Davis Cup Round Up
September 20, 2011 · Print This Article
Serbia: Was there any more moving sight in the world of sports this past week than that of Novak Djokovic, far and away the world’s No. 1 player, in tears after having to quit the decisive Davis Cup tie?
He brought the Cup to his homeland for the first time last year, and then followed that up with the kind of season most players can’t even dream of. Still, though just one week removed from a US Open win and clearly hindered by a back injury, he was willing to come off the bench and take on Juan Martin del Potro, a tall task for a player in perfect conditioning.
He failed, and in the process squandered any chance of finishing with fewer losses for the season than John McEnroe in 1984. Had he succeeded, though, we’d likely have been treated to a rare sight: The world’s top two players playing against one another in the DC final.
Their squad still has some improvements to make: This wasn’t the first time this season that Djokovic wasn’t fit to play for them, and in his absence Viktor Troicki proved to one-dimensional and Janko Tipsarevic too punchless to overcome the Argentines. But Djokovic’s commitment to the event, coupled with Rafael Nadal’s already stellar DC record, shows the much-neglected Cup has brighter days ahead.
If only that were true for …
France: Nadal and Richard Gasquet both experienced breakthrough seasons in 2005, when the two 18-year-olds, their dates of birth separated by just two weeks, played a three-setter in the semis of Monte Carlo. Nadal had nearly beaten Roger Federer in Miami just weeks earlier, and Gasquet had just beaten The Great Swiss a round earlier.
Nadal prevailed that day, but it looked like a nice contrast we’d see more of, with the Spaniard’s raw racket head speed countered by the French prodigy’s timing and flair.
Six years later, there was no “countering” by the Frenchman in the opening rubber of the Spain-France tie; he looked fresh off the junior circuit and playing his first top 10 opponent. As Nadal trampled Gasquet underfoot, losing just four games along the way, it was clear that he is not the same player he was six years ago. He was already strong, physically and mentally, with the later proving the difference in 2005. Now, though, it’s apparent that he has made visible progress in each of the six seasons since while Gasquet is the same confused, underdeveloped talent he was then.
Gilles Simon proceeded to take a beating from David Ferrer in the second rubber and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was easily dispatched on Sunday, but neither of them has shown much affinity for clay in the past. It was Gasquet, who duplicated his big win over Federer just four months ago on Rome’s dirt, who needed to send a message early.
The only message he sent was to French captain Guy Forget, who lamented his team’s physical disadvantage when the tie was over, and a need to rebuild from the ground up. It’s a stark message for a nation with a proud tennis history, but a necessary one considering their recent reputation for flighty shotmakers who would rather lose with style than grind their way to a win.
And success in grinding had been key for …
Argentina and Spain: Three years ago Spain won the 2008 DC final in Argentina, on an indoor court and without Nadal.
This final will take place in Spain, will certainly be on clay, and Nadal appears in much better physical shape this time. If he acquires an injury between now and end of November, it may still be a tough fight for the Spanish squad, but if he’s there the team of David Nalbandian and Juan Martin del Potro won’t be enough.
This is a shame, because a combination that gifted should have won the Cup at least once by now.
Switzerland: 2003 was the last time this team reached the semis of the DC. It is not a coincidence that they fell out of contention just about the time Federer became the world’s No. 1 player.
Just as dominant Spain finally stumbled last year as Nadal was having his best-ever season, and Serbia could not defend its crown this year even as Djokovic dominated the tour, Federer found it impossible to prioritize the Cup while he was winning majors just before its ties. His main backup, Stanislas Wawrinka, has shown potential over the years, but could not show growth without the Fed there to bail them out.
The good news after their win over Australia, helping them qualify for the World Group once again, is that Wawrinka may have turned a corner. Playing in Sydney on his least favorite surface, Wawrinka had every chance to fold against former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in the decisive rubber and did not, prevailing in five sets. If that’s any indication, he could be a serious threat in ties to come.
The bad news is that as long as Federer is still reaching the latter rounds of majors they’re not going to have him readily available. It’s been awhile since he last won a major, but far longer since he failed to reach a second week at one.