Davis Cup is back and with it the tedious debates about the competition’s format.
Should it be every second year? Played at a single location a la the football World Cup? Left the hell alone?
Who knows? And right now who even cares? For now just kick back for the weekend and enjoy the action.
Spain v Kazakhstan – Oviedo, Indoor clay
Spain: Alex Corretja – Nicolas Almagro, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Marc Granollers, Marc Lopez
Kazakhstan: Yegor Shaldunov – Andrey Golubev, Mikhail Kukushkin, Evgeny Korolev, Yuri Schukin
Day one: Ferrero v Kukushkin, Almagro v Golubev,
Poor Spain. With their top two players likely to sit out the entire competition this year, new captain Alex Corretja has been forced into the ignominy of replacing them with a mere top 10 player and a one-time slam champion. The shame.
Joking aside, it’s an incredibly strong second string and at home on clay they should win comfortably.
The famously patriotic Kazakhs showed by winning in the Czech Republic at this stage last year that they shouldn’t be underestimated but they’re unlikely to repeat the trick here.
National pride will only get you so far, and in 2012 so far will mean a relegation playoff in September.
Austria v Russia – Wiener Neustadt, Indoor hard (Opticourt)
Austria: Clemens Trimmel – Jurgen Melzer, Andreas Haider-Maurer, Alexander Peya, Oliver Marach
Russia: Shamil Tarpischev – Igor Kunitsyn, Alex Bogomolov, Nikolay Davydenko, Mikhail Youzhny
Day one: Melzer v Kunitsyn, Haider-Maurer v Bogomolov
The idea of Alex Bogomolov and Igor Kunitsyn playing live singles rubbers for Russia would have been absolutely laughable a few years ago (not least because Bogomolov wasn’t even Russian).
That’s what they’ve been reduced to thanks to injuries (Youzhny), retirements (Safin) and general declines (Andreev, Davydenko).
Austria will rely heavily on Jurgen Melzer which in Davis Cup just isn’t exactly a recipe for success. Witness defeats to Jeremy Chardy and Steve Darcis last year for proof.
However, I’m going with Jurgen to buck his usual Davis Cup trends and pick up three points to edge his side into the quarter-final.
Canada v France – Vancouver, Indoor hard (Premier)
Canada: Marin Laurendeau – Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil, Daniel Nestor, Frank Dancevic
France: Guy Forget – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Julien Benneteau, Michael Llodra, Gael Monfils
Day one: Pospisil v Tsonga, Raonic v Llodra
The Canadians have done a great job hyping this one and the tie sold out in no time at all. They’ve used some rather dubious methods, one poster apparently referring to forlorn French attempts to return the Milos Raonic serve with their baguettes, but you can’t argue with results.
France are undoubtedly favourites but Raonic is quite capable of beating Julien Benneteau in quick conditions and Daniel Nestor brings a quite absurd 29-4 Davis Cup doubles record to the party.
Vasek Pospisil also showed signs last year that he has the nerve to be a big-time Davis Cup player but ultimately you can expect the French to revert to the more orthodox tactic of playing with tennis racquets rather than baguettes, and edge into the quarter-final.
Switzerland v USA – Fribourg, Indoor clay
Switzerland: Severin Luthi – Roger Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka, Marco Chiudinelli, Michael Lammer
USA: Jim Courier – Mardy Fish, John Isner, Mike Bryan, Ryan Harrison
Day one: Wawrinka v Fish, Federer v Isner
Roger Federer’s decision to play here makes this one an absolute banker for the home side. Add in clay courts and then subtract a Bryan and the size of the Americans’ task gets even greater.
John Isner is unlikely to trouble Federer on clay while Stanislas Wawrinka, on his best surface, should routine the out of form Mardy Fish.
Doubles could offer a stay of execution should Severin Luthi decide to rest his singles stars but it won’t be anything more than that for the USA.
Cue another nine months of American journalists bleating about the competition’s irrelevance.
Czech Republic v Italy – Ostrava, Indoor hard (Novacrylic Ultracushion)
Czech Republic: Jaroslav Navratil – Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek, Lukas Rosol, Frantisek Cermak
Italy: Corrado Barazzutti – Andreas Seppi, Simone Bolelli, Potito Starace, Daniele Bracciali
Day one: Berdych v Bolelli, Stepanek v Seppi
Given that they lost at home to Kazakhstan this time last year, nothing is certain with the Czechs but this should really be a whitewash.
Simone Bolelli can take some heart from the fact he’s beaten Tomas Berdych in their last two meetings but considering how both are playing at the moment a hat trick is unlikely.
Andreas Seppi can find no such comforts from his relevant head to head having lost to Radek Stepanek in all three of their meetings.
Even the Czechs won’t mess this one up.
Serbia v Sweden – Nis, Indoor hard (RuKortHard)
Serbia: Bogdan Obradovic – Janko Tipsarevic, Viktor Troicki, Nenad Zimonjic, Dusan Lajovic
Sweden: Thomas Enqvist – Michael Ryderstedt, Filip Prpic, Robert Linstedt, Johan Brunstrom
Day one: Tipsarevic v Prpic, Troicki v Ryderstedt
It’s no secret that Swedish tennis is a hell of a long way from its 80’s heyday but the extent of the decline is really shown up here.
With Robin Soderling recovering from glandular fever, the visitors will be forced to rely on Michael Ryderstedt and Filip Prpic in singles – players with world rankings of 348 and 1426 respectively (the latter possibly the lowest ranked player to play a live rubber in World Group history).
Doubles represents their only chance of picking up a live point but otherwise it will be a walk in the park for Serbia. No Djokovic, no problem.
Japan v Croatia – Tokyo, Indoor hard (Decoturf)
Japan: Eiji Takeuchi – Kei Nishikori, Go Soeda, Tatsuma Ito, Yuichi Sugita
Croatia: Zeljko Krajan – Ivan Dodig, Ivo Karlovic, Antonio Veic, Lovro Zovko
Day one: Soeda v Dodig, Nishikori v Karlovic
2012 has been a quite spectacular year for Japanese tennis so far and they’ll look to continue their progress with a win against a depleted Croatia side.
Marin Cilic is out with a knee problem and Ivan Ljubicic has retired from the competition. That leaves Ivo Karlovic and the woefully out of form Ivan Dodig as Croatia’s singles players.
Kei Nishikori will fancy his chances of picking up two points and Go Soeda has a real chance of upsetting Dodig in the opener.
Either way the hosts have a great chance to pick up their first World Group win since its inauguration in 1981.
Germany v Argentina – Bamberg, Indoor clay
Germany: Patrick Kuhnen – Florian Mayer, Philipp Petzschner, Tommy Haas, Cedric-Marcel Stebe
Argentina: Martin Jaite – David Nalbandian, Juan Monaco, Eduardo Schwank, Juan-Ignacio Chela
Day one: Petzschner v Monaco, Mayer v Nalbandian
This looked a real 50:50 tie in the making but then Philip Kohlschreiber withdrew.
For Germany to have any chance whatsoever, Philipp Petzschner needs to beat Juan Monaco in the first rubber.
Don’t rule it out. Although it’s far from his best surface, Petzschner has a decent record on home dirt and his unorthodox style could flummox the Argentinean.
Even that might not be enough though. David Nalbandian should get the better of Florian Mayer in the second rubber and then partner Eduard Schwank to the crucial doubles point.
Should they get through here the Argies will most likely have home ties all the way to the final. Could this finally be their year? Fingers crossed.