September 20, 2009

It's Playoff Time!

There's a crisp wind in the air these days, and I can smell a turn in the season. Football teams are back in action and baseball players are staging their last campaigns to make the World Series. With all this excitement, it's no wonder that tennis too is getting in the team spirit this fall.

In just a few months, Spain will get the chance to defend its Davis Cup championship. This past weekend a strong team comprised of former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero and currenty top-twenty David Ferrer only ceded one rubber to a surprise Israeli team in the semifinals.

This December they'll meet another unlikely team in the finals -- the Czech Republic is making its first title run since breaking apart from Slovakia. They clinched a win over Croatia despite their opponent's strong serving Ivo Karlovic and U.S. Open quarterfinalist Marin Cilic.

And while the efforts of the two possible champions this weekend were spectacular, somehow the results of the World Group playoffs captured more of the attention.

Fresh off his heart-breaking loss at the U.S. Open finals, Roger Federer chose to take some time to regroup with his countrymen. He looked like his old formidable self against Italy, beating Simone Bolelli on Friday and surviving a two-plus hour rain delay on Sunday against Potito Starace on a surface that should have been much more comfortable to the Italian. With the help of Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss closed out their tie with a 3-2 win in the foreign land.

Serbia was similarly impressive in their win this weekend. Though #4 Novak Djokovic was absent, recuperating from a long summer in the States, the country's second best player Viktor Troicki was more than present. He battled through a persistent foot injury to win both of his rubbers, the first taking five sets and over three hours to complete. His teammates were just as unrelenting -- Janko Tipsarevic, who's had some success on the singles Tour, and Nenad Zimonjic, half of the #2 doubles team in the world, paired up to clinch the win, and even little-known Ilia Bozoljac, ranked in the triple digits, did his part to help in the sweep of Uzbekistan.

But the most unlikely victors this weekend were probably a under-appreciated team from India, led by veteran doubles champ Mahesh Bhupathi and former college standout Somdev Devvarman. In Johannesburg they took on a host of South African players whose names are much more recognizable -- Rik De Voest, Jeff Coetzee, Weslie Moodie -- but they were not intimidated. The University of Virginia alum, who's already beaten both Cilic and Karlovic this year, easily won his first rubber and survived a nearly five hour match against de Voest, coming back from two sets down, to clinch his team's victory. And so India, three times a runner-up for the Davis Cup title, made it back into the World Group with their performance this weekend.

You can be sure all these teams will be in a battling mood, seeking to back up what they showed us over the last few days -- we have yet to see who can talk the talk, but I know it's going to be quite a battle!

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