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A World (Group) to Conquer: Davis Cup Semifinals Preview

Sep 12th 2013

Barely has the dust settled on the US Open, but several of the men who shone there will transition from individual to team play.  Four teams remain in contention for the 2013 Davis Cup, representing three continents.  We suspect that neither finalist will need to travel so far from home.

Novak Djokovic

Serbia vs. Canada:  After finishing runner-up at consecutive majors this summer, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic looks to gain solace by leading Serbia to the brink of a second Davis Cup title.  Unenthusiastic about the swift transition from hard courts to clay, Djokovic may feel fonder of the surface once he begins to blunt the serving power of the visitors.  Few teams have come into Belgrade and lived to tell the tale during the Djokovic era, but Canada has the power and the depth to trouble the Serbs.

Upsetting Spain at home this year, this team of underdogs has reached the World Group semifinals for the first time.  Crucial to their presence there is the serve and poise of Milos Raonic, both of which will be tested by the hostile surface and environment in Belgrade.  Canadian No. 2 Vasek Pospisil turned heads with a stirring run on home soil at the Masters 1000 tournament in Montreal, and he has risen to the occasion in Davis Cup this year.  But Pospisil lacks much experience on clay, while a demoralizing collapse at the US Open may have sapped his morale. 

Plenty of questions surround Serbian No. 2 Janko Tipsarevic as well.  Although he has delivered plenty of clutch wins under the national flag, this Davis Cup stalwart tumbled from the top 10 to outside the top 20 during a disastrous season.  Serbia will hope that Tipsarevic’s second-week appearance at the US Open presaged a revival of form, and he has threatened Raonic repeatedly.  One also would fancy Tipsarevic’s experience to trump Pospisil’s youth should the tie come down to a fifth rubber.

With Djokovic almost certain to win his two rubbers, Canada cannot afford to lose the doubles.  And they will bring one of the ATP’s most talented doubles specialists to Belgrade in Daniel Nestor.  Of Serbian origins, Nestor has won many of his 81 career titles with Nenad Zimonjic, one of his two opponents on Saturday.  The doubles rubber thus intrigues more than the singles matches in general, although Serbia smartly drained this tie of most suspense when they selected the surface.

Serbia 3-2

Tomas Berdych

Czech Republic vs. Argentina:  As with the other semifinal, home court and the choice of surface that accompanies it could play a decisive role.  A grinding Argentine squad led by Juan Monaco might trouble the impetuous Czechs on slow red clay in Buenos Aires, but the latter have taken full advantage of their hosting duties by situating this tie on fast indoor hard courts.  If Juan Martin Del Potro had traveled to Prague, the visitors still might have a chance, but the former US Open champion has focused on individual play this year.

Like Canada, Argentina scored a massive World Group upset earlier this year when they struck down France.  Also like Canada, that upset came at home on a more favorable surface.  The four men scheduled to participate in Prague have won 11 singles matches on hard courts this year among them.  By contrast, Czech No. 1 Tomas Berdych has won 28 hard-court matches this year by himself.  Although the fifth-ranked man fell before the quarterfinals at the US Open, his massive serve and improved forecourt play should carry him past baseline counterpunchers such as Monaco and Carlos Berlocq.

The task looms nearly as large for Argentina in doubles, where at least part of the Czech team will include Radek Stepanek.  His victory in singles last fall clinched the Davis Cup title for his nation, but Stepanek has become more dangerous in doubles with age.  Having just won the US Open doubles title by upsetting both of the top two seeds, he will fancy his chances against the Argentines no matter his partner.  Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil often pairs Stepanek with Berdych to devastating effect despite the additional exertions required from his leading man by that decision.

If Argentina looks for a weak link in the Czech armor, however, they need look no further than singles No. 2 Lukas Rosol.  Struggling to cope with the death of his father, the man who upset Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last year has lost nine straight matches.  Still, Rosol played the hero’s role in Davis Cup earlier this year when he secured two singles points in Kazakhstan. Playing on home soil before an enthusiastic crowd might revive his spirits.  Even if it does not, the one-two punch of Berdych and Stepanek should carry the defending champions through as it so often has before. 

Czech Republic 3-1