Davis Cup Quarters and Springtime Preview
The eight nations still in the running for Davis Cup 2007 were reduced to
four this weekend, 6-8 April. Most exciting was the 3-2 victory by Russia over
France in Moscow, where a 2-2 tie was broken in the final rubber by Marat Safin,
who defeated Paul-Henri Mathieu in straight sets. It was Safin's first action
of the weekend. The other Russian points came from Mikhail Youzhny, who won
his first-day's singles, and the pair Andreev-Davydenko, who won the doubles in
five sets. Thus all four team members contributed directly in the Russian
triumph. For France, it was yet another head-to-head loss to the Russians, the
fourth since 2002. In three of these meetings it was Mathieu the loser in the
fifth and deciding rubber.
Argentina faced a difficult task against Sweden on a fast court in
Gothenburg. But if the Argentines could survive, they could look to host-nation's (i.e.,
clay-court) advantage in the Cup semis and probably in the final. But Swedish
strong hitters T. Johansson and Soderling denied the visitors in both
first-day's singles, where five of the seven sets played that day were settled in
tiebreakers. Bjorkman then paired with Johansson to seal the verdict on Saturday.
Argentina's Guillermo Canas, who had performed brilliantly in the recent U.S.
tournaments, played only in the doubles.
Meanwhile Germany faced Belgium on a damp clay court indoors at Ostend. Tommy
Haas won as expected, and then Philipp Kohlschreiber, belying a poor clay
record in 2006, defeated the difficult Olivier Rochus. Then on Saturday,
Kohlman-Waske completed the German triumph. The reward for the victors was a September
date with the potent Russians, probably in Moscow.
Finally, U.S.A. hosted Spain in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. All 14,400
seats at the Joel Coliseum were sold out in hours. It made for the largest crowd
for Davis Cup action in the United States in fifteen years. Also on hand was
Tennis Server's Pablo Sanfrancisco, whose photography enriches this column. I
watched via Versus Channel.
Opening ceremonies at the U.S. - Spain Davis Cup Tie
BLAKE d. ROBREDO 64 63 64
RODDICK d. VERDASCO 76 61 64
The American team was slightly favored, having chosen a fast surface to
maximize the serving and forehand power of singles starters Roddick and Blake, and
also to minimize the overspin stroking strengths of their clay-court-raised
opponents. Spain's chances had been greatly dimmed by the absence of Rafael
Nadal, world #2, because of a lingering foot injury. But worries remained for the
Americans--Andy Roddick had injured a hamstring ten days earlier and withdrawn
from the tournament in Miami, and James Blake had shown a poor W-L record in
After glorious opening ceremonies, Blake and Tommy Robredo began the tennis
action. It became evident that Blake's serves and strokes were generally
flatter and faster than Tommy's, both players showing roughly equal control. The
American's heavy pressure added to the effect of the very fast court in making it
hard for the Spanish star to find his usual precision. James's heavy hitting
finally broke Robredo's serve in the tenth game to conclude a tight first set.
The pattern persisted--forcing deliveries by Blake that, helped by the court
speed, often broke down Robredo's usually fine all-court game. At net, Blake
was almost indestructible with an overhead game that was at the highest level.
James's triumph surely was among his finest moments in tennis.
Next, Fernando Verdasco, a 23-year-old left-hander from Madrid,
tested Andy Roddick's hamstring by regularly dominating points and making Andy
move back-and-forth behind the baseline. With Roddick looking rusty at the
outset, Verdasco's serve and forehand carried the visitor to a 52 lead in the first
set. But two double-faults in game nine set the stage for two unforced errors
by the Spaniard to surrender his one-service-break advantage. Soon
afterwards, the American captured the set-ending tiebreaker when Verdasco committed an
inexplicable error in the twelfth point.
The pattern stayed the same--Verdasco dominating most points with forcing play
but too often making mistakes, sometimes on easy shots. His serve meanwhile
lost some of its effectiveness, and he ended the match having committed nine
double-faults to Roddick's none. Andy had trouble at the finish, losing four or
five match points before finally prevailing.
BRYANS d. LOPEZ-VERDASCO 75 63 36 76
For a while it looked as if neither pair could win a point against opponent's
serves. Only occasionally were servers required to make a first volley. It
was top-flight men's doubles but at its least interesting.
Mike (left) and Bob Bryan
The pattern changed abruptly in game eight, when the Bryan brothers began
finding the court with low, softish returns, forcing extended exchanges at which
the Americans excelled. An American service break was followed by some
uncharacteristic poor serving by Bob Bryan, surrendering the service-break advantage.
But two games later Verdasco contributed three disastrous errors in volleying
to yield the first set.
Fernando Verdasco (left) and Feliciano Lopez
Having now found their zone of comfort, the Americans now settled down to
exploiting their edge in volleying consistency. Errors in volleying by the
Spanish pair came often enough to encourage the Americans in their relatively
conservative hitting. The second set's only service break came after several
mistakes at net by the Spaniards. But after Feliciano Lopez survived a difficult
service game to start the third set, the Spanish pair improved markedly both in
serving and net play. As Spanish winners began increasingly to appear instead of
errors, hints of concern could be noticed on the Bryan faces. Bob Bryan's
serve was again broken by the Spaniards. Lopez closed out the third set with some
Enthusiastic fans represented both United States (above) and Spain
The crowd involvement in the fourth set became extreme, worthy of great Cup
matches of the past. Both pairs weathered difficult moments. The Americans
seemed tight but had the lesser trouble in holding serve, though the visitors
continued to improve in confidence, consistency, and aggressiveness. The play was
now often spectacular, including some magnificent serving by the Spanish pair.
It ended in the closest of tiebreak games, the Americans gaining a minibreak
early but then yielding it. The difference was a lucky net-cord serve-return
by Mike in the tenth point, giving the Bryans the critical minibreak, cemented
two points later by a fine Bob poach.
The Americans celebrated their win!
Amid the celebrations, the victorious Americans could now could look forward
to a September trip to Sweden.
This weekend's four victorious nations will meet September 21-23 to choose
the two finalists. Russia will host Germany, where the excellent depth of the
host team should prevail, at an estimated probability of 80%. Meanwhile U.S.
will play in Sweden. Both squads are strongest on fast, hard courts but the poor
clay-court record of the U.S. in recent years might tempt the hosts to choose
that surface. I make the Americans a 65% favorite to prevail on any surface.
If both U.S. and Russia reach the final round, I make U.S. as host nation the
favorite at probability 60%.
Here are the new probabilities for winning Davis Cup 07 by winning both
semi-final and final-round engagements:
United States, 39%
FED CUP 07
Mid-April brings first-round action for the eight nations competing as
members of this year's World Group 1. If both Williams sisters play, as is expected,
the U.S. under team captain Zina Garrison should advance over Belgium
(without Henin). Superb depth assures a win for Russia (without Sharapova) over
Spain. France (without Mauresmo, who is recovering from appendicitis) should
survive behind Golovin against Japan. The China-Italy match-up is interesting, where
the highest-ranked singles performer will be Li Na and where the Chinese are
clearly superior in doubles. Play will be on Italian clay, while the Chinese
players have shown most of their past success on hard courts. I make the host
team a slight favorite. The four winning nations will face off on July 14-15.
The European and U.S. clay-court seasons are upon us, featuring the usual
sequence of prime men's events at Monte Carlo, Rome, and Hamburg, through Roland
Garros ending in early June. The women's itinerary is similar, where Tier One
events at Charleston, Berlin, and Rome will precede Garros. Earlier this year,
a sequence of men's clay-court tournaments in Brazil, Chile, Buenos Aires,
and Acapulco brought together many of the European and South American players
whose skills are best on clay. This group will now cross paths with the world's
higher-ranked players, who have played mainly on hard courts so far this year.
Three players compose the topmost echelon. Rafael Nadal--the undisputed king
on clay for the past two years--won this year's hard-court tournament at
Indian Wells, adding to his already superior credentials for the forthcoming
season. Meanwhile world champion Roger Federer, who was runner-up to Rafael at Monte
Carlo, Rome, and Garros last year, is obviously determined to improve his
career clay-court record. Our third clay-elite member is Guillermo Canas,
blinding fast and extremely solid in all-court play. Guillermo, who is now 29,
defeated Federer at both Indian Wells and Miami recently. Earlier, he won the
tournament in Brazil in his only appearance on the Latin American sequence. Canas
returned from a 15-month suspension in late 2006.
Slightly behind the three leaders is a second group, led by Tommy Robredo,
winner at Hamburg last year. We include the other recent winners from Latin
America--Horna won in Chile, Monaco won in Buenos Aires, Chela in Acapulco. Others
belonging at the same level include the likes of Ferrero and Ferrer of Spain,
Nalbandian and Acasuso of Argentina, the top Russians, last year's Garros
semi-finalist Ljubicic. Also in our second group is Novak Djokovic, 19, who
reached the quarters at Garros last year, along with Argentine youth Del Potro, 6-5
at age 18. Americans Roddick, Blake, and Fish should do well in the U.S. Clay
Championships at Houston but are usually unsuccessful in the European clay
It is interesting to track the doings of the tennis nations according to the
success of their players at the major tournaments. Among the men, U.S.A. won
the most matches at Australian Open 07, where Roddick reached the semis, Fish
the quarters, and where the Bryans won the doubles. At the Masters Series
tournament at Indian Wells the top nation was Spain, led by Nadal's six wins in
capturing the singles. Then at Miami, U.S. was a narrow top scorer, again led by
the doubles-winning Bryans. The French males were second at all three events.
Last year, Spain led the men at all the major clay-court events. Second place
in matches won went to France at Rome, Hamburg, and Garros and to Argentina
at Monte Carlo. The trend should repeat, except that Argentina should be much
stronger given the presence of Canas.
Meanwhile the Russian women have led in matches won at all three of the above
events as well as at the women's Tier One indoor tournament in Tokyo. That
the dominance of the Russkayas will continue into the clay season is
Here's wishing everyone a great clay season.
Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A.
Between The Lines Archives:
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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.
Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular
competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75
singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four
years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where
the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington
Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history
of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A
tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award
from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.
Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ray by using this form.