November 20, 2014

Davis Cup Final Preview: Tensions Running High

A lot has been said about the little spat between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka after their semifinal battle in London last weekend. But even as both players have put to rest rumors of any hard feelings that may have existed, there's plenty of pressure on everyone as we head into this weekend's Davis Cup championship tie. The Swiss are going for their first ever trophy while the homecourt-advantage French are looking for title #10, but their first since 2001. And we'll be treated to some banner match-ups from the start.

Wawrinka opens play Friday against former world #5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who declined an alternate spot to the World Tour Finals to focus on exactly this match. The Frenchman has a slight edge in their head-to-head, but every one of the pair's five meetings have gone the distance, including their two Roland Garros encounters which combined for ten sets, three tiebreaks and more than eight hours of play. Tsonga's been a little quiet since the U.S. Open and Wawrinka did somewhat redeem his late-season slump at the O2, but with these guys' history, I'd expect this to a be a battle too.

But the rubber everyone will be watching Friday will certainly be the rematch between Roger and Gael Monfils. Federer, you're remember, narrowly eked out a win over the big-time showman in New York, coming back from two sets and a break down in the quarterfinals before powering through for the win. LeMonf has only played a couple events since then, but he has conquered threats like Jerzy Janowicz and John Isner, so seems more than match ready. And Roger, despite a run to the final at the year-end championships, is still contending with the back injury that forced him out of the title match in London. It took a couple days before he was able to get back on court and, if he's not a hundred percent, Monfils is more than capable of exploiting any weakness.

Of course everything could get wrapped up by Saturday in the doubles rubber. Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet, both accomplished on the singles circuit themselves, will take on the much lesser-known Swiss team of Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer. But something tells me the matches on Day Two will both be crucial to this weekend's outcome. In the early rubber we'll get a rematch of the Toronto final in which Tsonga stunned Fed after already beating not one, not two, but three top ten players in a row. The pair have put on some classic displays in the past, and the Frenchman has walked away the winner on a couple big stages. He might still trail Roger in their overall history, but expect him to step up to the plate again when so much is on the line.

And the potential final rubber between Wawrinka and Monfils could be just as exciting. The two don't have a long history -- they've met every couple years, but not since 2011 and have split their four previous meetings. The Swiss might be the on-paper favorite in this one, but again he's notched some surprising losses in the final weeks of the regular season -- to Mikhael Kukushkin in Basel, Tatsumo Ito in Tokyo -- and could find himself a little vulnerable at the hands of his opponent. Gael may not have won a title since very early in the season, but he's got three top-ten wins on his résumé this year and might just be primed to add number four to that list.

The last couple Davis Cup championships have all gone down to the wire, and I wouldn't expect any less this weekend. With history on the line and so much talent on the courts, you know everyone's going to power through any obstacle they face. And whoever comes out the winner will have certainly earned their spoils.

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