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Davis Cup Round-Up: Saturday Outside the USA

Feb 1st 2014

The doubles rubber on the middle day of a Davis Cup tie can serve as an exclamation point, a lifeline, or a hinge.  In some ties, a team that swept the first two singles rubbers can secure victory by winning the doubles as well.  In other ties, a team that lost both of the first two singles rubbers can live to fight another day by winning the doubles.  And finally, in ties poised at 1-1 after Friday, the two teams vie on Saturday to claim the upper hand moving into Sunday’s reverse singles.  The loser of the doubles rubber will have no margin for error, while the winner may feel that they have one foot in the next round. 

Let’s unlock this article and open the hinges.

Czech Republic 2, Netherlands 1:  What makes the Czech quest for a third consecutive Davis Cup title so remarkable is that their team relies on just two players, including a 35-year-old veteran.  But Radek Stepanek bounced back overnight from a five-set loss to Robin Haase in his first singles rubber.  He partnered world No. 7 Tomas Berdych to yet another victory in what has become a nearly automatic doubles point for the Czechs.  It did not come easily this time, though.  Splitting the first two sets against Haase and his partner, Julien Rojer, the defending champions needed to weather consecutive tiebreaks in each of the next two sets. 

Berdych will look to finish off the tie tomorrow in reverse singles against Haase, with Stepanek slated to face Igor Sijsling in the unlikely event of a live fifth rubber.  The Czechs should feel confident about their chances of reaching a quarterfinal against the winner of…

Kei Nishikori

Japan 2, Canada 1:  Canadian doubles specialist Daniel Nestor has claimed 12 major titles in his storied career, yet he could not deliver when partnered with Frank Dancevic.  Not wearied by his exertions in singles on Friday, Kei Nishikori joined forces with the unknown Yasutaka Uchiyama to keep Canada under relentless pressure on serve.  Japan found their nerve tested late in the third set when the visitors rallied from what looked like a certain straight-sets loss.  Extended to a fourth set, the home underdogs regrouped, seized an early break, and rode it through several tense moments to victory.

Nishikori now can secure the tie for Japan in the fourth rubber on Sunday against Dancevic.  If he cannot complete a heroic three-win weekend, though, all bets will be off when Go Soeda faces Peter Polansky in a decisive fifth rubber. 

Italy 2, Argentina 1:  Holding a lone doubles match on Saturday can seem unsatisfying with a pair of singles rubbers on each of the surrounding days.  Still, the crowd in Mar del Plata got their money’s worth with a four-hour, three-tiebreak affair.  Most of them probably would have traded a less dramatic match for a different outcome, for the Italian team of Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini rallied from the brink of a two-set deficit to prevail in four sets.  In a rarity on outdoor clay, the match featured just a single break between the two teams.  A handful of key points decided this match and changed the complexion of the tie. 

This is especially critical because both of Sunday’s rubbers have the potential to be tightly contested.  Both No. 1s, Carlos Berlocq and Fabio Fognini, won their Friday matches convincingly.  Both No. 2s, Juan Monaco and Andreas Seppi, have plenty of clay credentials despite their recent slumps.  The winner will face the winner of the USA-Great Britain tie in San Diego.

An ocean of potential outcomes awaits in those three ties.  Maybe it’s time to grab a lifeline.

Kazakhstan 2, Belgium 1:  Four-hour doubles battles are less surprising on outdoor clay than on the indoor hard courts where these nations clash in Astana.  The two teams, neither featuring a star doubles specialist, combined for a staggering 32 break points.  Mikhail Kukushkin and Evgeny Korolev will rue a 2/18 conversion rate that prevented them from making this match more competitive.  The Kazakhs found their footing too late to place pressure on Belgium, although they came within a tiebreak of forcing a fifth set against Ruben Bemelmans and Olivier Rochus.  This is the only tie in which no match has ended in straight sets.

To complete a comeback, Belgium will need victories on Sunday from David Goffin over Kukushkin and from Bemelmans over Andrey Golubev.  Goffin must regroup from a five-set loss on Friday in which he wasted multiple leads and match points, while Kukushkin and Bemelmans face the challenge of three best-of-five matches in three days.

And what better way to finish an article than with exclamation points?

Germany 3, Spain 0:  For a decade or more, Spain has charged deep into Davis Cup draws with the ideal combination of star power (Rafael Nadal) and depth (several top-30 men).  But they will fade into a relegation playoff tie for the second straight year after Tommy Haas and Philipp Kohlschreiber completed a sweep for the home team.  As was the case in Canada last year, Spain faced its kryptonite of an indoor hard court without its best players.  Two of the three matches were entertaining, including a four-set doubles clash in which the first three sets all reached tiebreaks.  Kohlschreiber and Haas saved all five of the break points that they faced against Fernando Verdasco and David Marrero, however.

Germany advances to a blockbuster all-European quarterfinal against one of their traditional adversaries of the last century,…

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

France 3, Australia 0:  On the 100th anniversary of the First World War, France will face Germany in a trans-Rhine battle sure to stoke national pride on both sides.  Many expected Australia to pose a sterner test than they did, winning just one set in three matches.  Handling the entire tie themselves, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga followed their singles victories on Friday by easing past Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione in four sets.  (Four sets seemed the norm in Davis Cup doubles today.)  The tide turned late in the second set after Australia had won the first.  Once they snatched that set in a tiebreak, Gasquet and Tsonga never were in serious danger of losing thereafter.

If France can field so impressive a team for the rest of the season, they will be favored to reach the Davis Cup final even though they occupy the stronger half of the draw.  A semifinal matchup against the Czech Republic could feature three top-10 men in a tie of higher quality than the competition often enjoys.

Switzerland 3, Serbia 0:  Credit to Serbia for winning two sets in a tie that was a formality from the start.  Neither Roger Federer nor Stanislas Wawrinka needed to participate in the doubles rubber, having staked Switzerland to a 2-0 lead after Friday by winning their singles matches.  The only notable player on the court was Serbian doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic, who might have made the home team a favorite today.  Still, Zimonjic and his partner Filip Krajinovic could not keep the tie alive against Swiss journeymen Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer.  For the first time since Novak Djokovic’s ascent to the elite, Serbia will head to a relegation playoff tie in the fall. 

Switzerland will be favored to reach the final from its half of the Davis Cup draw, for it eyes a likely quarterfinal against Kazakhstan, followed by a likely semifinal against Italy or Great Britain.  If Federer and Wawrinka continue to participate, they should feel confident in any of those matchups. 

Check back later today for a report on how Bob and Mike Bryan fared in San Diego.