Pagliaro's Picks: Davis Cup, First Round

Thursday, January 31, 2013 /by
The Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych and Canada's Milos Raonic prepare for their opening-round ties. (AP Photo)
The Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych and Canada's Milos Raonic prepare for their opening-round ties. (AP Photo)

CANADA vs. SPAIN
Site: Vancouver, Canada
Surface: Hard court

Spain is playing without top players David Ferrer, Rafael Nadal, and Nicolas Almagro, and will rely on its C-squad in its bid to reach a sixth straight quarterfinal. This tie features two of the world’s top doubles players in Spain's Marc Lopez and veteran Daniel Nestor, the most decorated Davis Cup player in Canadian history. Milos Raonic’s wrecking ball serve and indoor prowess—he’s 24-9 lifetime and has won two of his three titles indoors—gives the host the edge. This is a milestone moment for Canada, which is playing for its first World Group victory, and I see the Vancouver faithful celebrating on Sunday night.

The Pick: CANADA


ITALY vs. CROATIA
Site: Turin, Italy
Surface: Red clay

Italian Andreas Seppi edged Marin Cilic in five sets at the Australian Open, setting the stage for this rematch. The 13th-ranked Cilic has beaten Seppi in both of their prior clay-court clashes and has been the better big-match player. Croatian No. 2 Ivan Dodig, a power player at his best on faster courts, will try to snap a four-match Davis Cup losing streak. The theatrical Fabio Fognini owns a 7-1 record in Davis Cup clay-court matches and must step up for the Italians to close the curtain. I believe he will, and favor Italy to reach its first quarterfinal since 1998.

The Pick: ITALY


BELGIUM vs. SERBIA
Site: Charleroi, Belgium
Surface: Red clay

Five days after defending his Australian Open title, Novak Djokovic transitions to clay and faces a familiar challenger. Three years ago, Olivier Rochus upset Djokovic in Miami, and then pushed him to five sets at Wimbledon, but this is a far more explosive and confident Serb. The opening match should be intriguing, pitting Viktor Troicki, who clinched the Cup for Serbia in 2010, against the talented David Goffin, who plays off pace effectively and took a set from Roger Federer in the fourth round of the 2012 French Open. Belgium has failed to survive the first round in 11 of its 14 prior World Group appearances, and world No. 1 Djokovic is playing on a higher level than the rest of the field.

The Pick: SERBIA


UNITED STATES vs. BRAZIL
Site: Jacksonville, United States
Surface: Hard court

A right knee injury knocked John Isner out of the Australian Open, but if he’s healthy, the commanding 6’9” server—who beat Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Davis Cup last year—will be very tough to topple. Brazilian No. 1 Thomaz Bellucci is a dangerous lefthander, but he prefers more time to unload his favored forehand and could well be rushed against the American power players on a hard court. Fresh off their record 13th Grand Slam doubles title at the Australian Open, twins Mike and Bob Bryan are riding a 10-match winning streak. And although Sam Querrey is 1-5 lifetime in Davis Cup, three of those losses were to Top 10 players (Djokovic, Nadal and Ferrer) on clay.

The Pick: UNITED STATES


FRANCE vs. ISRAEL
Site: Rouen, France
Surface: Hard court

Powered by a pair of Top 10 players—Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet—France will be eager to erase memories of its 2012 quarterfinal loss to the U.S. and make Arnaud Clement’s debut as captain a success. Israel’s Dudi Sela is a Davis Cup veteran with a glorious one-handed backhand, but without a Top 100 player in this tie, the visitors are overmatched. France is 3-0 against Israel, has lost just one World Group first-round tie in the last 11 years, and has so much depth it should roll into the quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive year.

The Pick: FRANCE


ARGENTINA vs. GERMANY
Site: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Surface: Red clay

Juan Martin del Potro is not playing and David Nalbandian is scheduled for doubles duty, which means Juan Monaco must deliver for Argentina to reach its 12th consecutive quarterfinal. German No. 1 Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Monaco in the opening round of the 2012 Australian Open, but the 12th-ranked Argentine has won both of their clay-court matches. Florian Mayer has won five of six meetings with Monaco, which makes the second singles a critical match. This won't be a cakewalk for the home side, but Argentina is 8-1 on the red clay of Parque Roca, and I think the Gauchos will dig out a demanding victory in their second straight opener against Germany.

The Pick: ARGENTINA


KAZAKHSTAN vs. AUSTRIA
Site: Astana, Kazakhstan
Surface: Red clay

This could be a homecoming weekend to remember for Kazakhstan, playing for its first World Group home victory in history. Scheduled singles starters Andrey Golubev and Evgeny Korolev are power players with varied Davis Cup experience: Golubev beat Jan Hajek and Tomas Berdych to lead the nation to a 3-2 upset of Czech Republic in the 2011 first round; Korolev is winless in three career singles appearances. Austria has left-handed veteran Jurgen Melzer, a 2010 French Open semifinalist and accomplished doubles player. If the tie comes down to a fifth rubber pitting Korolev against Andreas Haider-Maurer, it would be a rematch of this year's Australian Open qualifying round, which Haider-Maurer won.

The Pick: AUSTRIA


SWITZERLAND vs. CZECH REPUBLIC
Site: Geneva, Switzerland
Surface: Hard court

Stanislas Wawrinka nearly knocked defending champion Djokovic out of the Australian Open and will lead a Swiss squad playing to take down the defending Davis Cup champion. The Swiss are without Roger Federer; the Czech Republic will play without Radek Stepanek. Sixth-ranked Berdych is the highest-ranked player in this tie and has a better supporting cast with 73rd-ranked Lukas Rosol, the man who stunned Rafa at Wimbledon, opening against Wawrinka. The Czechs are playing for their record sixth straight Davis Cup victory. This could be an entertaining tie, particularly if Wawrinka can reproduce the quality he delivered in Melbourne, but the Czechs have a little bit more firepower and they are the pick.

The Pick: CZECH REPUBLIC

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