July 8, 2010

The World Cup of Tennis

Over the next few days a lot of things will be decided. Spain has a chance to win its very first World Cup when it takes on the Netherlands on Sunday -- it also will be playing for its third consecutive Davis Cup when it takes on rival France in the quarterfinals. But that's only one for four ties that will be contested this weekend, and no outcome is certain.

Spain vs. France

The battle between perennial fútbol greats can translate well on the tennis court. Though the two-time defending champions will be missing star Rafael Nadal, they still look good to advance. Gael Monfils and David Ferrer kick off the action in what could be a tight match between two top-twenty players, and Fernando Verdasco follows it up against Michael Llodra, who's now at his highest ranking in years.

Spain has won the match-up five times in their six meetings, but they've never played France on a hardcourt, so things could get tricky. Players like Monfils and Gilles Simon are more comfortable on this surface than clay or grass and could exploit the quicker game. Still none of the Spanish players are ranked outside the top twenty-five, so catching them off hard will take a bit of work.

Russia vs. Argentina

The opening rubber between these two nations could be the most exciting. Current world #6 Nikolay Davydenko, who had been so red-hot at the beginning of the year has been a bit out of contention over the last six months. And former top-five player David Nalbandian has fallen well into triple digits thanks to a hip injury. They've met eleven time and the Argentine has the slightest edge -- the match will certainly give a clear indication of how healthy these guys are and could set the tone for the entire tie.

When you add to that the fact that players like Russia's Mikhail Youzhny and Teimuraz Gabashvili along with Argentine Leonardo Mayer and Horacio Zeballos have been having such strong years, the play between these two countries could be top-notch. But Russia just has a more solid team this time around, and with Juan Martin Del Potro, Jose Acasuso and Juan Monaco all unable to support the country, I find it hard to call for the South Americans to win.

Croatia vs. Serbia

In a match-up that shouldn't spark any political tension, Serbia takes on its former countrymen in Croatia in their first ever Davis Cup meeting. Missing big-serving Ivo Karlovic, the man who survived yet another long five-setter in the play-offs, the latter country is led by world #13 Marin Cilic. And Indian Wells champ Ivan Ljubicic beat his first rubber opponent, Novak Djokovic, on the way to that title in March.

Still, with Nole and top doubles player Nenad Zimonjic leading the Serbs, it will be hard to make a major dent. Djokovic has winning records against both his opponents and Zimonjic, in sixteen years playing for his country, has only lost six times in his discipline. Though the early matches might provide some close calls, most of the drama might take place among the fans as Serbia should make the semis.

Chile vs. Czech Republic

This tie could be the closest of the quarterfinals contested this week, mostly because both teams are without their biggest stars. Though another doubles specialist Lukas Dlouhy is the top-ranked player on the Czech team, paired tennis only accounts for one rubber. Their best singles chance lies with Jan Hajek, now ranked ninety-fourth in the world, but he's only beaten one top fifty player this year. For Chile, down one Fernando Gonzalez, Nicolas Massu leads the pack. Once ranked #9 in the world, he's now dropped out of double-digits and has only won a handful of matches in 2010. Jorge Aguilar and Paul Capdeville aren't much better.

But this is a great opportunity for these players -- with a semifinal spot on the line, a stellar performance here and there could really make any one of these contenders stand out. And while this could be anyone's game, the Czechs who last year played Spain for the Cup are having a pretty good couple months and should be able to follow through.

So Spain might be just a game away from capturing glory on the soccer field, but there are just a few matches more before they can also claim Davis Cup triumph. And what a coup it would be if one country were to dominate this year on both courts!

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