Just a week after the biggest event in tennis is the event Wimbledon and the other majors dethroned, the Davis Cup. What commenced as a US vs. Britain challenge in 1900, now includes more than 130 countries in a relegation style system competing for the eponymous trophy and its comically oversized base. Depending on who you ask, the Davis Cup is either one of the most revered events in tennis or an archaic sprawling mess that unnecessary clogs the calendar.
Davis Cup is tennis' only true team competition, no one player can win it all himself. There are five matches, four singles, one doubles and at most any one player can only play their two singles matches called "rubbers" and cover half the doubles court, meaning countries with two strong singles players generally have the best shot at the title. This focus on team feels completely out of place in a sport that is overwhelmingly an individual pursuit and is met with mixed reactions from the players. Roger Federer has famously been criticized in some quarters for his lack of commitment to the event. Since 2004, when he won his two singles points and couldn't pull out the doubles against France, Federer has only played World Group playoffs to try to keep Switzerland from being relegated to lower level competition. We can only guess he figured Yves Allegro, Marco Chiudinelli and Stanislas Wawrinka didn't need his help to get the title. Andy Roddick, presumably thrilled to find a tennis court where Federer wasn't dominant, has made Davis Cup a career long commitment, helping the US to the 2007 title. Federer, though, is more the exception to the rule, other top players largely have embraced the event, even while railing against its byzantine scheduling. Novak Djokovic and Serbia won the 2010 title, apparently turning him nearly invincible, while the Spanish armada have won three times in recent years with Rafael Nadal figuring prominently.
One of the other interesting quirks of Davis Cup is the choice of ground rules meaning that the home team (which alternates) selects not only the city or arena in which the tie is played, but the court surface. Ergo, this weekend's USA vs. Spain tie will be in Texas on a fast indoor hardcourt. The last time Team USA played in Spain was on a clay court lad down in a bullring. This, plus the thousands of flags in the audience, and typically one-sided crowds, really gives the home players an advantage in a way that precious few ever have in major events.
We can argue about the sprawling Davis Cup calendar, the format or the place for the competition in a world where a number of top players either truly live in tax havens or training bases outside their own nations at a later date. Right now, it is what it is. Let's talk tennis.
SRB: Novak Djokovic (1), Viktor Troicki (16), Janko Tipsarevic (29), Nenad Zimonjic (6- Doubles)
SWE: Michael Ryderstedt (297), Ervin Eleskovic (355), Robert Lindstedt (14 - Doubles), Simon Aspelin (54 - Doubles)
Apparently, Novak Djokovic IS playing for Serbia despite the opening rubbers being just five days after he won his first Wimbledon title. If I'm Djokovic, I'm probably still drunk somewhere in downtown Belgrade fist-pumping to Duck Sauce and trying to figure out how I can take my yacht (and the models who
came with the yacht) with me to Halmstead for the weekend. That he's not is why he's a tennis champion and why I'm a tennis blogger. In any event, it may not matter, the Swedes have homecourt advantage and a solid doubles squad in Simon Aspelin and Roger Lindstedt, but with 5th ranked Robin Soderling sitting out, their top singles player is Michael Ryderstedt ranked 297th in the world. I'm not sure if his mother's even heard of him. Frankly, I think Djokovic could trust Victor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic to take care of this one...but he tried that before and disaster almost ensued with the defending champs almost bowing out to unseeded India in the first round. I think Novak will play one match and get himself back to the bar.
Prediction: Serbia, 4-1
USA vs. Spain (Austin, Texas, USA)
USA: Mardy Fish (8), Andy Roddick (10), Bob Bryan (1 - Doubles), Mike Bryan (1- Doubles)
ESP: David Ferrer (6), Fernando Verdasco (23), Feliciano Lopez (31), Marcel Granollers (51)
Yeah, I am an American, but I sincerely think this could be your upset special. With Rafael Nadal choosing a yacht in Ibiza over a Texas arena, Spain's bringing the strong, but not unbeatable David Ferrer as their top player. Fernando Verdasco isn't scaring anyone these days; nice Wimbledon notwithstanding, Feliciano Lopez remains notoriously hot and cold; while Marcel Granollers is well, Marcel Granollers. The Americans have two top ten singles players and a doubles team (the Bryans) that's as close as you can get to automatic (18-2 in Davis Cup doubles). The tie is on an indoor hardcourt, in Austin, Texas (Roddick's hometown), I count the Bryans' point as in the bag and this American team has plenty to prove...I think they just might.
Prediction: USA 3-2
Germany vs. France (Stuttgart, Germany)
GER: Florian Mayer (20), Philipp Kohlschreiber (42), Philipp Petzschner (77), Christopher Kas (27- Doubles)
FRA: Gael Monfils (7), Richard Gasquet (11), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (14), Michaël Llodra (28)
France has the one of the best teams in action this weekend, all four players being ranked int he top 30, but can you think of a group of guys more prone to a) injury and b) not showing up than this French squad? On the flipside, yet again, there are few players, if any, that are more fun to watch than this group of on court artists. Germany's led by Florian Mayer, perhaps the quietest top 20 player in history, he's 30-16 on the year, but he hasn't gotten past the second round of a major this year. The rest of the team is similarly accomplished, some deep runs in some smaller events, but no real breakthrough moments. The tie is on the outdoor clay of Stuttgart, but it's hard to feel as if the superior talent of the French squad won't win out, but not without one head scratcher of a result.
Prediction: France 4-1
Argentina vs. Kazakhstan (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
ARG: Juan Martín del Potro (19), Juan Ignacio Chela (22), Juan Monaco (43), Eduardo Schwank (189)
KAZ: Andrey Golubev (45), Mikhail Kukushkin (67), Yuriy Schukin (142), Evgeny Korolev (246)
Welcome to the Delpo show. Most fans know that Juan Martín del Potro missed most of last year with a wrist injury, but eagle-eyed tennis watchers also remember Del Potro's 2008 Davis Cup final. It began as a coronation for an Argentine team with two top players at ready to be crowned at home; it ended with Spain hoisting the Davis Cup. More intriguingly, it reportedly also ended with a massive falling out between del Potro and team stalwart Davíd Nalbandian over Delpo's lack of commitment to the team. Well, the perennial Mr. Almost, Nalbandian is once again on the sidelines with injury, so there is no question, win or lose, this is the big man's team. This match got underway a day early, whoops, and Argentina already leads 2-0, with neither singles player dropping more than 7 games in the first round of rubbers, it's hard to imagine a comeback for the Kazakhs.
Prediction: Argentina 5-0