The World Cup of Tennis

The Davis Cup brings out the patriot in a player. A player playing a Davis Cup tie plays at a level previously unknown to the player himself, breaking physical and mental barriers and setting new benchmarks for himself. After being on the tour all the time, the Davis Cup is a pleasant change to every player, where they get to interact and play along side countrymen and be part of a team. There are currently five ties of significance:

Brutal Belgium trouncing Italy

Belgium v. Italy (2-1)

Steve Darcis plays like a man possessed whenever he is playing the Davis Cup. He isn’t called ‘Mr. Davis Cup’ for nothing. He beat Paolo Lorenzi in the first rubber while David Goffin beat Andreas Seppi in the second. Darcis and Goffin had taken their team all the way to the finals in 2015. I feel Italy would have been better placed had Fabio Fognini been playing. He is playing really well and recently reached the semi-finals in Miami. And as this is an away tie for Italy, they could have used all the experience they had. Seppi and Simone Bolleli have won their doubles rubber to take the scoreboard to 1-2. If Goffin wins his singles rubber tomorrow, Belgium would secure a semi-final spot, else Belgium will rely on Mr. Davis Cup to see them through.

Clay is the answer for France

France v. Great Britain (3-0)

France has beaten the 2015 Davis Cup Champions. Britain missed their champion, Andy Murray dearly, who is recovering from an injury. France made the most of its home advantage by conducting the tie on clay. Though the clay season is round the corner, players have not yet gotten accustomed to the surface, having been playing on hard courts for the last couple of months. France had done a similar thing during the Davis Cup Final in 2014 against Switzerland. Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka were coming off a long and tiring season and from the just concluded World Tour Finals in London which takes place on hard courts. Also, it is no secret that clay is Federer’s least favourite surface. So, in order to swing the odds to their favour, they conducted the finals on clay hoping for an advantage, which they did get when Gael Monfils beat Federer in straight sets in the first rubber. But then, Wawrinka stepped up to beat Tsonga in the second rubber and Wawrinka/Federer won their doubles match the following day. In the reverse singles, Federer comfortably defeated Richard Gasquet to lead Switzerland to their maiden Davis Cup victory. France would be hoping for a relatively easier tie against Serbia because as a team France fairs better than Serbia, but then Serbia has Djokovic.

Sock needs to pull up his ‘socks’

Australia v. USA (2-1)

The two most successful teams in the Davis Cup, having won 15 titles between them since 1972. The current captains of both the teams are Former World No. 1s, Jim Courier and Lleyton Hewitt. USA would be disappointed with Jack Sock’s performance in the opening rubber. He has been in good form and should have comfortably beaten Jordan Thompson, a player ranked significantly lower to him. On the other hand, Sock’s recent doubles run in Miami convinced Captain Courier to play him instead of Sam Querry in the doubles rubber, a gamble that paid off. The top Aussie, Nick Kyrgios’ form has been out-of-the-world-ly. He did give Federer a run for his money in Miami. Kyrgios defeated John Isner to give Australia a 2-0 lead. Sock will have to gather every ounce of strength in him for tomorrow’s hopefully-Herculean match against Kyrgios. Tomorrow’s rubber between Sock and Kyrgios is going to be very crucial and it is equally important for both of them to win the match. Both players are in great form and the match could swing either way. A Kyrgios win would mean a semi-final berth for Australia while a Sock win would give USA a fighting chance and keep them alive in the tie before when Isner would play Thompson.  The Australian captain has accounted for the possibility of a change in the US representation at the last moment, where US could replace Sock with Querry for the next rubber. Querry had beaten Kyrgios in the Mexican Open last month, and might be more than willing to do it again. But, one victory against any player does not mean you can beat the same player every time. Technically, Jack Sock would be USA’s best option, but then Courier has more experience than the entire US team combined, so if takes a decision, he will have sufficient reasons to back it.

Djokovic ousts five-time champions

Serbia v. Spain (3-0)

While no country today should be able to defeat Spain in the Davis Cup, given the number of high ranked players they have in singles in terms of options, Serbia has done it quite comfortably. Serbia had Novak Djokovic playing the tie, and to counter that Spain should have fielded Rafa Nadal. The second highest ranked player in Spain Robert Bautista was also not part of the tie and nor were Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer. The last time these two teams had met was back in 2009 when both Nadal and Ferrer had beaten Djokovic to steer Spain to victory. Serbia is now in the semi-finals, where they will play France. The last time these two teams met was in the 2010 final,  where Serbia had won their maiden and lone Davis Cup title.

Youngsters see the team through

India v. Uzbekistan (3-0)

Ramkumar Ramanathan (ranked 267) and Prajnesh Gunneswaran (ranked 287 and playing his first Davis Cup tie) gave India a 2-0 lead over Uzbekistan on Day 1 and the doubles team comprising Sriram Balaji and World No. 24 Rohan Bopanna followed it up with a victory to take India into the World Group play-offs. Mahesh Bhupati’s first act as captain had been to drop Leander Paes from this Davis Cup tie. Paes and Bhupati have not been the best of friends and Paes strongly feels that their bitter relationship has been the factor for his exclusion. Paes’s exclusion came as an opportunity for Bopanna who was included in the team because of his form and probably the common hatred for Paes that he shares with Bhupati. Paes’ losses in the last two Davis Cup ties have also played against him, something that he is trying to sweep under the rug. Bopanna, on the other hand, won the Chennai Open, so it made more sense playing Bopanna in the tie taking place in the sub-continent, which did pay off. The tie could have gone in Uzbekistan’s favour had Denis Istomin participated. Istomin had beaten Novak Djokovic earlier this year at the Australian Open. With Istomin on the other side, an inexperienced Indian team would have found it tremendously difficult to pull off a victory. One of India’s best players, Yuki Bhambri pulled out because of an inflamed knee, but the team did not let his absence affect their performance. Other players who missed the tie due to injury are Vishnu Vardhan (Paes’ partner at London Olympics), Saketh Myneni and Sumit Nagal. This was the first time India and Uzbekistan played on hard courts, while this being their fifth tie overall. India has been finalists thrice in the past (1966, 1974 and 1987) and if the players are able to maintain fitness and the right form, India might be able to reach the later stages of the tournament next year. Maybe, India does need a hard-headed captain afterall.

Winning a Davis Cup tie is more complicated than it might seem. You need to have the right captain. The captain then needs to choose the right combination of players, from the available pool of players. Sometimes, players choose to put the tour before the Davis Cup and opt out of the tie and then there is the issue of injury too. So, that generally leaves the captain with very few options. Once, the team is decided, then other factors might come into play like the opponent, the surface of court, if it’s a home tie or an away tie. And to be able to establish a winning combination despite all odds is laudable.

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