2016 Davis Cup Semifinals: Great Britain vs Argentina

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The Brits seek to take one step closer to defending their Davis Cup title as they host Argentina in Glasgow, Scotland. The two countries have battled five times in Davis Cup play with the last coming in 2008. Argentina won that tie in the World Group stage at home (4-1).

Great Britain vs Argentina Semifinal Preview

It shapes up as an intriguing clash in Glasgow as Great Britain plays host to Argentina in this weekend’s Davis Cup semifinals. The Brits edged Serbia in the quarterfinals behind the play of Kyle Edmund, who won both of his singles rubbers. The Brits would also get a key doubles win that round from Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot as Andy Murray sat out the tie. Argentina defeated Italy 3-1 with Federico Delbonis powering them with two singles wins. Juan Martin Del Potro also returned to Davis Cup play for the first time since 2012. He teamed with Guido Pella to help Argentina score the important doubles win in five sets.

The Brits suddenly looked loaded with their announced roster for this weekend’s clash at the Emirates Arena. Andy Murray will lead the charge alongside brother Jamie as well as Daniel Evans and Kyle Edmund. Both Evans and Edmund are coming off good results at the U.S. Open, which really opens up Captain Leon Smith’s singles options for this one. The Argentines will be spearheaded by the resurgent Del Potro along with Delbonis, Guido Pella and Leonardo Mayer. This tie will take place on an indoor hard court.

The Brits

Great Britain should have plenty of confidence after winning their quarterfinal tie without Andy Murray who had just completed a gold medal run at the Rio Olympics prior to that match-up with Serbia. Edmund served as the lead dog in singles, notching an opening day win over Janko Tipsarevic. It would offset James Ward’s loss to Dusan Lajovic. That set up Saturday as a huge day for the doubles rubber. The Brits sent out Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot who defeated Nenad Zimonjic and Filip Krajinovic 6-1, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4. That set up Edmund to end the tie in the fourth rubber with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (5) win over Lajovic. It was a huge accomplishment for Edmund who was playing in just his second and third singles rubbers in Davis Cup play. It highlights the importance of getting him a live rubber in last year’s Davis Cup final against David Goffin of Belgium.

Andy Murray should no longer feel burdened with carrying his side in every aspect as he was forced to in their terrific title run last year. He is still the main man and draws double duty with doubles, but the feeling now is that if he loses a rubber, Great Britain isn’t dead in the water. Murray’s career mark is at 29-2 in Davis Cup singles rubbers. He has the best “Robins” to his Batman in many years with Edmund and Evans as potential singles players this weekend. Captain Leon Smith has gone with the”hot hand” in Edmund after his heroics in Serbia. He still has Daniel Evans on the bench, should he feel the need for a switch after Friday’s rubbers. Evans’ Davis Cup record is poor though at just 4-11 in singles play. He hasn’t won a live rubber for Great Britain since their 2013 quarterfinal win over Russia.

The doubles pairing will be the Murray brothers. Neither Evans nor Edmund has any experience in doubles at this level, so it would be ridiculous to toss them into the fire in this spot. The Murrays have been so difficult to beat in this setting too, so it seemed logical even if they had other options. Andy and Jamie are a perfect 5-0 together in Davis Cup play in their careers. Four of those wins have come in the last two years during the Brits rise to prominence. They will feel very comfortable about getting another win in doubles this weekend.

The Argentines

Argentina will feel much better about the prospects of pulling of the big upset, now that Del Potro is back in the fold in singles. DelPo has had a good summer with the silver medal showing in Rio and then a quarterfinal run at the U.S. Open. The plus for him in this setting is that he knows his schedule, so the best of five setting should be easier to manage. I would not count on seeing Del Potro in doubles play if the Argentines fancy to win this. They will need him in singles and there still may be concerns over the problems he was having with his right shoulder at the U.S. Open. Rest will have helped, but overloading him with work would not.

Del Potro is 13-4 in singles rubbers during his Davis Cup career. This will be his first singles rubber since a 2012 win over Radek Stepanek in this same semifinal round. DelPo will be keen to prove stronger this time around as his nagging wrist problems prevented him from playing a second singles rubber in 2012 with the Czechs edging Argentina 3-2 in that tie. The surface also plays well for Del Potro who is 78-37 all-time on the ATP World Tour in indoor matches.

Perhaps the most intriguing selection of this tie was the choice of putting Guido Pella into the second singles slot. From most of the pre-draw day talk, it seemed that the choice was going to be between Federico Delbonis and Leonardo Mayer. Captain Daniel Orsanic went rogue and chose the lefty Pella instead. He might seem an odd choice with just one Davis Cup singles match under his belt, but it was a win indoors this year against Poland. It may also reflect Argentina’s belief that one win from Pella could be good enough to help them win the tie. The lefty has never faced Andy Murray, but he does own a three set win over Edmund on an outdoor hard surface at Indian Wells earlier this season.

The Argentine captain keeps saying all options remain open as to whether Del Potro could be involved in three rubbers, but it would seem unwise to have him play two singles rubbers and a doubles rubber. It seems as though it could be possible though with Orsanic saying they will see how DelPo feels and go from there. Two losses on Friday though surely would put DelPo into the doubles mix as Argentina might hit the panic button. The Argentine pairing for doubles at least as of now is Delbonis and Mayer. Mayer is 2-1 in his career in Davis Cup doubles. He teamed with Carlos Berlocq in 2015 on two occasions in the quarters against Serbia and the semis against Belgium. Both times, the Argentines won the rubber. Delbonis has played just one Davis Cup doubles rubber back in 2014, a five set loss to Israel.

Key Match: Murray vs Del Potro

I think it is highly probable that the Brits win the doubles rubber, so that means the focus will be on singles for Argentina to have a realistic shot to pull this off. The highlight clash of course will be the second meeting of the summer between Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro. DelPo surprised me with how well he was able to push Murray in that gold medal match after playing a long and difficult three set match against Rafael Nadal the day before. He’ll need to be better though to beat Murray. The Scot took DelPo down 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 for his sixth win in eight career meetings.

Del Potro’s serve really suffered in the match with the Argentine winning just 62 percent of his first serve points and 37 percent on second serve. Some of that can be drawn directly to the fatigue Del Potro was feeling, but a good deal should also be credited to Murray for his return skills. Murray would see 23 break chances off the DelPo serve, cashing in nine times. Del Potro for his part would break Murray six times on 12 chances. Murray’s main issue was landing his first serve as he did it at just a 53 percent clip. That led to a lot of second serves where Del Potro gobbled up 46 percent of the points. Murray won 72 percent of his first serves.

We saw the effect that indoor conditions may have had for Murray in his quarterfinal loss to Kei Nishikori at the U.S. Open. Don’t read too much into that for this match-up though as Murray still rates as one of the best winning percentages on tour indoors with a mark of 121-36. Del Potro’s power is the big key as to what he brings to the table. The problem for DelPo has been an inconsistent serve. The shoulder issue could be what has kept his serve from being a more stout weapon. It is still wicked when he is landed it with power and pace, but Murray knows how to combat that.

Where Del Potro wins or loses this match-up is from the baseline. Both like to grind from well back on the court, but it would benefit DelPo if he can get into more quick rallies and short points. That would keep him from wearing down in a best of five scenario. If he is grinding with Murray from the baseline in long exchanges, it’s a definite benefit to Murray. Surely the Scot will be keen to continue to test Del Potro’s backhand this weekend and stay away from the fierce forehand that has powered him to some big wins this summer.

What should be fascinating in this one is to see if either of these two players is fresh. Both admitted fatigue near the end of the U.S. Open after a busy summer. Del Potro’s may have been a bit more due to injury with the shoulder nagging him some, but his legs definitely looked heavy by the end of his USO run. Murray said he too was a bit gassed, but it was still a surprise that he did not put away Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals when he had several chances to do it. Perhaps a benefit of that loss though was getting a few extra days of rest by not playing the weekend in New York. Time will tell.

AND THAT”S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

It’s rare to get a blockbuster rubber to open a tie, but this is certainly one of those times. A win by Del Potro could give a massive lift to Argentina from the jump. It would take pressure off of Pella in the second rubber and put it squarely on Edmund to end day one squared at 1-1. A win by Murray and obviously the pressure flips to Pella and the possibility of a quick three wins for Great Britain increases greatly. A win by Murray also makes it a mortal lock I think that Del Potro will play doubles.

I think the Brits are comfortable as long as they split the Friday rubbers at worst. They will be confident of winning the doubles rubber and then have Murray vs Pella as the first reverse singles rubber on Sunday. If they avoid a shocking sweep on Friday, chances are Del Potro only gets one “live” singles rubber to influence the proceedings as well. All of that sets up very well for the Brits.

For Argentina, it’s almost a must win for Del Potro to open. If Murray wins, then Argentina likely has to have Pella win or this tie is cooked by Saturday most likely. However, this tie turns into an immediate pressure cooker for the home side if Del Potro wins the opener. Then, Argentina just needs a split of the Pella-Edmund match and the doubles rubber and worst case scenario is getting Del Potro in a fifth rubber against Edmund.

I think Argentina would take their chances on the tie coming down to a Del Potro win or loss and truly that is what this tie feels like it will be. The question is whether that will be a Del Potro loss in rubber #1 or potential glory win in rubber #5. It’s just hard to look past the Murray brothers in that doubles rubber as the big difference maker for the defending champions and harder to see the Brits losing both singles rubbers on day one. I do think this will be more competitive than most think, but do look for the Brits to get back to the final.

Prediction
Great Britain wins 3-1

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