Just when you thought it was safe to shut down the television and computer, log off Twitter and Facebook, raise the shades and maybe even step outside for a nice, deep breath—don’t. Stay right where you are. One of the more intriguing weekends of Davis Cup begins tomorrow with the World Group Semifinals and the World Group Playoffs.
And if you’re one of those woefully blinkered American countrymen of mine, inclined to think Davis Cup doesn’t matter, let me ask you this: How irrelevant or unimportant can it be if the two U.S. Open finalists are playing, and one of them isn’t even part of the headline act?
That’s right. Rafael Nadal will lead host Spain in a World Group Playoff battle with Alexandr Dolgopolov’s squad from the Ukraine. And did I mention that world No. 3 Andy Murray is also playing in the Playoffs? His Great Britain side plays at Marin-Cilic-less Croatia.
All in all, it’s pretty amazing that three of tennis’ vaunted “Big Four” are playing this weekend. The only member of the quartet who’s taking a pass is Roger Federer, even though Switzerland is also in action—hosting a Playoff against Ecuador, a nation that doesn’t have a singles player ranked higher than No. 295.
Spies tell me that Federer is at an undisclosed location, testing a new racquet with a 340-square-inch head. But never mind about that. Let’s focus on those who will be playing in the semifinals:
Argentina at Czech Republic
(Indoor hard; Czech Republic leads head-to-head, 4-1)
Here we go again, Argentina. Last week, a colleague of mine from the Rio Plata country told me that the problem with Argentina, by far the most powerful tennis nation never to have won the Davis Cup, is “too many egos.” Not that I didn’t already know this. But the strange thing is that it’s been that way for decades upon decades.
Usually, nations realize how counter-productive it is to have feuding, politicized factions vying for control and happily sticking knives in each other’s backs. Not Argentina. You’d almost believe the Argentinians actually enjoy all this bickering and in-fighting that accompanies the choice of captain, the nominations, the choice of site, even the protocols of communication between captain and his players. Or you might believe that until you see how enthusiastic the Argentinian fans are, and how terribly deflated they look when Argentina once again fails in spectacular fashion.
This time around, the problem once again is the absence of a star, world No. 7 Juan Martin del Potro. He’s skipping the tie, and he has his reasons. But so what? The bottom line is that he’s not in the mix. Were the singles players del Potro and No. 30 Juan Monaco, Argentina would appear to have a shot at the defending champions in Prague. But with No. 93 Leonardo Mayer playing second singles, the baby-blue-and-white squad’s chances hover somewhere in the slim-to-none zone.
Curiously, Mayer has leapfrogged over No. 45 Carlos Berlocq and No. 50 Horacio Zeballos as the second-in-command. It must be because Mayer won a singles match at the U.S. Open, although Berlocq did that as well. In any event, Argentina’s three candidates for its No. 2 singles have played a grand total of six matches on hard courts this year after Wimbledon. And among them, the only one who as even a single, career win over either Berdych or Czech No. 2 Radek Stepanek is Mayer, with one.
Berdych, the top-ranked Czech, was a semifinalist in Cincinnati (lost to Nadal) and was upset in the fourth round of the U.S. Open by Stanislas Wawrinka, but I imagine that’s only going to make him more eager to beat up on somebody. Stepanek is a Davis Cup stalwart—and the newly crowned U.S. Open doubles champ (with Leander Paes). Berdych is 6-0 against Monaco, in evenly split clay- and hard-court meetings.
The biggest danger in this one for the Czech Republic would seem to be the hazard of looking ahead to the final. And yes, I did take a peek at the potential finals pairings. The Czechs are 6-5 against Serbia, but would have to play the final on the road. Canada and the Czech Republic have never played, so the choice-of-ground would be determined by a coin toss.
But that coin flip is unlikely ever to take place. Read on.
Canada at Serbia
(Indoor clay, first meeting)
I wouldn’t ordinarily say something like this, but boy am I glad I’m not on the Canadian Davis Cup team! Canada is an emerging tennis power, presently riding high on the recent successes of its two singles players, No. 11 Milos Raonic and No. 41 Vasek Pospisil. But the Canadians are truly wandering into the lion’s den in Belgrade and—worse yet—haven’t a clue about what to expect.
What are the chances that in a Davis Cup semifinal, only one member of each squad has played a member of the other team? The only head-to-head record that exists here is Milos Raonic’s 3-0 record against Janko Tipsarevic. But all those were on the hard courts that Raonic and his cohorts prefer. This tie, however, will be on red clay.
When Pospisil opens the tie against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, a three-time Grand Slam finalist and Australian Open champ this year, he’ll have no experience to draw upon. As well, Djokovic can help wipe the taste of recent defeat out of his mouth with a strong Davis Cup showing before a home crowd that doesn’t just love him, but loves him unconditionally.
This one is shaping up as a train-wreck of a tie, but give the Canadians credit for getting this far for the first time in the nation’s history. Pospisil has had a wonderful summer, shooting up from well outside the Top 100 to inside the Top 50 in a mere four months. And Raonic continues his steady climb toward the Top 10.
The best match of this entire semifinal slate may well be the doubles bout in this tie. Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic is a terrific doubles player, while Canada’s Daniel Nestor is nothing short of a doubles genius. Zimonjic is slated to play with Ilija Bozoljac, while Nestor is penciled in to partner Pospisil. That match-up favors Canada, and I’m guessing that as a point of pride the Canadians will find a way to keep this tie live until Sunday by winning the doubles.
The endgame? It will be neighbors Serbia and the Czech Republic advancing to the final.
If you enjoy reading Pete Bodo at TENNIS.com, you might also be interested in his latest novel, The Reckoning. A revised version of this father-son story set in the Rocky Mountains has just been issued by e-publisher Diversion Books. Click here for more on this grand adventure tale, or to download the book.