November 30, 2011

Davis Cup Championship Preview: Clash of Two Titans

It'll be a battle of powerhouses vying for Davis Cup glory this weekend, as two teams we've become accustomed to seeing in the final try once more to stake their claim on the trophy. One's done it a couple times in recent years, while the other has a real shot at making its first trip to the top of the podium.

Home-team Spain, twice a champion in the last three years, makes its way to this weekend's final after a thrashing of last year's runner-up France in the September semis. Led by world #2 Rafael Nadal and Barclays Championship semifinalist David Ferrer, they've got higher-profile names on their side, but their star power may extend deeper than than.

Feliciano Lopez has clawed his way back to a career-high ranking at #20, thanks to some solid play since the spring. He made his first championship match in over a year in Belgrade and stunned Andy Roddick to make the quarters at Wimbledon. He beat Mardy Fish in a long first rubber back in July and notched a win over Juan Martin Del Potro in the 2008 final. He'll probably get relegated to the doubles rubber, but might be able to score some key wins in the reverse singles matches.

And former top-ten player Fernando Verdasco has been a bit out of the spotlight recently, but still ranks in the top twenty-five. He's won both singles rubbers he's played at Davis Cup this year and has scored victories over higher-ranked players like Marin Cilic, Jurgen Melzer and Nicolas Almagro this year. He's had a less successful year in the doubles circuit, but with the crowd on his side and playing for country, he could still do some damage.

The Spaniards will have to face a pretty stacked Argentine team though. The three-time second place finishers secured their spot in the final after top-ranked Juan Martin Del Potro benefited from a retirement by Novak Djokovic back in September -- that gave the South Americans an insurmountable 3-1 lead over defending champs Serbia. DelPo, spitting distance from returning to the top ten, leads the team in the finals, coming off a semifinal run in Valencia and a runner-up placing in Vienna. He has an impressing 9-2 record in Davis Cup play, and though he has lost two matches to Rafael Nadal this year, he had a nice streak going before that, and soundly defeated David Ferrer in their last two meetings.

Veteran David Nalbandian could also feature highly in this weekend's rubbers. He's fallen a bit in the rankings, but won both his singles matches this year, including one over then-#16 Viktor Troicki. Never one that should be taken lightly, he has fairly solid records against the likely singles representatives. And with top-thirty players like Juan Monaco and Juan Ignacio Chela both in the mix, there's a lot of talent in the pool for captain Tito Vazquez to choose from.

Spain has won all of the teams' previous ties, and soundly defeated the Argentinians in the 2008 final. But some new blood could help ignite a fire in the underdogs. If Del Potro, still really developing his game, is in top form, it might be a closer fight than we think. And with the pride of their nations resting on their shoulders, the motivation to win has never been greater.

No comments: