March 8, 2009

Turning Back the Clocks

Some of us lost an hour of sleep last night as we marked the end of Daylight Savings -- or is it the beginning? I can never remember -- but some tennis players probably wish they could turn the clocks back a little farther, like to 2008. The first round of Davis Cup matches are in the books, and while many of the games went as expected, some individual performances were a bit surprising.

Two countries advanced by sweeping their opponents -- Argentina soared past the Netherlands, which had a team comprised of no name I recognized, and Croatia, somewhat more impressively, won all five matches against Chile, which was missing its top player, Fernando Gonzalez. Russia dropped only its doubles match in its victory over Romania, while the U.S. battled past a Roger Federer-less Swiss team, also winning 4-1. But there were some much tighter scores in other areas of the world.

France arguably had one of the best line-ups for its Davis Cup team with eighth-ranked Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who's already won two titles this year, headlining. They faced Radek Stepanek and his fellow Czechs in the first round. The teams split their first two singles matches, but with the once-promising Simon losing both of his matches, France took the early flight home.

World #3 Novak Djokovic had a similarly frustrating appearance, losing both of his singles matches in straight sets. He was no match against Rafael Nadal, but also couldn't convert against David Ferrer, who avenged his loss in the Dubai finals just a week ago. Nole's fellow Serbs, who had a very successful showing at last year's ATP Masters Cup, also struggled, only winning their doubles match.

But the closest face-off of the competition came when Israel took on Sweden. Every one of the singles matches went five sets -- and then some. Former top-ten player Thomas Johansson took fourteen games in his final set before beating Harel Levy and a still-emerging Dudi Sela had to go 11-9 to even the score. The fifth and deciding rubber pitted Levy against Andreas Vinciguerra with another 8-6 set going, this time, to the Israeli. After a rough couple of weeks for the country's players, they were finally able to come away with a win -- and earned a trip to the quarterfinals.

So as we spring into the next leg of the tennis season, we'll see if recent success stories will be able to maintain their momentum -- and if those others can turn things back around.

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