This is part two of the Davis Cup preview for this week’s first round action in the World Group. Be sure to check back in on part one with some updated information on the match-ups.
Serbia vs USA
Surface: Indoor Clay
It will be interesting to see if this Serbian squad puts up a good fight. They made the semifinals last year and won the opening rubber against the French, before losing the next three. Lajovic is the experience for this side with an 8-6 mark in singles. This time around however, the 27-year-old is being counted on as the anchor for his side with no Viktor Troicki or Novak Djokovic to depend on. Djere opens play on Friday against Sam Querrey. The 22-year-old made his Davis Cup debut against France last year, losing in straights to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on clay. Querrey himself only has 16 singles rubbers played with a 7-9 record. Only two of his career Davis Cup wins have come on clay. Clay is Djere’s preferred surface. Experience is the obvious drawback, but don’t believe he’s not without a chance if Querrey doesn’t play well.
Lajovic will feel like he has a great shot to beat Isner in the second rubber. The Serb is 1-3 against Isner at the ATP-level, but that one win was on clay in Buenos Aires in 2016. He has also taken a set off of Isner the last two times they met, despite ultimately falling in three sets. Isner is 13-11 all-time in Davis Cup action, going 7-5 on clay. This is going to be a real battle I think and depending on what happens in the opener, there could be a lot of pressure on Isner. The doubles rubber should favor the Americans with Johnson and Harrison. Serbian Captain Nenad Zimonjic has Milojevic and Zekic set to pair up, but they have zero experience in this competition. It would not shock me to see Lajovic subbed into one of those spots or he could roll the dice and see what they are able to do.
Pig’s Bottom Line
When you don’t see Djokovic or Troicki on the nomination list, the temptation is to think this should be a win for the USA. Not so fast. Surface is big here as the Americans have only played one clay court tie in this competition since 2012. The indoor nature of the event could give them a bit of help, but the Serbs they face are very crafty. While you might consider Lajovic the key component for the Serbs, I think it’s actually Djere. Lajovic’s record of fighting tough against Isner and a win against Querrey on hard courts means he probably will at worst split those two rubbers. I think doubles goes to the Americans, so that means in order for the Serbs to spring an upset – Djere needs at least one win and that might not be enough.
Djere did have the perfect prep to face these hard hitting Americans though as he played Ivo Karlovic at the Australian Open. He lost in straight sets with two going to tie breaks. That gives him a little taste of the power serves he will face. I’m just not sure he’ll be able to keep pace with them even with clay being somewhat of an equalizer. I think this tie is going to be fairly intense and an upset would not be the biggest surprise here for the home side. I do think as long as the Americans don’t get swept on Friday though, that they will tough it out with the doubles rubber perhaps being the big get for them this weekend.
Prediction: USA wins 3-2
Australia vs Germany
Surface: Outdoor Hard
Alex De Minaur
Edben was a late sub for Jordan Thompson and don’t underestimate the importance of that move. Thompson provided big wins for the Aussies during their run to the semifinals last year and teamed with Peers for a win against Belgium in their semifinals loss. Ebden meanwhile has not played Davis Cup since 2013. All eyes will be on De Minaur in rubber #1 on Friday. The 18-year-old makes his Davis Cup debut after his star rose dramatically with big runs in Brisbane and Sydney prior to a first round loss at the Australian Open to Tomas Berdych. It’s a big ask for the teen though as he faces off against Zverev. Sascha is still pretty green in this competition himself with just a 1-3 mark in singles, but those matches are a big experience edge. Kyrgios faces Struff in the second rubber. Those two have never faced each other either.
Kyrgios is 8-4 in singles play in DC action, while Struff is 4-2. Struff has a big serve to match Kyrgios, but lacks the overall electricity of NK in his ground game. The worst case for the Aussies should be a split on day one. The Germans will likely make a sub for doubles on Saturday. Puetz teamed with Struff last year in the World Group play-off with the pair pulling out a five set win against Portugal. Given Struff’s recent run at the Australian Open in doubles, it seems a natural switch. That could make the doubles rubber a tough call. With Peers and Ebden not having played together before, chemistry might be an early issue.
Pig’s Bottom Line
All eyes are going to be fixated on a possible Kyrgios-Zverev showdown on Sunday in the fourth rubber. I don’t see either country sweeping through the first three, so it should set up to be the key rubber of the tie. Kyrgios is 3-1 against Sascha in tour events and arrives with a better vibe than Zverev from his burn out against Hyeon Chung in Melbourne. Still, a best of five setting makes this all the more intriguing. Zverev has had his issues as we know in that setting in Grand Slams, but this figures to be a quick paced match void of a lot of heavy rallies. That helps both players, but the key may be NK’s increased calm on court that has kept him a bit more even keel in matches. Zverev has shown a propensity for going away when things go wrong for him in these best of five matches. Given the way the universe works though, I would not be surprised if this tie gives De Minaur a shot at glory or to be totally gutted in a fifth rubber.
Prediction: Germany wins 3-2
Croatia vs Canada
Surface: Indoor Clay
Two things stand out in this one: no Marin Cilic (at least on Friday) for Croatia and Polansky getting the singles shot over Pospisil. I think that might be more to due with Pospisil winning a Challenger title in Rennes in recent days and Captain Martin Laurendeau fearing burnout. That puts Polansky into DC play for the first time since 2014. He faces Coric in the opening rubber. Polansky did beat Coric back in 2014 in qualifying for a Challenger event as their only meeting. The 21-year-old Croat is just 5-6 all-time in DC play, so this is a challenge for him to raise his level as the lead singles player. He has not played a singles rubber since 2016, but do recall he has some heroics under his belt. Remember the win over Jack Sock in the 5th rubber that led Croatia to an upset win over the Americans in the quarterfinals?
I think it is a huge spot for Croatia and Coric NEEDS to win if they are going to take this tie. A loss and you put a ton of pressure on inexperienced Viktor Galovic. Galovic is 27, but has just one DC rubber to his credit and it was a dead one in Croatia’s World Group play-off win over Colombia last year. Shapovalov got some good big match experience in this competition last year and helped spearhead the Canadians win over India in the playoffs with two singles wins. I don’t see him losing to Galovic. The doubles rubber turns pivotal on Saturday with both teams bringing a wealth of experience. Dodig has played 24 doubles rubbers in his career, while his partner is far less experienced – Skugor and Dodig have played twice in DC play together and are 2-0. Pospisil and Nestor are very familiar. They played twice in DC action last year, going 1-1 and are 6-4 for their careers together in this competition.
Pig’s Bottom Line
It is crucial for Croatia to get a win from Coric in the opener. A loss there and this could go quickly to the Canadians. The doubles rubber is really hard to call with both teams being experienced in big matches. The home factor could just edge that one for Croatia and put the pressure on Shapovalov to beat Coric in the fourth rubber. That’s a big one that I am really looking forward to and hoping it’s a live rubber! Those two have never met and I think El Shapo’s offense against Coric’s defense would be something to behold. This is another tie that I really think could come down to the final rubber and who isn’t all-in on a Galovic-Polansky decider?
Don’t forget than Marin Cilic and Vasek Pospisil are on their respective squad’s nominations list and likely available Sunday for singles. There is no way in hell that Cilic doesn’t lace up his sneakers on Sunday if Croatia needs a win in the fifth rubber. As such, I think Croatia probably just gets it done in this one unless Coric flops in the opener and then there is a good chance that Cilic doesn’t come into play at all with Canada stealing the tie.
Prediction: Croatia wins 3-2
Belgium vs Hungary
Surface: Indoor Hard
Joris De Loore
The Hungarians do have more than just Fucsovics and Balazs on their roster, but they’ve been listed as the players for all five potential rubbers this weekend. That is nothing new for Hungary’s dynamic duo who played in all eight of their country’s Davis Cup rubbers in 2016. The Belgians finished as runners-up in 2017, the second time they’ve accomplished that in the past three years. Goffin is the obvious star in the field and he’ll be expected to win twice if needed. Bemelmans is experienced, but being called on for singles for the first time since Belgium beat Germany in this round last year. He’s been utilized more in doubles. Fucsovics has beaten him twice in Challenger play and arrives hot off his fourth round showing in Melbourne. I do think Hungary can get a win to open. That means Goffin will be expected to be Balazs to pull the Belgians even on Friday. Balazs is 10-7 in DC play in singles, but he’s rarely had to play anyone of Goffin’s caliber.
Don’t be surprised to see Bemelmans or Goffin sworn in for doubles duty on Saturday. Cagninna is a Davis Cup virgin and that doubles rubber is one the Belgians would like to win to set up Goffin for a potential clincher in singles on Sunday. As such, I would bet that Bemelmans might be the choice with the thinking that if all goes well – he wouldn’t be needed on Sunday in singles any how. Fucsovics and Balazs definitely won’t be pushovers as they helped crafted a win over the Russians last year in the playoffs that had what most would consider better talent. They will need the doubles rubber to have a realistic chance at a possible upset.
Pig’s Bottom Line
Fucsovics is the one to watch in this tie. He’s playing with confidence, so it will be interesting to see how he matches up against Goffin. Goffin will be happy to be playing indoors where weather plays no factor in his demise as it did in Australia. He’s been ridiculous in Davis Cup play at 21-3 in singles. He’s won nine straight rubbers since Andy Murray beat him in the fourth rubber in Great Britain’s 2015 Davis Cup clinching victory. He’s been an animal at this event, perhaps taking a cue from “The Shark” Steve Darcis, his Belgian teammate who isn’t included in this squad due to injury.
Prediction: Belgium wins 3-1