Great Britain vs. France
This is the glamour match-up of this quarter final round of the Davis Cup. It will take place on grass at Queen’s Club in London and will feature some of the bigger names in tennis. England of course will be led by a Scot, which still confuses most of us states-side. Andy Murray is the unquetioned #1 for the Brits with James Ward slated to fill the second singles position. The provisional doubles team would be Dominic Inglot & Jamie Murray who comes in off the best doubles showing of his career after losing in the Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Final. For the French, the 2015 runners-up, it is am embarrassment of riches. They will be led in singles the first go-around at least by Jo-Wilifried Tsonga & Gilles Simon. Waiting in the wings are Wimbledon semifinalist Richard Gasquet and a solid grass courter in Nicholas Mahut. That pair is listed as the provisional doubles duo, but is of course subject to change. Gasquet may or may not be available for singles on Sunday as France is giving him ample time to recover from his long and taxing run at Wimbledon.
This is the 2nd straight year that Great Britain has made the quarter final round in the World Grup. Last year, they lost 3-2 to Italy after holding a 2-1 lead on italian soil. Fabio Fognini would straight set Andy Murray in the 4th rubber to allow Andreas Seppi to take out James Ward in straights to clinch the round for Italy. That was on clay though and this time, the Brits at least feel they have a great chance playing on grass. And what wouldn’t they? Andy Murray has an 84% career win percentage on grass at the ATP level with an 88-17 mark. This year alone, he’s 10-1 on grass with his lone loss from a stunning display of tennis at Wimbledon in the semis courtesy of Roger Federer. Ward for his part should have a ton of confidence after making the 3rd round at Wimbledon and losing a five set grinder to Vasek Pospisil 8-6 in the 5th set. It was by far his best results on grass, a surface where he still stands just 13-22 at the ATP level. Ward has proven to be a good Robin to Murray’s Batman in Davis Cup play too with a respectable 10-8 mark in singles play. Earlier in March, he helped secure a win over the United States by stunning John Isner 15-13 in a superb 5th set that gave Great Britan a 2-0 strangehold on the US. That experience will serve him well this weekend.
For France, they will feel as if they have a great chance to win this on the road if they can get off to a good start. Simon comes in off one of his best grass court seasons of his career with a quarter final showing at Wimbledon & Nottingham along with a semifinals appearance at the AEGON Championships at this venue in Queen’s Club. The one thing Simon is a bit short on though is Davis Cup match play. He has played 14 matches for France with a 5-9 mark in singles, but his two rubbers earlier this year against Germany were his first since 2013. He did beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the opening rubber in Germany in a 5th set, 10-8. That will give him something to fall back on should this first rubber against Ward go deep as you might expect. Tsonga will hope to have less pressure on him as he battles Murray in the 2nd rubber if Simon can grab the opening win. Tsonga only played three matches on grass this year, all coming at Wimbledon where he was taken out by the big serve of Ivo Karlovic in R3. Tsonga has been a strong Davis Cup player though when healthy with a 21-5 mark in singles. He has had it rough against Murray though who is 10-3 against him in their careers. Murray looks like a bad match-up for any of the players on France, having won five of the last six meetings against Gasquet & holding a 12-2 record against Simon. Simon did beat Murray early this season on an indoor hard court in Rotterdam though.
With all that being said about the French struggles against Murray, the opener with Ward vs. Simon is a massive must for the French if they want to try and steal this on the road. If Simon falls, they would need to beat Murray twice in singles which seems very unlikely given their struggles against him. Murray is also 21-2 in singles play all-time for Great Britan in Davis Cup play. Simon’s backboard style of play should give him every chance to win though as Ward is not the most consistent sort with his ground strokes. If Simon serves adequately and does not put himself into poor positions in that category, I think his defense and return will give Ward fits over the course of five sets. I do expect Simon to give France a lead with an opening win. That would put some pressure on Murray, but no more than he is ever used to playing in the U.K. With Tsonga has looked closer to his best the last couple months, his consistency all-around will be put to a test by Murray. The bad news for Tsonga is that in five career grass court meetings with Murray, he has won just once. That came over a decade ago in 2004 at the Challenger level. He has lost to Murray twice at Wimbledon & twice at Queen’s Club over the years. The matches have been competitive, but Murray usually wears on Tsonga, especially in best of five matches where he is 3-1. Tsonga’s lone win coming at the Australian Open in 2008. After Day One, expect this tie to be knotted 1-1.
That would leave Saturday’s doubles rubber as a huge one, especially for France with Murray vs. Simon slated as the fourth rubber. Gasquet might be a possible fill-in there, but as laid out earlier, none of the French will have huge confidence going against Murray based on past records. Although Gasquet rarely plays doubles at the ATP level, he has proven to be capable in Davis Cup play. He teamed with Tsonga in 2014 most famously to vanquish the Czech team of Berdych & Stepanek in route to France making the Davis Cup Final. Mahut has the least amount of experience of the French players with just two Davis Cup matches, but he did win in doubles earlier in the year against Germany. Still, I would not be surprised to see the French sub in Tsonga who is 5-0 as a doubles player in Davis Cup competition. If the British team remains that of Inglot-Murray, it would be an intriguing battle. Inglot-Murray lost but pushed the Bryans to a 5th set when the Brits defeated the US earlier this year. Inglot has only played two Davis Cup rubbers in his career, while Jamie Murray has now played eight. Although Jamie’s brother Andy doesn’t play doubles often either, there could be a slight chance of them subbing Andy in to team with Jamie. Andy slipped into a doubles spot last year in this round against Italy to team with Colin Fleming. That turned out to be a big win for the Brits over one of the better doubles teams in Bolelli-Fognini. I’m expecting the Brits to stick with Inglot & Jamie Murray though given their showing against the Bryans and to give Andy as much rest as he needs for singles. If the French sub Tsonga in, I think they could steal this rubber, but it will still be really tough to call a winner. If they stick with Gasquet-Mahut, then I do prefer Inglot-Murray to get the job done. I’ll go ahead and side with the Brits in both scenarios, but it will not be a total shock if France holds the 2-1 advantage heading into Sunday.
Sunday should shape up to be full of drama unless the French get rushed from the get-go with James Ward surprising Gilles Simon. The 4th rubber between Andy Murray & Gilles Simon or Richard Gasquet will be pivotal, likely either meaning Murray can lock up a win for Great Britain in this tie or that Simon/Gasquet can prolong it to a 5th rubber. A 5th rubber should favor the French who would have Tsonga against Ward. Tsonga won their lone meeting back in 2011 in straight sets at Queen’s Club. Ward could have a chance to become a hero for his country on par with Andy Murray if he pulls that 5th rubber out. A win this weekend would put the Brits into the semifinals, a place they haven’t been since 1978 when they finished runners-up to the United States.
I think if it goes five, I would slightly favor the French with Tsonga being a better big match player still at this stage of his career vs. Ward. I don’t know that it will get to that point though as I favor the Brits to finish this off by the 4th rubber with Andy Murray of course doing the heavy lifting.