2017 Davis Cup World Group R1 Preview

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The opening round of play in the World Group for the 2017 Davis Cup begins this weekend with eight ties scheduled to take place. The reigning champions, Argentina, open defense of their title against Italy. Five of the ATP World Tour’s Top 20 players will be in action, highlighted by 2nd ranked Novak Djokovic. Here’s a quick look at each match-up and what might turn the tide for a side this weekend.

Argentina vs Italy
Surface: Outdoor Clay

Issue #1: Who Argentina is missing

That is one Juan Martin Del Potro. Without DelPo, the Argentines are reliying on veterans Carlos Berlocq and Leonardo Mayer as well as talented younger players in Guido Pella and Diego Schwartzman.

Issue #2: Italians bring veteran squad

Despite being on the road, the Italians have a team capable of pulling the upset. Fabio Fognini, Anreas Seppi, Paolo Lorenzi & Simone Bolelli lead a dangerous Italian squad.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is an experienced Italian side that lost to Argentina in the quarterfinals last year and Del Potro was only a factor in doubles. Juan Monaco and Federico Delbonis led the Argentines charge with Delbonis providing the real heroics by winning two singles rubbers. It’s different with no Del Potro at all, but it’s also different with a racous Buenos Aires crowd behind the Argentines.

Argentina trusted Pella to be a big part of their run late as he started in the semifinals with Del Potro and scored a big singles win over Kyle Edmund. I would think the hosts will push Pella and Mayer out in singles, but Schwartzman could be an option despite his 0-3 record in DC play. The doubles rubber could be pivotal here and the Fognini-Bolelli pairing could make a difference there.

Argentina won their way to the Davis Cup the hard way in 2017 with all road wins in four ties. This will be their first home tie since July 2015 and the Argentines have only lost once on home soil in their last five ties dating back through 2014. That loss … Italy in 2014, where Fognini led the charge with two singles wins and a doubles win alongside Bolelli.

Prediction: Italy wins 3-2

Croatia vs Spain
Surface: Hard Indoor

Issue #1: Croatia Lacking Its Best Players

Last year’s run to the final was fueled by Marin Cilic. He’s not playing this weekend and either is Borna Coric. Without their top two singles performers, the Croats are in a world of hurt. Their roster for tie consists of Franko Skugor, Nikola Mektic, Ante Pavic and Marin Draganja. All are more known for their doubles prowess with a combined four matches played in Davis Cup singles competition by this quartet.

Issue #2: Spanish Power

There is no Rafael Nadal for this Spanish squad, but that doesn’t mean they are lacking. Spain is led by Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta presumably to handle singles. They also sport Team Lopez, Felciano and Marc, to play doubles. Feliciano of course could fil in for singles duty in a pinch as well. The only question for the Spaniards will be whether or not RBA, PCB and Feli can handle winning on the road. RBA and PCB are both still a bit green on DC experience, so they could get rattled a bit by a loud crowd.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Spain has been missing from the World Group since 2014 and this is a golden opportunity for them to advance. The gap in talent on the singles side is large, so unless the Spaniards really get rattled by the setting, they should get this done in fairly straight forward fashion.

Prediction: Spain wins 3-1

USA vs Switzerland
Surface: Hard Indoor

Issue #1: No Roger, No Stan

The Swiss not only have to travel on the road, but they also will deal without either of their supermen with Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka both not playing in this tie. That leaves a large void in singles for the Swiss side with Henri Laaksonen filling one of the singles slots. Marco Chiudinelli is also on the roster with Adrien Bossel and Antoine Bellier. Bossel likely gets a doubles nod, while the 20-year-old Bellier may be allowed to get some more seasoning in singles. Bellier scored the decisive singles win last year against Uzbekistan in the World Group Play-off to get the Swiss this spot.

Issue #2: Who Plays Doubles For Team USA

With the Bryan Brothers announcing their retirement from Davis Cup play earlier this year, Team USA now has a void to fill. The Americans have a wealth of options as they bring Jack Sock, John Isner, Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson into the mix this weekend. Sock and Isner are expected to handle the singles duties, so I think we’ll get a look at Querrey-Johnson to fill that doubles hole. They have only teamed up once in DC play, but that was helpful in getting Team USA back to the World Group after scoring a win against Uzbekistan in the Play-off in 2015.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Team USA should ban tennis from being played in the states if they drop this one. It’s a home tie on a surface that is suited to the power of all four players. They should be really embarrassed honestly if they even lose one rubber this weekend against a depleted Swiss side.

Prediction: USA wins 3-0

Australia vs Czech Republic
Surface: Hard Outdoor

Issue #1: Can Kyrgios Lead?

Nick Kyrgios will be shouldering most of the expectation for Australia with Bernard Tomic not in the fold for this round. Kyrgios leads the Aussies who also send Jordan Thompson, Sam Groth and John Peers out to battle the Czechs. NK is 4-3 in singles rubbers in his young career and this will be the first time the Aussies have gone to a surface other than grass when hosting since 2012. The outdoor hard court setting should be fine enough for Kyrgios and the DC debut of Thompson who may get the other singles nod. That puts more pressure on the 21-year-old Kyyrgios to get wins to lead his country out of the first round.

Issue #2: Czechs Weakened Without Berdych

The Czechs have to contend against the Aussies without their best with Tomas Berdych not included in this weekend’s action. They turn to Radek Stepanek and Jiri Vesley in singles play. The Czechs also have Jan Setral and Zdenek Kolar listed as participants. Neither has any DC experience, so it’s like an all-Stepanek and Vesely weekend. Kyrgios owns three wins in three matches combined against those two, so it’s a steep uphil climb.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The Aussies seem well-suited for success, so long as Kyrgios doesn’t crack under the pressure. He might not need to win twice, but a win on Day One will set the tone. The doubles partnership of Groth and Peers may also have a bit more chemistry than the Czechs duo, not to mention rest. I can see the Czechs getting a singles win, but the Aussies should advance.

Prediction: Australia wins 3-1

Japan vs France
Surface: Hard Indoor

The Only Issue: Does France Lose a Rubber?

This is a mismatch without Kei Nishikor in the mix for the home side. France rolls out a deep and experienced squad with Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon on singles duty. Even if one falters, the dynamic doubles duo of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert should pick them up with a doubles win. The Japanese look to rely on Yoshihito Nishioka and Taro Daniel in singles. Both at least got some experience during Japan’s World Group Play-off win last year against Ukraine. This is still a very tall task though without Nishikori

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The French haven’t lost in round one since 2009. This looks like a similar set-up that they had against Canada in the opening round last year when Milos Raonic was not in the Canadian mix. France swept that 5-0 and I would not expect them to have much trouble here and perhaps match that result.

Prediction: France wins 5-0

Serbia vs Russia
Surface: Hard Indoor

Issue #1: Djokovic Returns

For the third straight season, Novak Djokovic returns for first round play at the Davis Cup. He has helped lead the Serbs out of the opening round each of the last two years. It was his exclusion for Serbia in 2014 that put them into a Play-off scenario, so he has been keen on helping them avoid that the past two seasons. Both years he has not played in the quarterfinals, where Serbia have been beaten. He is 29-7 all-time in singles play at the DC and has not lost a singles rubber since an injury-shortened finish in the 2001 semifinals against Argentina. He’ll be alongside Viktor Troicki to lead the singles charge.

Issue #2: Russian Youth

The Russians may not be likely to pull off a stunning upset this weekend, but their roster speaks to a bright future for the two-time Davis Cup Champions (2002,2006). They will be led by 20-year-old Karen Khachanov and 25-year-old Andrey Kuznetsov in singles. The brightest young Russian isn’t even here this weekend (Andrey Rublev). Russia also brings young prospect Daniil Medvedev along. The soon-to-be 21-year-old is appearing in his first Davis Cup tie. Medvedev made waves early in the year by making his first ATP final in Chennai, where he lost to Bautista Agut. Veteran Konstantin Kravchuk is along, likely to be part of the doubles mix. This is Russia’s first appearance in the World Group since 2012. They have not been out of the first round since a quarterfinal showing in 2010, but that will change soon with these young 20-somethings in the fold now.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

There’s an obvious experience edge to the Serbs, but Troicki hasn’t been the most dependable player in this setting. Don’t be surprised if he loses on Day One and makes the doubles rubber an important one. That pushes Nenad Zimonjic into the spotlight. The 40-year-old doubles specialist is 28-18 in his DC career, but has been involved in three straight losses. He’s also serving as the team’s captain this year. The Serbs would probably choose not to have to risk Djokovic in doubles play, but that could be Zimonjic’s first tough choice if Troicki falters in singles. I think this one could be competitive enough to scare Serbia for a minute, but their experience edge likely gets it done.

Prediction: Serbia wins 3-1

Germany vs Belgium
Surface: Hard Indoor

Issue #1: David Can’t Be Goliath

The Belgians won’t be able to count on David Goffin to fuel another run. The top ranked Belgian is MIA this weekend and that means Steve Darcis and Ruben Bemelmans are on deck in singles. Darcis has his fare share of heroics from their brilliant run to the title match in 2015 and he is 18-8 overall in singles play. He’ll need a massive weekend to keep Belgium in contention. Bemelmans is the trouble at just 3-8 in singles. This will be Belgium’s first DC tie sans Goffin sine the opening round of World Group play in 2015. They edged a Federer and Wawrinka-less Swiss team 3-2 in that one.

Issue #2: Germans Turn to Sascha

Alexander Zverev aka Sascha, appears to be the present and future of this German side. He got his feet wet in the competition last year in round one against the Czechs. He played well in a five set loss to Berdych and appeared out of gas from that as he fell in straight sets in the decisive fifth rubber at the hands of Lukas Rosol. This will be his chance to step up and show he can lead this side, but he’ll have plenty of backup from veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber. The Germans also carry his brother Mischa and another solid talent in Jan-Lennard Struff. The interesting choice for Captain Michael Kohlmann is whether to use Sascha in doubles. Presumably the Brothers Zverev might be the best tandem, but Mischa has a single match of DC experience to his name and Sascha has never played DC doubles. Kohlmann could opt for Kohlschreiber to team with Mischa to avoid overloading Sascha.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Darcis can be dangerous indoors, so the Germans shouldn’t underestimate the Belgians despite Goffin’s absence. The plus for Germany is Belgium’s options are limited, so either Darcis or Bemelmans will probably do double duty and play doubles. Jose De Loore looks the likely partner for one as he had a hand in victory with Bemelmans in last year’s Play-Off win over Brazil. That was a huge feather in the cap for those two as they beat a much more seasoned duo in Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares in a five set thriller. That was on a similar surface, but also with a home crowd behind them.

That makes this trickier if the Belgians salvage a split on Day One.

Prediction: Belgium wins 3-2

Canada vs Great Britain
Surface: Hard Indoor

Issue #1: Can Canada Win Without Milos

Canada’s last World Group win came in 2015 with Milos Raonic leading them to a 3-2 win over Japan. They have dropped ten straight DC rubbers in WG play since then, without Raonic in the fold. This weekend they again do without their star with Vasek Pospisil as the top dog and Peter Polansky deputized as his possible partner for singles play. The Canadians do have the benefit of having doubles God Daniel Nestor on board along with Denis Shapovalov. The 17-year old Shapovalov won a dead rubber in his debut last year in the Play-off sweep over Chile. Shapovalov may wind up playing singles instead of Polansky, whose last Davis Cup match was in 2014. Shapovalov has a bright future, but is that future now or later?

Issue #2: Coping Without Andy

For the Brits, the task is winning without Andy Murray. Sir Andy is wisely skipping out on this weekend after being the lead horse in getting Great Britain back into the World Group in 2014 and of course leading them to the title in 2015 and semifinals last year. He was definitely risking a huge burnout from heavy involvement in this competition, so stepping away in this spot seems smart. The Brits appear left in capable hands with rising star Kyle Edmund and terrier-like fighter Daniel Evens leading in singles. They bring the experience of Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot in doubles. The wild card to me is Evans. He’s grown in stature on tour with his hard fought loss to Wawrinka at last year’s U.S. Open and followed that up with a fourth round showing at the Australian Open last month. What he hasn’t done is win in DC play at just 4-12 in singles. He’ll need a win to give the Brits a win this weekend I think.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The are a lot of question marks for Canada, perhaps the biggest of which is Pospisil. The 2015 Wimbledon quarterfinalist has dropped off a ledge since that achievement and he’s the guy expected to lead the home side. He does own a win against both Edmund and Evans, but those came well back in 2013. His form now is atrocious by comparison. Canada really is in a must-win on Saturday for the doubles rubber with Nestor and Pospisil as partners. The problem is Murray and Inglot are good, very good. The best bet for Canada is that without Andy Murray, maybe the Brits get rattled if the Canadians steal the opening rubber and the pressure mounts. Unless Shapovalov’s time is now and he channels that Rogers Cup mojo from his win over Kyrgios last summer, look for Canada to against lose out without Raonic. At the least, maybe they can break that ten rubber losing skid.

Prediction: Great Britain wins 3-1

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