked to Host Davis Cup Elite

Team Canada practice session

Two years removed from hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the city of Vancouver will be all about tennis this week as many of the sport world’s eyes will be focused on the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, which will host Canada’s biggest Davis Cup tie in the last decade beginning Friday.

Canada will host a powerhouse team from France, which includes Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in their first World Group tie since 2004. This also marks the first time since 1992 that Vancouver will host a Davis Cup tie.

Led by their two young guns, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, who played the role of Davis Cup hero last year to give his country this opportunity, Canada will attempt to pull off a huge upset in their first home tie since 2009. For the occasion, Tennis Canada has selected a fast indoor hard court that should help produce a few more aces and winners from the heavy-hitting Canadian racquets.

Not only did the event sell out within an hour, but the organizing committee has pulled out all of the stops to give their squad every advantage as they go after this monumental victory. “Operation Red and White” is encouraging fans to wear their country’s colours regardless of where they will be watching the matches and reinforces that France won’t win, at least “Not On Our Court”.  In addition, the Cactus Club Café in Vancouver is the official Team Canada Headquarters to watch the tie for fans who don’t have a ticket.

The one and only meeting between Canada and France in Davis Cup came way back in 1966 on the clay courts of Roland-Garros with the home side coming away with a dominant 5-0 win. The home team this time around is hoping for a much different result and Raonic and Pospisil will have to play the matches of their lives to make it happen. Not only will France be tough in singles, but they have also brought Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra, two of their doubles specialists to counter Canadian legend Daniel Nestor, who usually guarantees a point when he suits up for the crucial doubles rubber.

“It’s a short time frame compared to the other years, usually we have play in March so we have an extra month to get the match count high enough to feel really good about anybody’s game,” said Team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau. “But, the fact that it’s following a Grand Slam and it’s early in the season has forced the guys to be sharp early in the year and we are playing some good tennis right now.”

The task at hand may be a very difficult one, but there is a reason they play the game and the Canadian underdogs plan on showing their home fans why.

Raonic Collects Second Title in Chennai

Milos Raonic wins Chennai

Milos Raonic picked up right where he left off after a breakthrough 2011 campaign, winning his first tournament of 2012 at the Aircel Chennai Open in Chennai, India.

The Canadian rising star outlasted Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 7-6(4) in a thrilling, well-played final that eclipsed the three-hour mark and is an early candidate for ATP match of the year. The win is Raonic’s second ATP World Tour title after winning his maiden crown in San Jose last March.

Remarkably, there was not one break of serve in the match which saw Raonic hit no less than 35 aces all while maintaining a first serve percentage above 70 percent. The 35 aces is the fifth highest ace total in a final since 1991. In fact, the 21-year-old  served 76 aces in four matches and was never broken in 48 service games. He is the first player since Roger Federer in 2008 to win a tournament without dropping serve.

Raonic defeated World No. 10 Nicolas Almagro in the semifinals and No. 9 Tipsarevic in the championship match and now has five career Top 10 wins. This is the first time in his career he has defeated two Top 10 players in the same tournament. Also of note, Raonic becomes the first player born in the 90’s to win two ATP titles, making him the favourite among the young guns of the Tour to make a splash at the Australian Open next week.

With his title run in Chennai, Raonic will move up to around no. 26 on the ATP rankings. The withdrawals of Robin Soderling and Marin Cilic mean that he could be seeded no. 24 in Australia, thus avoiding a match up with a Top 8 seed until the fourth round.

Last year in Melbourne, Raonic announced his arrival with a Round of 16 showing before falling to David Ferrer in four sets. The “Maple Leaf Missile” and his lethal serve seem poised to make another deep run Down Under and could pose a big threat in the second week of the season’s first Grand Slam event.

Nestor and Mirnyi win Brisbane

Another week, another title for Daniel Nestor. He and partner Max Mirnyi defeated Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner 6-1, 6-2 to win the Brisbane International and their fifth title together. The win is also Nestor’s 76th career title and his first triumph in Brisbane.

Meanwhile, wrapping up a rather impressive opening week for tennis in Canada, Rebecca Marino and Aleksandra Wozniak battled for close to three hours in the first all-Canadian match up of the year in the second round of qualifying at the Hobart International. Battling bronchitis, Wozniak pulled out a gutsy win, 11-9 in the third set tiebreak. The two players have met twice in the past four months and both matches went the distance. For the first time in a while, there seems to be a Canadian rivalry brewing, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.

Raonic, Marino and Nestor Named Canada’s Best in 2011

Rebecca Marino & Milos Raonic

Tennis Canada handed out its annual Excellence Awards this week following a breakthrough season for Canadian tennis in 2011.

Milos Raonic won three awards including Male Player of the Year, Male Singles Player of the Year and Most Improved Male Player. The 20-year-old enjoyed the greatest year on record for a Canadian male singles player. Raonic won his first ATP title in San Jose and improved his ranking more than 100 spots, reaching a career-high mark of no. 25 on May 2.

“My goal is to continue to grow and get better and hopefully be a role model to those back home following me,” Raonic said. I’m hoping that some of my success will inspire young kids in Canada to pick up a racquet and get involved in the sport.”

Doubles legend Daniel Nestor was named Doubles Player of the Year for an eleventh consecutive year. There is little that the 39-year-old has not accomplished on a tennis court and he continued to build his Hall of Fame credentials in 2011. With his new partner Max Mirnyi, Nestor captured his seventh Grand Slam at the French Open, winning his 800th match en route, and also lifted a second consecutive and fourth overall Barclays ATP World Tour Finals championship – his 75th career title.

Rebecca Marino also notched three awards in recognition of her standout season. The 20-year-old was named Female Player of the Year for the second consecutive year after a 2011 that included reaching her maiden WTA final in Memphis, advancing to the third round at the French Open and earning her first Top 15 victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. After finishing the 2010 season ranked No. 101, Marino improved by 63 spots to attain her career-high of No. 38, before ending the year at No. 64. Like Raonic, she also took home the awards for Singles Player of the Year and Most Improved Player on the women’s side.

“It was a really big year for me with a lot of firsts and a huge learning curve,” commented Marino. “I’m currently working really hard on my off-season training and am really looking forward to starting the 2012 season and hopefully building on my success from this past year.”

The Tennis Canada Excellence Awards are selected by a committee comprised of high-ranking Tennis Canada personnel and the country’s top national coaches. The remaining awards for junior, wheelchair and senior players will be announced in the New Year.

Pittsburgh Penguins Crosby Surprises Federer With Birthday Cake

Sidney Crosby greets Roger Federer with a cake on his 29th birthday Sunday.

Roger Federer and Sidney Crosby have missed out on their chance to play tennis together but can still share a birthday cake.The two sports stars met for the first time at the Rogers Cup on Sunday. They were set to play together on a practice court at the Rexall Centre, but rain scuttled their plans.

A birthday cake was brought out for the occasion as Federer turned 29 on Sunday, a day after Crosby turned 23.

Crosby says the two talked about watching each other play. The Pittsburgh Penguins star forward scored the overtime winner against the United States to give Canada the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Federer is a two-time winner at the Rogers Cup. The 16-time Grand Slam champion is currently ranked No. 3 in the world.

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