March 6, 2010

Take the Lead

With two days of Davis Cup play in the books, the results so far aren't entirely unexpected. France, Croatia and the Czech Republic have won all their rubbers, giving them passes to the quarterfinals in July. Other countries still have a bit of a mountain to climb -- and the U.S., it seems, could see its reign of the longest uninterrupted run in the World Group* come to an end if it loses either of its next two matches to Serbia.

Of those ties left to be decided, most interesting could be the dual between Switzerland and Spain, ironically a match-up that has dominated the tennis world for most of the last five years. Though neither team's best player entered Davis Cup, there was plenty of talent on the courts. Nicolas Almagro and Stanislas Wawrinka took their first match to five long sets -- just short of four hours -- before the Swiss took the early lead. But David Ferrer, winner last week in Acapulco, made quick work of Marco Chiudinelli and Tommy Robredo teamed with Marcel Granollers to take the doubles match. One more win and the two-time defending champions will be in the second round.

Russia's dominance of India early on in their tie shouldn't be that surprising. But Igor Kunitsyn did struggle through his first two sets before beating world #128 Somdev Devvarman in four. The Russians took an easy two-rubber lead and looked to be on a roll until running into the legendary doubles team of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. It was good to see the two together again -- they haven't been regular season doubles partners for year, though they both remain at the top of their game and have captured more than a few Major titles separately. Of course it's unlikely that the underdogs will be able to stage a comeback against such a strong team, but it's nice to know they won't get blanked.

There's an interesting battle brewing in Sweden, where one of the hottest players on Tour last year, Robin Soderling, is trying to lead his country against the Argentines. With their star Juan Martin Del Potro still recovering from injury and former top-five player David Nalbandian still on the mend, it didn't look good for the 2008 runners-up, and Soderling won his first match to give the hometown team the early lead. But somewhat surprisingly Leonardo Mayer was able to rebound from a one-set deficit to tie up the singles score and Nalbandian paired with twenty-four year old Horacio Zeballos to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.

The most nerve-racking result so far, as I alluded to, is the hole the U.S. team finds themselves in. It's not wholly unexpected as top player Andy Roddick and veteran James Blake bowed out of play -- but with current, though uninitiated, stars like John Isner and Sam Querrey leading the pack, I'd have liked to see some more spark. Though both singles players were able to take one set apiece from Viktor Troicki and Novak Djokovic respectively, they weren't able to do much else. John did team with Bob Bryan to win their doubles match, so hope is not lost -- and the team has clearly put together a string of upsets over the last year, so they certainly shouldn't be counted out quite yet. Sadly, though, I won't hold my breath.

In the last tie of the first round, Chile finds itself up two matches against a nascent Israeli team. They have yet to play their doubles match, but so far Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez look to be in top form. I expect they'll be into the next round pretty easily.

We all know that in sports like tennis, there's no such thing as an insurmountable lead -- I'd especially love to see the U.S. and India pull off the rally and make the quarterfinals. But the play of their opponents over the last few days has proven to be top-quality and could make for a lot of fun Davis Cup matches this year. And if we see a new champion come December, at least we'll know they deserved it!

* The U.S. has played in the elite group every year since 1989, but a first round loss this year would force them to compete in the play-offs for the 2011 draw.

1 comment:

Kavitha said...

For those who missed it -- and I admit I was late to the game too -- the U.S. tried its darnedest, but wasn't able to rally against Serbia while Argentina squeaked by Sweden in what was probably the tightest tie.

Awesome performances by Isner/Djokovic and a resurgent Nalbandian!