Fearsome Quartets

Davis Cup, World Group Quarterfinals

The first round of the 2011 Davis Cup World Group produced few classics, meagrely dotted throughout a weekend of lopsided ties and very piddly drama, leaving us – in lieu of satisfaction – with the vague hope that things might pick up in the quarterfinals. On paper, this next round was enticing, and added frisson arrived in the form of Albert Costa, who provoked a tempest in a teacup by challenging the USA’s choice of surface. It was amply discussed at the time, which is part of the reason why I won’t go back over it here. The other reason is that it was very boring even as it unfolded. Rafael Nadal chimed in with his muddled two cents. Now that he has withdrawn, his opinion on the matter matters even less than if he’d shown up, which is saying something. Spain’s appeal was dismissed.

Anyway . . .

Argentina v. Kazakhstan

Play commenced a day early on this one, and Argentina, at home, are already 2-0 up, for the loss of just twelve games. They’ll probably lose about as many more in the next three matches. Kazakhstan, incidentally, are at full strength.

Sweden v. Serbia

Serbia has sensibly gone in with the same team that captured the Davis Cup final last November, spearheaded by the returning ex-world No.3 and reigning Belgrade champion Novak Djokovic. Sweden were not so lucky in their choice of personnel, fielding a fearsome quartet that includes Michael Ryderstedt and Ervin Eleskovic, who are not household names even in Sweden, though they might conceivably be within their own households. They have the home court advantage, however, which might see them each gain a game or two from Djokovic, if he’s feeling charitable.

USA v. Spain

Nadal’s decision to not to play this tie has naturally swung favouritism back the American’s way, given that they outrank their opponents on aggregate, the Bryan Brothers have just captured their 11th major doubles title, it will go down in Austin, Texas, and both Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick may well play in abbreviated socks. Gratuitous displays of pale ankle are to world tennis as the haka is to Rugby. Much has been made of the fact that both Lopez and Fish reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last week. However, I expect the pivotal player to be David Ferrer. While he is the highest ranked participant in the entire tie – No.6 – he is also the least fearsome on very fast hardcourts, but also the most tenacious on any surface. It’s worth noting that Fernando Verdasco’s last match on this surface was the San Jose final back in February, where he famously lost to Milos Raonic in the final, inspiring a calamitous decline that we are yet to see run its course. He has been picked for the doubles, to partner Lopez.

Germany v. France

This is shaping up to be the most fascinating tie of the round, and arguably the hardest to pick. Tight-rope talent abounds, and the capacity for utter mental collapse will be virtually unparalleled, with Monfils, Kohlschreiber and Gasquet all in action on day one. Even with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga relegated to doubles, the French look to be the favourites on paper, holding a clear rankings advantage. On clay, though? It isn’t the most convincing choice of surface. It may blunt Gasquet’s shotmaking, but it will certainly do the same to Kohlschreiber’s, who will have a bastard of a time trying to get anything past Gael Monfils. Monfils will predictably lurk ten yards shy of the baseline, in order to ratchet up the degree-of-difficulty on all his groundstrokes, one of the clever tactics he employs to avoid winning matches comfortably. Much weirdness, and I haven’t even mentioned Florian Mayer, who post-Fabrice Santoro has really owned the term. The doubles will be pivotal, and will depend on either Petzschner or Llodra stepping up, on a surface apparently chosen to negate both their games.

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