It’s a little earlier than usual, thanks to the fact that this is an Olympic year and that the calendar was shrunk to fit everything and, as well, cut two more weeks at the end of the season. Which is why we’re almost in the middle of February and the first Davis Cup ties are played. As the draws were made today (at this moment, only Canada – France hasn’t been drawn yet, the tie being played in Vancouver), here is a little analysis of some of the ties. I am not stopping on all of them, as some are pretty obvious as to their result, in my opinion.
Spain vs Kazakhstan – The depth of the Armada
For his first tie as captain of the Spanish Davis Cup team, Alex Corretja had to compose without four regular players (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, and Feliciano López, as well as Fernando Verdasco). However, there are so many good players in Spain that it was not too difficult for him to get an extremely competitive team that I cannot and will never consider as a B-team, considering how strong they are.
For the first tie of the year, the defending Davis Cup champions will have a team comprised of:
- Nicolás Almagro
- Juan Carlos Ferrero
- Marcel Granollers
- Marc López
Playing local, in the city of Oviedo and on indoor clay, the Spanish squad will face Kazakhstan, a team that, even though they are the same in names as the team that has been whitewashed by Argentina last summer, is very much improved:
- Mikhail Kukushkin
- Andrey Golubev
- Yuryi Schukin
- Evgeny Korolev
Improved? Very much so, with the breakthrough that has known Kukushkin, especially since the beginning of the season. As no 1 player for Kazakhstan, Kukushkin will face the no 2 singles player for Spain, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and the draw was done in a way they’ll play the first rubber of the tie. Then, the Spanish no 1 player, Nico Almagro, will play Andrey Golubev. Saturday, in the doubles, Marcel Granollers and Marc López will face Evgeny Korolev and Yuriy Schukin.
To be honest, I don’t give much of a chance to Kazakhstan. Regardless of the the physical trials of Juan Carlos Ferrero over the last few years, and of the fact that Nico Almagro can sometimes be inconsistent, Spain is playing at home, where they haven’t lost a tie in many years. They will not only benefit from the very vocal support of the Spanish crowd, but they will as well benefit from plying on clay, where both Ferrero and Almagro excel.
However, it’s impossible to really downplay Kazakhstan, considering that Kukushkin is in great form and that Golubev, no matter the difficulties he may have on the ATP Tour, comes to Davis Cup with an 11-2 record in singles. Then again, the doubles team is much stronger for Spain.
If Spain gets to a 2-1 lead at the end of the doubles, it will be a quick affair to close it out on Sunday, I think.
Spain wins 4-1.
Germany vs Argentina – A veterans’ affair
The first tie of last year’s finalists is not an easy one and except for the presence of Cedrik-Marcel Stebe (replacing Philipp Kohlschreiber, who had to withdraw because of illness), it can only be seen as a veteran’s affair, as all players have been around for quite some time and are pretty experienced.
This is a tie that is very dangerous for the no 3 seeds, as Germany counts not only on the return of Tommy Haas in the national team, but also on players of value who can always be and are tricky for the Argentine players:
- Florian Mayer
- Philipp Petzschner
- Tommy Haas
- Cedrik-Marcel Stebe
Florian Mayer, in particular, has a pretty good record against Argentine players and seems to be well over the hip injury that kept him out of the Australian Open.
As for Argentina, the team remains the same that was in Sevilla, except for the absence of their no 1 player, Juan Martín del Potro, who has chosen not to play this tie in part because of the difficulty that represents switching from hard to clay to hard again (Delpo will be in Rotterdam next week), something very understandable when we know that there is absolutely no time for him to adjust from one surface to the other and that this can be, on a physical point of view, pretty risky.
Even without del Potro, Martín Jaite and Mariano Zabaleta went with safe and good values:
- Juan Mónaco
- David Nalbandian
- Juan Ignacio Chela
- Eduardo Schwank
As I mentioned, this will be a tough tie for Argentina, despite the absence of Kohlschreiber. The surface chosen in Bamberg, indoor clay, is more similar to a hard court covered with a dirt carpet, to take the words used by captain Jaite, which makes it very fast and with a very low bounce, something that is not really akin to regular clay courts. However, as mentioned by Pico Mónaco, this surface, albeit faster, is more regular (even) than outdoor clay.
Does this favour more a team or another? In my opinion, no. In this, both teams come equally and with the same conditions, the same amount of practice. With this in mind, I think that the key for Argentina will be the first singles rubbers. To take Philipp Kohlschreiber’s place in singles, German captain Paul Kuhnen called upon Philipp Petzschner, as the World no 56 will face Juan Mónaco, who has never won a rubber as part of the visiting team. The recent winner of the VTR Open will thus have a pretty tough task ahead of him.
The draw made it in such a way that this will be the first rubber to be played tomorrow. I am among those who think likely that the German captain might substitute Petzschner for Tommy Haas at the last moment. But no matter who will be across the net from Pico, it will be a tough match. Then, Florian Mayer will face David Nalbandian. Mayer has won their last meeting (in Shanghai) but Nalbandian has the high end of their head-to-head (2-1) and they have never played on clay before. Despite the difference in rankings, I strongly favour Nalbandian for this match, because it’s Davis Cup and because the conditions resemble indoor hard a lot, a surface very favourable to the Argentine veteran.
These two matches are really key for Argentina and if they come out of them with a 2-0 lead, the tie will be much easier, especially considering that Germany has an experienced and difficult doubles team in Haas and Petzschner, although the Argentine doubles team, Juan Ignacio Chela and Eduardo Schwank, are used to playing together and have had a lot of success together as well. If the tie is 1-1 after the first singles, this experience will come in handy as the doubles will be crucial.
There ain’t nothing easy and this tie is pretty even.
Argentina wins 3-2.
To be continued…
In a little bit, I will preview Switzerland – U.S.A. and Canada – France.