Davis Cup

From Canucks to Kazakhs: Previewing the Davis Cup World Group Quarterfinals

Balanced among four continents, the Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals illustrate the diversity of excellence in this sport.  From Vancouver, Canada to Astana, Kazakhstan, each of the ties contains multiple storylines that we discuss in a preview.

Canada vs. Italy:  Choice of surface often plays a crucial role in handing the home team a Davis Cup advantage, and such may prove the case again when a nation of fast-court players hosts a nation of clay specialists.  While Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini excel on the prevailing surface of Europe, the edge swings to the massive serves of Milos Raonic and the similarly aggressive style of Vasek Pospisil on the indoor hard court that Canada has laid in Vancouver.  Thumping Davis Cup superpower Spain in this arena to start 2013 World Group play, Raonic and his compatriots should have gained a valuable boost of confidence, albeit a little mitigated by the Canadian No. 1’s recent illness.  If Pospisil’s youth undoes him against the more experienced Italians, doubles specialist Daniel Nestor might suffice to supplement Raonic’s effort in propelling Canada through.  He has accumulated more renown in that area than any of the Italians, although Pospisil may be the weakest link of the four on the court.  The Canadians certainly will hope to win in three or four rubbers, for nobody wants to gamble on what Italian No. 2 Fognini can produce when inspiration strikes him.

Winner:  Canada

USA vs. Serbia:  With world No. 1 Novak Djokovic towering ominously above this tie, Team USA must rest its hopes on winning the three rubbers that he does not play.  Or must they?  Both of the American singles players, Sam Querrey and John Isner, defeated Djokovic on hard courts last season.  Querrey’s victory came on fast indoor courts in Paris, perhaps similar to those in Boise, while Isner’s triumph came on the marquee stage of Indian Wells, illustrating his tendency to excel on home soil.  Appearing to nurse an abdominal strain in Miami, Djokovic produced one of his least impressive performances on the spring hard courts in years and can fluster under the pressure of overpowering serves.  Much less impressive all season are the two American giants, however, so sustaining a Djokovic-stifling level of play in a best-of-five format seems beyond their grasp.  Instead, they will hope to win the doubles behind Bob and Mike Bryan and pounce on Serbian #2 Viktor Troicki.  Despite a first-round setback against Brazil, the Bryans almost always deliver for Team USA.  But Troicki holds a 5-2 edge over Querrey and Isner, so they will need all of the assistance that the home crowd can give them to make it 5-4.

Winner:  Serbia

Argentina vs. France:  Arguably the best Davis Cup team on paper, France enjoys the rare balance of star power and depth not only two top-15 singles players but an elite doubles squad in Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  Still, all of the Frenchmen will confront the challenge of playing on their worst surface against a team playing on its best.  Hoping that home-court advantage will narrow the talent gap, Argentina welcomes them to the Parque Roca with clay specialists Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq.  The former man has watched his ranking skid this year as he has not won a match outside Davis Cup, but he did sweep his two first-round rubbers against Germany.  Playing above his usual level in that tie, Berlocq defeated French No. 2 Simon twice in three clay meetings last year, which could offer the Argentines an edge if the tie reaches a fifth rubber.  To do so, and circumvent French No. 1 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, they likely would have to win the doubles match with their seasoned pair of Horacio Zeballos and David Nalbandian.  Those two have played many a Davis Cup thriller before and usually rise to the occasion, but Benneteau and Llodra usually do too, so the doubles could be the highlight of the weekend.

Winner:  France

Kazakhstan vs. Czech Republic:  If this regularly overachieving group of Kazakhs stunned a Czech team in their native Ostrava two years ago, they must feel sanguine about their chances against the Czechs in Kazakhstan. More important than the location of the tie, moreover, is the absence of Czech #1 Tomas Berdych, which leaves a massive void in the visitors’ singles lineup.  Stepping into the gap, Lukas Rosol hopes to recapture the magic that he found on a single day at Wimbledon but that has eluded him since then.  Neither Rosol nor the other Czech singles entrant, Jan Hajek, boasts much experience of success in Davis Cup.  In contrast, this same Kazakh team has delivered surprise after surprise against favored opponents in this competition.  Lurking in the doubles and perhaps in the Sunday reverse singles, Radek Stepanek must fill the leadership role for the defending champions, but the 34-year-old’s energy is limited and skills fading.  Without a single man in the top 150, the home team should reach the World Group semifinals for the first time.  Whether this reflects poorly or well on Davis Cup is open to debate.

Winner:  Kazakhstan

USTA Working with Serbian Media to Sort Through Credential Miscommunications

By Romi Cvitkovic

March 14, 2013 — The U.S. Tennis Association said Thursday that they are working closely with the Serbian media outlet Sportska Centrala to sort through miscommunications regarding media credentials for the upcoming USA vs. Serbia Davis Cup series April 5-7 in Boise, Idaho.

Multiple USTA media representatives reached out to representatives of Tennis Grandstand Thursday to communicate that procedures for applying for the media credentials were not handled properly, thus the application for reporter Nebojsa Petrovacki was denied. Petrovacki is a former editor-at-large for Sportska Centrala, has covered dozens of ATP and WTA events over the last ten years, and is currently at the BNP Paribas Open as credentialed media.

While the Serbian Tennis Federation had stated in a correspondence with Sportska Centrala’s editor in chief, Alex Krstanovic, that only one Serbian journalist was credentialed for the series to their knowledge, the USTA said Thursday that at least four outlets were approved to cover the matches. According to the USTA, of those credentialed, only one applied as print media while the rest were internet or television applications.

Krstanovic, in an email on Thursday, said that in the media outlet’s original application for the Davis Cup tie, the Serbian Tennis Federation supported their reporter’s request for a credential, and had followed up with the International Tennis Federation on Thursday morning regarding the situation as well.

However, the USTA detailed that initial proper steps were not fully executed by the media outlet to warrant approval of the credential request upon original review.

The USTA has reached out to Petrovacki, and pending that proper steps are taken by the media outlet, the USTA “foresees (Petrovacki) getting re-credentialed” for the Davis Cup event in April.

With world No. 1 Novak Djokovic scheduled to participate as well as the soon-to-be named US team of John Isner, Sam Querrey, and Mike and Bob Bryan, the Davis Cup quarterfinal between the two tennis powerhouse countries is selling out fast. Secure your tickets here.

This article is a follow up to Wednesday’s piece on the denial of reporter Nebojsa Petrovacki’s credential request for the Davis Cup.

Rafael Nadal Happy and in Charge — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Happy Returns

Rafael Nadal’s comeback officially commenced earlier this week in Chile, and it’s already been a success with the Spaniard winning both his opening doubles and single matches by identical score lines of 6-3 and 6-2. There were a few anxious moments at the start of his singles match. Nadal had to shake off rust and nerves to bounce back after falling down an early break, but he quickly found his footing. It wasn’t his most dominant outing, but after seven months out of the game, only a fool would have expected him to put on a clinic. The important thing is that he got the win, and he’s moving beautifully. The only negative for Nadal this week is his own insistence, and even more so his Uncle Toni’s, on discussing the knees in too much detail. The narrative changed from the knees being 100% before the Aussie Open to now being a potential liability through the end of February. It’s the classic strategy of the Nadal camp to downplay his chances and lay the groundwork to explain away a loss, and it’s getting old and completely unnecessary. Few will be surprised if he suffers an odd loss in the initial stages of his comeback. Just once it would be nice if they would let Nadal’s tennis do the talking. He’s too talented and accomplished of a player to continually use such tactics.

Leading the Charge

Murray probably didn’t make too many friends in the locker room, but you have to applaud his willingness to take the helm regarding tennis and PEDs. The Scot has been very outspoken about keeping the sport clean and recently suggested players should consider donating some of their prize money to help the cause. Presumably he was referring to having the prize purses reduced in order to allow the ATP to provide additional funding to cover more frequent and various types of testing. Though it’s easy for a top player like Murray to make such a suggestion, it’s unlikely his line of thinking will be popular with his peers, especially the lower-ranked players who don’t rake in the big bucks. But Murray is right to keep the issue in the spotlight and demand greater efforts be made to keep the sport clean. The fallout from the Lance Armstrong scandal cannot be ignored, it’s naïve to think that such a thing could never happen (or isn’t ongoing?) in tennis.

Historic First

For the first time in its history, Canada has reached the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup, and the Raonic-led Canadian squad did so by knocking out powerhouse Spain. The win is much bigger on paper than in reality. Spain was missing many of its top players, but as the saying goes, you can only beat who’s in front of you. It’s a tremendous accomplishment for the boys from Canada. They’ll face Italy in the quarterfinals, which means they’re in with a real opportunity to keep the momentum going. Davis Cup also has a history of acting as a springboard for young talents, so perhaps the success from last weekend will help Raonic begin to realize his full potential and post better results.

Downward Spiral

John Isner continues to endure woes in 2013, with his latest coming in the form of a five-set loss to Belucci in the Davis Cup this past weekend. Querrey stepped in to save the US from embarrassment by coming through in the fifth and deciding rubber, but the victory must have felt a little hollow to teammate Isner. Not only did he fail to close out the tie, but his loss to Belucci marked his six consecutive five-set loss. Isner only made his situation worse when he complained about the Brazilian fans. He’s entitled to his opinion, and it’s refreshing when a player is honest. But really? It’s Davis Cup for crying out loud. There were undoubtedly plenty of American fans yelling and disrupting the Brazilian players, and even Bob Bryan got a little overzealous and upset the Brazilian bench. Isner’s complaints came off as nothing more than sour grapes. His issue is between the ears and lack of a return game. Until he addresses those two liabilities, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

It’s On!

The Indian Wells event and ATP are once again butting heads over a potential prize money increase, and this time, the folks at Indian Wells have issued an ultimatum – if the ATP doesn’t approve the desert tournament’s proposed increase, it will revert back to 2011 levels. The issue was previously voted on last December by the ATP Board of Directors, and it resulted in a deadlock 3-3 with ATP CEO Drewett opting to abstain. Not surprisingly, it’s the three tournament directors who voted against the increase, and Indian Wells Tournament CEO Raymond Moore has had less than kind words to say about those directors. In defense of the tournament directors, however, you can see where they’re coming from. Some tournaments could definitely afford to be more generous with the prize purses, but many don’t have access to the same kind of money that’s backing Indian Wells and never will. It’s only natural to want to avoid seeing one event substantially outdistance the rest of the non-majors. But if the players want it, Indian Wells is willing to pay, and the WTA Board also approved the increase, the ATP Board of Directors should seriously consider falling in line. They’re apt to have a bigger mess on their hands if prize money at the year’s first Masters event reverts to prize money levels lower than in 2012. We haven’t heard the last of this, and it’s likely to only get uglier before it’s resolved.

The Oddity of Davis Cup

By Yeshayahu Ginsburg

Davis Cup is one of the most exciting tournaments in the tennis world. However, it is also one of the most enigmatic and frustrating. It does not even come close to the Slams in terms of importance of prestige. But for some fans, a Davis Cup match can be so much more meaningful than any Grand Slam match.

First of all, Davis Cup actually allows the fans to get involved. All of those fan-kept “rules” about etiquette and niceties go out the window in Davis Cup. You are the fans of the home team, and that means you do whatever you can to help your team win. An opponent makes an error, you cheer loudly. The opponent double-faults, you can clap. The opponent begins to argue with the umpire, you never allow him to live it down. It might be a competition of countries, but the basis of this tournament really is the fans.

And that, above all else, is why this tournament can be so incredibly frustrating for the fans. Often, the matches mean more to the fans than to the players themselves. We often don’t see the top players compete, whether due to fatigue (since Davis Cup always follows shortly after a big tournament) or due to an unwillingness to risk injury. Sometimes it just isn’t feasible for these top guys to play Davis Cup on top of the rest of their schedules.

This creates a curious case where Davis Cup doesn’t really represent the best countries in the world. We’ll leave aside, for now, the fact that one player can essentially win an entire tie by himself (by winning two singles matches and carrying his doubles team, as Bjorn Borg was famous for doing). But often, we just don’t get the best of a country actually being represented.

Take, for example, the first-round match of Spain vs. Canada from this year. On paper, this match is a blowout. Canada has three players in the top 100. Spain has 4 in the top 25 (3 if you don’t count a recovering Nadal). Now, this match could have been interesting anyway. Canada was the home country and chose a fast indoor court that suited their players much more than the Spanish. Milos Raonic’s massive serve can make any match close. Canada was the upstart country looking to pull off a massive upset against world power Spain. There were plenty of storylines and a good amount of intrigue to go with this match. Unfortunately, none of that is what we got.

Most of the top Spanish players in the world just couldn’t be troubled to play this tie. Spain brought in 3 singles players for this tie. They were, respectively, the #5, #8, and #11 ranked Spaniards at the moment. None of Spain’s current or former top 10 players (Nadal, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, and Fernando Verdasco) could show up. I’m sure they all had good reasons and won’t go into individual ones here. That’s not the point. The point is that this is indicative of the lack of importance many top players give Davis Cup.

We were supposed to have a blowout here with some upset potential for Canada. Instead, what we got was a blowout by Canada. In the three live singles rubbers, the Spaniards won exactly one set—Albert Ramos took the first set off Raonic in a tiebreak. After that, it was all Canada. Frank Dancevic slaughtered Marcel Granollers, the top Spanish player competing, to the tune of only losing 5 games. And Raonic finished things off in the first rubber on Sunday, beating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets as well.

Most of what comes out of this tie is the great story of an up-and-coming tennis country using home soil to beat the #1 seeded country. But let’s be fair and clear. The Spanish team that competed this past weekend was not the same team that earned that #1 ranking. And that, above all, is the enigma of Davis Cup. It means so much to the fans, but circumstances keep the players from being able to give it their all. Would better Spanish players have shown up had the tie been in Spain? Almost definitely. But now the Spanish fans won’t get to see their team in later rounds. Davis Cup is an incredible opportunity for the fans, but can only remain that way if the players have enough incentive to actually compete.

USA-Brazil Davis Cup Reflections

If the USA wins a hotly contested, live, fifth rubber against Brazil, and no one’s there to see it, did it still happen? This past weekend’s first round Davis Cup tie is a fine example of why you can never count on anything in tennis. On paper, the USA should’ve had no trouble dispatching the Brazilians. Not only did they have the privilege of choosing the venue and surface, Team USA has two Top 20 singles players and the best doubles team in the world. Surely it should’ve been no problem to win three matches against a team whose singles players were ranked 36 and 141 and are generally considered clay court specialists. But that’s the magic of Davis Cup.

While the United States rushed to an easy 2-0 lead on Friday, Saturday’s doubles rubber brought the drama. The Brazilian doubles team of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares played lights out in the five set match to keep their team alive. Suddenly Brazilian fans surfaced in the crowd and there was a real Davis Cup atmosphere going in the stadium, complete with drama between the two teams. Could the Brazilians maintain focus and possibly carry their winning momentum into Sunday’s reverse singles?

Sunday had a decidedly more reserved atmosphere, possibly due to the sparse crowd. It was Super Bowl Sunday after all… John Isner had the first chance to clinch the tie for the US and set up a second round tie against 2010 Davis Cup champions, Serbia. After winning the first set against Thomaz Bellucci 6-2, the momentum should’ve been securely with the Americans. They were just two sets away from victory. All of the sudden it looked as if the weight of the world was dropped on the American’s shoulders. He simply didn’t look like a man who intended to win a tennis match. Although, with John Isner that can mean anything. He’s spoken to the fact that his body language is often misconstrued as negative. That wasn’t quite the case here as Bellucci came back to take the second set. Rinse and repeat as the two once again exchanged sets and the match went to the decisive no tie break fifth set. As it would happen Bellucci wouldn’t have needed the tie break anyway, as he broke Isner to take the set 6-3. This was a devastating blow to the US team, who had once had a 2-0 lead in the tie and was now facing a live fifth rubber at 2-2.

John Isner did not mince words about his loss. He was quick to point out his not so stellar five set record, saying, “today was extremely disappointing for me. You know, can’t sugarcoat it with me. My five-set record is atrocious, it’s simple as that. It falls on me 100%. You know, I got to try to get better personally with that. I feel bad. I didn’t come through for the team today.” Isner was clearly pretty devastated by this loss, a match he was not only expected to win, a match that would’ve meant victory for his team. That’s what sets Davis Cup apart from regular tournament play. The players are dependent on each other. No one can win a Davis Cup tie on their own. At the end of his press conference, he was asked about his personal goals for the year and was quick to point out that his first responsibility was to his team in that moment, “I’m not thinking about my personal goals this year right now at all. Sam lost the first set, I don’t know if y’all know that. Got to try to pull him through. I didn’t do my part today, and that’s what’s tough about being on a team. It feels a lot worse than it does had this been a regular tournament.”

The good news was that the lost set Isner was referring to would be the team’s last. Sam Querrey came back to win the next three sets against Brazilian Thiago Alves, who made quite an impressive showing over the weekend. Post match, Querrey also wanted to point out the team effort that goes into Davis Cup, telling reporters, “I was thrilled I could help the guys out. It’s a team thing. We’re all moving on to the next round.” He’s absolutely right. Anyone can have a bad day and that’s what the other guys are there for. As captain Jim Courier put it, “That’s what these teams are all about, catching each other when we fall down, helping each other over the line.”

The Americans face a much tougher foe in their quarter final tie against Serbia, a team which will likely feature world No. 1, Novak Djokovic. The tie will be played April 5th-7th in Boise, Idaho.

Milos Raonic Leads Canada to an Historic Davis Cup Victory over Spain

Milos Raonic won both of his singles matches, including earning the winning point on Sunday, to send Canada into the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas  World Group quarter-finals for the first time in the country’s history this weekend after defeating top-ranked Spain 3-2 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver.

With Canada entering the Sunday reverse singles with a 2-1 lead following a singles sweep of day one  and a doubles loss on day two, Raonic  clinched victory for his team with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 triumph over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the fourth rubber. The 22-year-old Canadian was in control from the outset, hitting 22 aces and 55 winners. He saved the one break point he faced and broke Garcia Lopez’s on four occasions, including twice in the final set.

“It’s amazing to do everything we’ve done,” Raonic said. “I’ve been a minor part of it for the past few years consistently and to be able to get the win and have this conversation for the first time, it’s pretty amazing. I’m very proud with how I managed everything and how we pulled through.”

Raonic may be grabbing all of the headlines for his clinching win, but Frank Dancevic is the Canadian hero in the eyes of many after he put forth one of the most impressive performances in the history of Davis Cup en route to dismantling Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 to give Canada a commanding 2-0 lead after day one. Dancevic was, to put it mildly, in the zone and put his immense natural talent on full display.

“Just walking out on to the court I had goose bumps, and you know that everyone is behind you and that helps you play through tough situations,” Dancevic said. “The crowd was unbelievable, there were certain times when the match was difficult, and they gave me an edge. They motivated me to refocus on the point and I felt like they also put a little pressure on Granollers because the crowd was so behind me today.”

Playing without their biggest stars, This marks the first time since 2006 that Spain, the Davis Cup runner up in 2012 and champion in 2011, has lost a first round tie in World Group. In their first World Group quarter-final appearance, Canada will face Italy in the quarter-finals at home from April 5-7. Italy defeated Croatia 3-2 in the opening round thanks to a win by Fabio Fognini in the decisive fifth rubber.

“It’s a long process when you’re in group one and you’ve got to battle it out in a lot of places and for a spell there we seemed to play on the road so much,” said team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau, speaking of Canada’s journey into the World Group quarter-finals that began years ago. “I think we had a bit of a window a couple of years ago but still we were down 2-0 to Ecuador in 2011, and from there we just turned it around. We play that tie and the next one away and since then we’ve been in Canada and we’ll do that again in April. We’re happy to be in the quarters but we feel like we can keep on going. We’re riding a good wave right now and we’ve got to make the most of it while it lasts.”

The final total attendance for all three days of the tie is 17, 796, which is a new Canadian Davis Cup record.

Five Comments About Davis Cup

Tennis, at heart, is not the most complicated of human endeavours, and the number of things one can usefully say about it is limited. The trick (though sadly not always the goal) for those determined to talk about it at all is to say the same things in interesting ways.

Even so, there are limits. The most skilful and thoughtful commentators in the world will still inevitably repeat themselves from time to time, and most commentators by definition aren’t the best. This isn’t to say most commentators are wrong – some are, but tennis, broadly speaking, is a hard topic to misread – merely that they are endlessly right in the same way. The average commentator peddles repetition without relent. This is why, whenever Davis Cup comes round, we hear . . .

1. ‘Isn’t it great that doubles matters?’

Saturday was by broad consensus the greatest day of doubles in living memory. The centrepiece was of course the record-shattering match in Geneva between Switzerland and the Czech Republic, which ended 24-22 in the fifth set. That is the match destined to endure – breaking records tends to cement at least a temporary place in the annals – but there were others that were great in their own way.

Slovenia’s Blaž Kavčič and Grega Žemlja both suffered straightforward singles losses, then somehow backed up to defeat Poland’s mighty duo of Marcin Matkowski and Mariusz Fyrstenberg, 13-11 in the fifth. Marc López and Marcel Granollers kept Spanish hopes from guttering out entirely, defeating Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil, again in five sets. Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares commenced Brazil’s audacious recovery with a five set victory over the Bryan brothers.

There were others, and taken as a whole they guaranteed that the middle day was the key to a fine weekend. Over and over again, the doubles rubber proved pivotal, stopping momentum or confirming it, inspiring a comeback or clinching the tie. It is ever thus – that’s the beauty of the format – but this weekend showcased it more succinctly than ever. If ever the Davis Cup format is altered, the crucial function of the doubles must surely remain.

2. ‘How about that Davis Cup atmosphere?’

When Pete Sampras defeated Gustavo Kuerten in the final of the Miami Masters in 2000, the day was cloyingly warm, the crowd was rambunctious, and the air was dense with samba. Local players often struggle with the Miami crowd – think of Andy Roddick facing Pablo Cuevas a few of years ago – since the support for South American players is overwhelming. There is close harmony chanting. There are jeers on double-faults. It is, in the parlance of tennis commentary, ‘a Davis Cup atmosphere’.

For all that some would dearly wish it to be otherwise, tennis has few opportunities for blatant and macho patriotism in the normal run of events, at least beyond the early rounds where the wildcards and local hopefuls are weeded out. Davis Cup is all nationalism, all the time. Of course, local customs still prevail. The crowd in Ariake Stadium that watched Japan see off Indonesia was utterly unlike the one in Buenos Aires that witnessed Argentina dismantling Germany, but it was also more spirited than a usual Japanese audience. I’m not entirely sure why the USA chose to host Brazil in Florida this weekend, thus neatly ceding the crowd support to the visitors. After his loss to Thomaz Bellucci, John Isner professed not to appreciate the Brazilian supporters, although it probably wouldn’t have mattered so much had more than a handful of Americans turned up.

The atmosphere doesn’t merely inspire the players on to greater heroism, it alters the way they go about it. Would Bob Bryan have yelled ‘Come on’ so vehemently at Melo at a normal tournament? According to Bryan, no: ‘Davis Cup is an emotional atmosphere . . .There were some words said. You know, no hard feelings, no grudges. It’s Davis Cup. This sort of stuff happens all the time.’ Would Carlos Berlocq have shredded his shirt so exultantly upon achieving a win via retirement in any other situation?

Part of the function of Davis Cup is to provide a context in which overtly nationalistic behaviour is more or less tolerated, if not encouraged, so that the rest of the sport can relatively remain free of it. When such behaviour seeps across the other events – with exceptions – it tends to feel misplaced and leaden-handed. At best we indulgently chuckle and call it ‘a Davis Cup atmosphere’.

3. ‘Davis Cup allows lesser players to shine.’

Fabio Fognini clinched the tie for Italy. If he’d lost that crucial fifth rubber, then Ivan Dodig would have clinched it for Croatia. Frank Dancevic played a crucial role in seeing off Spain. Andrey Golubev, among the most gifted underachievers in the sport, won both his singles rubbers, including a four set defeat of Jurgen Melzer to seal the tie for Kazakhstan. Who honestly saw that coming? How many of you had heard of Thiago Alves before he nearly sent the mighty USA crashing out yesterday?

None of these fellows are household names, except perhaps in their own countries, and, one presumes, in their own homes. The point of Davis Cup isn’t that lower-profile players achieve wins. These guys regularly win matches at the levels at which they compete (the exception being Golubev, who’s been known to indulge in losing-sprees that rival Donald Young’s). The Davis Cup enables them to secure meaningful victories in a tournament of global importance. Winning a tie means a great deal. Winning the Cup itself means everything.

Last year the deciding rubber in the final was won by Radek Stepanek over Nicolas Almagro. There is no event in the sport of comparable stature in which that might happen. A reformatted biennial format (the most commonly proposed alternative) surely would work against such an outcome.

4. ‘It’s time to look at tiebreaks in fifth sets.’

Every Davis Cup weekend features at least one match whose heroic proportions compel most onlookers to shake their heads in wonderment, yet oblige others to resume their call for fifth set tiebreaks to be made universal, in order that so arresting a spectacle might never be repeated. This weekend it was the seven hour doubles match between Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

As far as I can make out, the most heated discussion around this issue occurs in the United States. Discussion elsewhere seems more measured and sporadic, and I can’t imagine the debate reaches any special incandescence in countries where cricket is popular. A test match has barely hit its stride by the seven hour mark. I’m also yet to hear many players vociferously calling for tiebreaks to be introduced in deciding sets, whether it be in Davis Cup, at the Majors (besides the US Open) or the Olympics.

If it all becomes too much, there is always a mechanism whereby any match can be shortened. It’s called losing. As it was, even the longest doubles match in history had little material impact on the tie.

5. ‘Davis Cup matters!’

Anyone who watched Alves huffing and heaving as he failed to contain his disappointment after losing in the live fifth rubber to Sam Querrey in Jacksonville was left in little doubt about what this match, and by extension the Davis Cup means to him. Ditto for Milos Raonic’s exuberant roar as he sealed the tie against Spain. Or Fognini collapsing triumphantly to the dirt in Turin. Or Stan Wawrinka prostrate on the hard Geneva surface. There were uncounted similar moments, twinkling and flaring across the entire weekend, pricks and gashes of light, all joining up to form a long archipelago across the doubting world, proving to us that for unnumbered players and fans, the Davis Cup matters as much as ever.

Brazilians Melo/Soares stun the Bryans in day 2 Davis Cup action

With an impeccable 22-2 record in Davis Cup doubles going into today’s match, most people had penned in a US victory for the Bryan brothers in yesterday’s doubles rubber against Brazil. But in tennis it’s never safe to count on the better team on paper. Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares have had success playing the Bryans in the past, having beaten the brothers twice, although on clay. This was a whole new ballgame, playing to keep their country alive in the tie, on foreign soil, against the best doubles team in the world. It was almost inconceivable that Brazil could pull off such a victory under the circumstances.

Team Brazil came out to play from the first point, as Bruno Soares put in it the post match press conference, “to beat these guys, you have to be 110%. Today we showed we were 110%, most important for five sets. We didn’t drop for one second.” He was correct. Even when the team went down three set points in the first set tiebreak, they kept calm and were able to go on to win the breaker and take the first set. Things got more heated at the end of the second set tie break, won by the Americans, when their was some controversy over an exclamation by Bob Bryan, seemingly towards Marcelo Melo. The crowd made more of a fuss about the exchange than either team did.

Both teams played down the incident in their post match interviews. Bob Bryan cited the charged environment, saying, “Davis Cup is an emotional atmosphere. They got passionate after they thought they won the set. I got passionate to them. There were some words said. You know, no hard feelings, no grudges.” The sentiment was similar from the Brazilians. Marcelo Melo seemed a bit confused about what happened, saying, “Bob never did this before. We have really good relationship. I have him as a friend. In that moment I got in shock. How Bob did this, is not normal.” He mentioned he would have to review the footage later to see what really happened, but he seemed fairly certain that Bob meant no harm to him directly. 

The overall atmosphere in the arena could not have been any more different from Day 1, where the crowd never seemed able to get into the singles matches. The crowd was firmly behind the home team, but there were a few Brazilian fans in the house which made for an even livelier air. The Americans on the Team USA bench were just as pumped up as the crowd, up on their feet as often as not. Ryan Harrison did a particularly good job getting the crowd cheering.

While Team USA would’ve been thrilled to capture the tie on Saturday, fans attending Sunday’s event somewhat benefit from Brazil’s doubles victory. What would’ve been dead rubbers will now be more exciting events. Sunday’s matches begin at 12PM EST and feature reverse singles John Isner v. Thomaz Bellucci followed directly by Sam Querrey v. Thiago Alves.

Isner and Querrey give USA 2-0 lead against Brazil

The USA Davis Cup squad got off to a quick start on Friday in their first round tie against Brazil. Sam Querrey easily overcame Brazil’s No. 1 player, Thomaz Bellucci, in straight sets. Sam Querrey served very well, but Bellucci definitely handed him a few games. He admitted to being a bit nervous in the first few games, but settled in after the first break.

This is the first home tie for both Querrey and Isner and this was Sam Querrey’s first victory in a live singles rubber. Unfortunately, the crowd for the first match was about as flat as Bellucci’s game. However, the sparse audience did a great job of supporting the home team. When asked about the crowd support, Querrey responded, “they got surprisingly loud there at the end for an arena that wasn’t full.” He also urged fans to come out tomorrow to watch the Bryan brothers, who he unequivocally deemed the greatest doubles team of all time.

The crowd had an easier time getting into the second match, which was surprisingly less one sided than the first. Where Thomaz Bellucci seemed resigned to lose, Thiago Alves maintained a very positive attitude against John Isner, a player ranked 125 spots higher than him. After losing the first set 6-3, Alves hung in there in the second and had plenty of chances against the American. All of the sudden the Brazilian bench was on its feet and Brazilian fans surfaced in the crowd, forcing the US fans to step up their game.

Based on the players’ body language, an onlooker would have easily mistaken the score of the match in favor of Brazil. Alves was fist pumping after every winning point, while Isner lumbered around the court, a point he was quick to address in his post match press conference, saying, ” I don’t realize it when I’m out there, but I guess I am pretty slow and pretty deliberate, especially in a three-out-of-five-set match.” The good news was that the attitude had nothing to do with the knee pain that sidelined Isner during the Australian Open. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, John Isner stated that he plans to play the reverse singles rubber on Sunday. 

Saturday’s schedule features Bob and Mike Bryan against Brazilian players Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares. This match gives the brothers a chances to clinch the tie for the United States. The last time the Bryan brothers lost a Davis Cup match was 2008, but their not prepared to write in that “W” quite yet. In Thursday’s post-draw press conference, Bob Bryan said, “we have to go out there and play good tennis, have to execute. This is a team that has beaten us before. They beat us in a big match at the French. We really respect them. We know a lot about them, they know a lot about us.” It’s smart never to take the competition likely, but the Bryans have an impressive 22-2 record in Davis Cup doubles.

Up for the Cup! First-Round Davis Cup World Group Preview

Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend.  We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.

Canada vs. Spain:  Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America.  Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor.  Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches.  Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year.  If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic.  Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.

Pick:  Canada

Italy vs. Croatia:  This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails.  On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians.  But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory.  The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat.  Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though.  At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.

Pick:  Italy

Belgium vs. Serbia:  One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist.  First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career.  Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters.  That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments.  Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada.  With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.

Pick:  Serbia

USA vs. Brazil:  Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend.  For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions.  While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves.  In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans.  All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.

Pick:  USA

France vs. Israel:  Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level.  Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles.  The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months.  In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before.  Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.

Pick:  France

Argentina vs. Germany:  Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge.  While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy.  Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq.  The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well.  Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian.  Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber.  There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.

Pick:  Er, Argentina?

Kazakhstan vs. Austria:  In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major.  The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side.  His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer.  The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday.  Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.

Pick:  Austria

Switzerland vs. Czech Republic:  While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka.  After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately.  Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych.  The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him.  In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych.  The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.

Pick:  Czech Republic