Davis Cup Review: Zverev bounces back; France goes deep(er)

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Alexander Zverev looked good in a win over Nick Kyrgios in the first round of Davis Cup action. (AP)

When it comes to Davis Cup, it’s possible for a tennis fan to turn virtually any negative into a positive. That includes the competition’s oft-derided, stop-and-start schedule. Yes, staging the Cup on four separate weekends over the course of 10 months makes it more difficult to attract top players for every round. The same would also seem to go for holding those rounds immediately after Grand Slam tournaments. But as a fan, having a weekend of Davis Cup to look forward to always helps cushion the blow and postpone the withdrawal symptoms that come with the end of every major.

With 16 teams and eight ties, there was plenty of cushion in the opening round, and a lot to try to follow. Here are five takeaways to remember.

Zverev 1, Kyrgios 0

After this weekend, that’s where the score stands between the young Australian and the younger German in 2018. Zverev beat Kyrgios in three convincing sets to clinch Germany’s win over the Aussies Down Under. This was a legitimate test; Kyrgios, competing for his country, couldn’t throw this match away if he didn’t feel like it was his day. The scoreline was one-sided, but if Kyrgios had converted set points on Zverev’s serve at the end of the second set, it would have been much closer. But he couldn’t convert those points, because they didn’t come on his serve; overall, Zverev proved to be the more solid player from the baseline. In a match that mattered as much as any they’ll play this season, Zverev showed why he’s ranked 10 spots ahead of Kyrgios. Over the weekend as a whole, Zverev also won two best-of-five-set matches; we’ll see if that answers any of the questions in his own mind about why he’s hasn’t been more successful in that format at the Grand Slams.

France Goes Deep(er)

In 2017, the current generation of Frenchmen finally won a Davis Cup, and finally proved that their much-vaunted depth could succeed in what has typically been, despite its team nature, a star-driven competition. Now, is the French team determined to prove its point all over again in 2018? This weekend it knocked off the Netherlands 3-1, without using either of its singles winners from the 2017 final, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille. Instead, those wins were provided by Richard Gasquet and, in the clincher, Adrian Mannarino. What makes it all possible, though, and what will continue to make France a formidable foe this year, is its doubles team: Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert came away with a crucial point, and as one of the best doubles teams of the last five years, they’ll probably come up with more in 2018.

The Rock of Belgium

You might have thought—or I might have thought, anyway—that David Goffin would give Davis Cup a miss after leading Belgium to the final for the second time in three years. But he heeded the call again for the country’s first-round match against Hungary this weekend—the fact that it was at home probably didn’t hurt. As with Zverev, it might end up being just what Goffin needed after his early, and somewhat inexplicable, loss to Julien Benneteau at the Australian Open. All of the mojo Goffin had built up with his run to the London final at the end of 2017 seemed to have dissipated. We’ll see if his two singles wins over Hungary do anything for him as he heads back to the tour this week in Montpellier. If the seventh-ranked, 27-year-old Goffin is ever going to take the next step and become a threat to win, say, a French Open title, this would seem to be the season.

The Armada Sets Sail Again

“One of the most impressive debuts of all time”; “An incredible performance”; “An historic Davis Cup upset.”

Those were among the many rave reviews that 22-year-old Cam Norrie received for his efforts this weekend in Great Britain’s loss to Spain. Is Norrie, who played junior tennis in New Zealand and college tennis in the States, a new player to watch, or are the Brits just getting more desperate the longer Andy Murray sits on the sidelines? We’ll see. Norrie did beat Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets on Friday, but the lefty came back to earth on Sunday and lost to Albert Ramos-Viñolas in four. That’s not a bad effort on red clay, in Spain; but at 22, the 114th-ranked Norrie has some catching up to do.

What may be more notable, and ominous, for the future is the return of the Spanish Armada to the World Group. It has been seven years since the country’s Davis Cup juggernaut won its last title, and three years since it ran aground and was relegated. But a solid lineup—Bautista Agut, Ramos-Viñolas, Pablo Carreño Busta, and Feliciano Lopez—was on hand in Marbella. If they can stay together for all four rounds, they could be a Cup-winning lineup, too.

The US powers through Serbia 

Speaking of once-great Davis Cup powers, and speaking of teams that rely on depth rather than top dogs, it’s time to talk about the U.S. squad. This weekend it made quick work of Serbia in Serbia; yes, the Djokovic-less Serbs were depleted, but for the U.S., a sweep on the road, on clay, is something to celebrate.

Is it also something for other teams to worry about? The U.S. won without its No. 1 player, Jack Sock, and the relative rise of Sam Querrey over the last 10 months makes this team more formidable than it once was. If France can win with players who hover between 10 and 20 in the rankings, there’s no reason the U.S. can’t, too. The team’s quarterfinal tie against Belgium, which will be played in the U.S. in April, will likely pit a top dog in Goffin, against a balanced American squad. I’m looking forward to it already.

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