Category Archives: Davis Cup

Berdych, Djokovic, and Stars in Davis Cup

Tennis fans–especially the more old-fashioned among us–tend to agree on some things that players should always do.  Among them: revere Wimbledon, admit to a net touch, and play Davis Cup.

The top singles players on the two sides of last weekend’s tie between Serbia and the Czech Republic are good examples of what fans like to see.  Tomas Berdych has played 12 of 14 Davis Cup ties while a member of the top ten, and in that time, the Czech team has never lost a tie because he didn’t show up.  Novak Djokovic hasn’t been quite as reliable, playing singles in 13 of 18 ties since breaking into the top ten, though of the five he didn’t play, Serbia lost only one.

However, plenty of tennis megastars have been even more consistent cogs on their national teams.  In the years when Goran Ivanisevic was in the top ten, his Croatian team played ten ties, and Goran was there for all 10.  Since 1991, three other players have played at least ten ties while missing only one: Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Lleyton Hewitt, and Michael Stich.

Aside from Berdych and Djokovic, today’s top players are not so reliable.  Roger Federer has participated in 14 of 24 ties since he became a top-tenner, and the Swiss side has lost eight of the ten ties he’s missed.  Andy Murray has offered his services for only 5 of 12 as a top ten player, and the Brits have lost four of their seven Murray-less weekend.

Even less of a Davis Cup stalwart than Murray, however, is Rafael Nadal.  Thanks to a combination of injury, fatigue, and a frequent lack of necessity, Rafa has played singles in only 10 of 25 ties since breaking into the top ten.

The table below compares all players who, since 1991, have been in the top ten while their countries played at least ten Davis Cup ties.  It shows their record when participating (“In W-L”), their team’s success rate when they sat out (“Out W-L”), the percentage of ties in which they took part (“In%”), and the percentage of ties in which either they played or their team won anyway (“AllGood%”).

(I only count someone as participating if he contested at least one singles match.  In a few cases–such as Serbia’s defeat last year of Sweden, in which Djokovic only played doubles–that blurs the line between wins with and without the player.)

Player              In W-L  Out W-L     In%  AllGood%  
Goran Ivanisevic       5-5      0-0  100.0%    100.0%  
Yevgeny Kafelnikov    13-6      0-1   95.0%     95.0%  
Lleyton Hewitt        10-3      0-1   92.9%     92.9%  
Michael Stich          8-2      0-1   90.9%     90.9%  
Andy Roddick          15-5      0-3   87.0%     87.0%  
David Nalbandian      11-2      0-2   86.7%     86.7%  
Tomas Berdych          9-3      2-0   85.7%    100.0%  
Carlos Moya            8-4      1-1   85.7%     92.9%  
Stefan Edberg          8-3      2-0   84.6%    100.0%  
Marcelo Rios           5-3      2-0   80.0%    100.0%  
Novak Djokovic        10-3      4-1   72.2%     94.4%  
Nikolay Davydenko      8-3      4-1   68.8%     93.8%  
David Ferrer           7-2      3-2   64.3%     85.7%  
Marat Safin            7-0      2-3   58.3%     75.0%  
Roger Federer         10-4      2-8   58.3%     66.7%  
Boris Becker           5-2      5-3   46.7%     80.0%  
Andy Murray            3-2      3-4   41.7%     66.7%  
Jim Courier            6-0      6-3   40.0%     80.0%  
Rafael Nadal           9-1     10-5   40.0%     80.0%  
J M Del Potro          1-3      6-1   36.4%     90.9%  
Pete Sampras           8-3     16-6   33.3%     81.8%  
Andre Agassi           7-2    14-10   27.3%     69.7%  
Michael Chang          2-1     13-3   15.8%     84.2% 

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Doubles Wins and Davis Cup Results

Today, Tomas Berdych added another chapter to his outstanding Davis Cup doubles career, partnering Radek Stepanek to give his Czech Republic a 2-1 lead in this weekend’s Davis Cup final.

The absence of Janko Tipsarevic meant that the doubles rubber was particularly crucial.  While Novak Djokovic will probably defeat Berdych tomorrow, Stepanek is equally likely to dismiss Dusan Lajovic, giving the Czechs a second consecutive Davis Cup title.

Since the Saturday doubles match is so often a pivotal juncture in a Davis Cup tie, I was curious whether the doubles match was particularly predictive of the end result.  If you’re a believer in momentum, it would seem possible.

However, if a side is to take a 2-1 lead, it’s better to win two singles matches and lose the doubles than to drop one of the singles matches.  Or, to put it another, probably more accurate, way: It’s best to have a squad that dominates the singles.  (Stunning insight, I know.)

There have been 435 World Group ties (including playoffs) since 1981 in which the outcome was undecided after the doubles match.  In 296 of those, the two sides split the singles.  In the other 139, one side swept the first-day singles and the opposing team won the doubles.

Of the first group of 296, the side that won the doubles won 80.4% of ties.  That pales in comparison to the singles-sweeping sample. Of those 139 ties, the side that won both singles and lost the doubles proved triumphant 93.5% of the time.

This shouldn’t be too surprising.  Momentum or no momentum, the third day of a Davis Cup tie is nothing but singles matches.  When the outcome is to be decided by two singles rubbers, would you rather have two great singles players or a pair of momentum-swaying doubles players?

Fortunately for the Czechs, 80% is still awfully good, and it probably understates the likelihood that Stepanek will beat Lajovic tomorrow.   Nice as it would have been to sweep opening-day singles, it helps to have a backup plan when Djokovic is playing for the other side.

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In Search of Davis Cup Heroes

Come up big for one important weekend, and you can earn a reputation as a Davis Cup hero that lasts a lifetime.  We tend to remember big stories and crucial moments more than career-long trends, so images of Radek Stepanek holding last year’s trophy loom larger in memory than his mediocre-sounding 12-11 record in live singles rubbers.

This isn’t to say that Stepanek isn’t a Davis Cup hero.  Some matches are more important than others, and even 12-11 can be impressive when you consider that four of his 11 losses came against top-ten players.  And that’s to say nothing about doubles.

To find out who really performs under the scrutiny of Davis Cup crowds, we need to go deeper.  We must determine how many matches a player like Stepanek should’ve won, then compare his actual mark.  When we do that with two decades of Davis Cup results, we find some unsung stalwarts and some overrated superstars.  The international competition isn’t the endless source of upsets that pundits like to insist it is, but some players do provide us with more upsets than others.

Here’s how it works.  For every live Davis Cup rubber, we take each player’s ranking and estimate the likelihood that each player would win the match.  In the case of today’s match between Stepanek and Novak Djokovic, we might estimate that the Serbian has a 95% chance of winning.  Then we compare the results.  If Novak wins, he’ll outperform expectations by five percentage points (100% instead of 95%), while the Czech underperforms by the same amount (0% instead of 5%).

Do that for every match, tally the results for every player, and things start to get interesting.

Among active and recently-active players, there’s an unusual twosome near the top of the rankings: Juan Martin del Potro and David Nalbandian. (Delpo partisans will be glad to know that he just edges out his older compatriot.)  Del Potro has won 11 of 15 live rubbers, though based on his competition, we would only have expected him to win eight.  Four of those wins were over higher-ranked players.  Nalbandian is a stunning 23-6 in live singles rubbers (including 6-4 against higher-ranked players), while we would have expected him to win between 17 and 18.

Both Argentines have outperformed their rankings, winning between 32% (Nalbandian) and 36% (Delpo) more matches than we would expect.  Of those with at least ten live rubbers under their belts, the only active player to better those marks is Frank Dancevic.  The Canadian has won three live rubbers despite never facing a lower-ranked player in any of his ten matches.  3-7 may not seem awe-inspiring, but the numbers suggest he should have won only one match, with an outside shot at a second.  He has more than doubled that.

(I’m setting the standard here at 10 live rubbers. But it would be foolish to ignore Amir Weintraub, who has been historically great in his seven live rubbers.  Like Dancevic, he has never faced a lower-ranked player in Davis Cup, yet he has amassed a 4-3 record, despite an expectation of between one and two wins.)

How about the familiar faces this weekend?  Stepanek has racked up about 13% more Davis Cup singles wins than expected, while Tomas Berdych is slightly positive, at +4%.  Djokovic and his almost-teammate Janko Tipsarevic are a bit below expectations.  This isn’t really a knock on Novak, though.  When you’ve spent so many years close to top, expectations are very high.  Also, his two high-profile Davis Cup retirements–against Delpo in 2011 and against Nikolay Davydenko in 2008–count against him.  Take out those two matches, and his mark swings to a +4%, equal to Berdych.

In any event, no modest over- or underperformance is likely to swing the singles matches in this weekend’s tie.  Even a sluggish Djokovic would probably whip a hero-mode Stepanek.  Neither Novak or Berdych has displayed enough of a Davis Cup-specific tendency to alter the outcome of their match.  And Tipsarevic’s replacement, Dusan Lajovic, would need to channel his inner Dancevic to have any impact at all.

If hero-mode Stepanek is to alter the course of this tie, it will probably happen in the doubles rubber.  Unfortunately for Radek, I don’t have the numbers to disprove a strong suspicion that the most outrageous overperformance in Davis Cup this year belongs to Ilija Bozoljac, one of the men who will be standing across the net from him for–we can only hope–five sets tomorrow.

After the jump, I’ve included +/- numbers like those cited above for many top-ten and otherwise interesting players.

Continue reading

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Are There More Five-Setters in Davis Cup?

There’s no denying that Davis Cup gives us some of the most dramatic moments on the men’s tennis calendar.  It’s easy, then, to fall prey to some mistaken conventional wisdom, such as the canard that upsets are much more common in the international competition.

(In fact, upsets are only more common if Amir Weintraub is playing.)

Even if the favorites usually win, what about hard-fought matches?  Is it possible that any given Davis Cup match is more likely to go the distance than a Grand Slam match?

It sounds good, but no, the frequency of five-setters (and even four-setters, for that matter) is steady regardless of context.  Since 2003, 18.7% of Grand Slam matches have gone five sets, while just 17.5% of best-of-five Davis Cup rubbers have gone that far.

There are differences among levels of Davis Cup, as we might expect.  19.9% of best-of-five World Group rubbers go five, and 20.3% of World Group playoff rubbers go five.  But neither of these numbers stands out compared to some subsets of Slam matches.  19.6% of second-round matches at majors reach a fifth set, while 20.3% of fourth-rounders and 20.6% of quarterfinal matches do so.

Here is the complete breakdown by set length:

LEVEL        MATCHES  3 SETS  4 SETS  5 SETS  
Davis Cup       2496   56.6%   25.9%   17.5%  
Grand Slams     5453   51.2%   30.1%   18.7%  

DAVIS CUP                                              
World Group      473   51.0%   29.2%   19.9%  
WG Playoffs      261   52.9%   26.8%   20.3%  
Group 1          688   54.9%   27.5%   17.6%  
Group 2         1074   61.0%   23.3%   15.7%  

GRAND SLAMS                                            
F                 44   40.9%   40.9%   18.2%  
SF                88   51.1%   29.5%   19.3%  
QF               173   52.0%   27.2%   20.8%  
R16              340   49.4%   30.3%   20.3%  
R32              686   51.5%   30.2%   18.4%  
R64             1368   49.0%   31.4%   19.6%  
R128            2754   52.5%   29.4%   18.1%

There are good reasons why we believe Davis Cup five-setters to be so much more common.  At the World Group level, there are never many matches going on, so if two players reach a fifth set--especially if it is the day's second rubber, after other ties have finished play for the day--it is global tennis news.  It's easy to recall Dudi Sela's five-set battles against Vasek Pospisil and Kei Nishikori in the 2011 and 2012 World Group playoffs, but how many of us paid a moment's attention to Sela's four-hour clash with Andrey Kuznetsov in the first round of this year's US Open?

Further, the Davis Cup atmosphere leaves the impression that every match is gripping, even when it isn't.  Janko Tipsarevic beat Pospisil in straight sets yesterday, but thanks to the pair of tiebreaks and the electricity of the Serbian home crowd, we'll remember that match differently than a typical 7-6 6-2 7-6 victory at a Grand Slam.

Fortunately, fan enjoyment isn't measured in sets.  There is plenty to get excited about--especially the weekend of World Group playoffs--even if upsets and five-set matches aren't any more frequent than usual.

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Team GB and the Rarity of Davis Cup Comebacks

Last weekend, the British Davis Cup squad pulled off a major upset, defeating the Russian team 3-2.  Even more impressively, all three of their wins came while facing elimination.  The Russians won the two singles matches on the first day before Britain claimed the doubles rubber and both of the reverse singles rubbers on the final day.

It was the first time since 1930 that Britain won a Davis Cup tie from a 2-0 deficit.  It’s also one of the very few times in the modern era that any country has won a tie after failing to post a point on the first day.

Since the formation of the current structure in 1981, there have been 1310 completed ties in the World Group and Group 1, including playoffs.  In 802 of those (61.2%), one team has raced out to a 2-0 lead by sweeping the first-day singles matches.

Of those 802 ties, Britain’s comeback was only the 19th in this 33-year span, and the first since Canada surged to victory against Ecuador in 2011.  Playing the tie at home doesn’t seem to help the underdogs: Only eight of those 19 comebacks came at home.

Many Davis Cup ties, especially at the Group 1 level, are quite lopsided, so clinching the tie with the doubles match is quite common.  In fact, that’s what has happened in nearly half of all ties at the World Group and Group 1 levels since 1981 (577, or 44.0%).  So once a squad is down 2-0, the odds are massively stacked against them.  Here are the historical outcomes for teams that sweep day one:

Clinched in…              
3rd rubber    577  71.9%  
4th rubber    159  19.8%  
5th rubber     47   5.9%  

Won           783  97.6%  
Lost           19   2.4%

Here are the 19 odds-busting ties:

Year                     Home  Surface  Winner  
2013  G1 R2: GBR vs RUS  GBR   Hard     GBR     
2011  G1 R2: ECU vs CAN  ECU   Clay     CAN     
2010  G1 PO: KOR vs PHI  KOR   Hard     PHI     
2010  WG PO: IND vs BRA  IND   Hard     IND     
1998  WG R1: SVK vs SWE  SVK   Clay     SWE     
1997  G1 QF: PHI vs INA  PHI   Clay     INA     
1997  WG R1: ROU vs NED  ROU   Hard     NED     
1996  WG SF: FRA vs ITA  FRA   Carpet   FRA     
1996  G1 PO: TPE vs INA  TPE   Hard     INA     
1995  WG SF: RUS vs GER  RUS   Clay     RUS     
1995  G1 PO: PER vs BAH  PER   Clay     BAH     
1995  WG R1: DEN vs SWE  DEN   Carpet   SWE     
1994  WG SF: SWE vs USA  SWE   Carpet   SWE     
1992  WG R1: CAN vs SWE  CAN   Carpet   SWE     
1990  G1 QF: IRL vs ROU  IRL   Carpet   ROU     
1989  G1 SF: PER vs BRA  PER   Clay     PER     
1988  G1 F: INA vs KOR   INA   Clay     INA     
1988  WG PO: SUI vs MEX  SUI   Carpet   MEX     
1988  G1 QF: PHI vs JPN  PHI   Clay     PHI

It can be done, even in the late rounds of the World Group.  But generally, it's a good idea to start off the weekend by winning a singles match or two.

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Is Davis Cup About the Chalk?

In today’s tennis landscape, Davis Cup is a weird anachronism, in which no-name players contest five-set epics for national glory.  The usual guidelines about the invincibles and the journeymen are set aside, and we can watch a few days of raw, emotional tennis.

That’s the story, anyway.  And when John Isner beats Roger Federer on clay (or loses to Thomaz Bellucci on hard), it makes for good copy.  As Sam Querrey battled Thiago Alves in Jacksonville last weekend, the USTA’s Tim Curry tweeted, “On paper the @USDavisCupTeam is in good shape. No. 20 Sam Querrey (USA) v No. 141 Thiago Alves (BRA) but @DavisCup is never about the chalk.”

In the end, of course, it was about the chalk.  Most of the time, it is.  Legendary Davis Cup upsets stand out because of their rarity, not because they define the event.

Quantifying Davis Cup favorites

To determine whether there are a disproportionate number of upsets in Davis Cup, we first need to know what a proportionate number would be.  We can get there via two (similar) routes: using a projection system to determine how many upsets there should have been, or comparing Davis Cup results to another group of similar matches.

Since the beginning of 2009, there have been exactly as many Davis Cup upsets as we would have predicted, and almost the same upset rate in Davis Cup matches as in Grand Slam matches from the same time frame.

(I’m including matches contested between top-200 players, and live rubbers from all levels of Davis Cup–though the ranking requirement means we’re mostly looking at World Group and WG Playoffs. Projections are surface-specific and are derived from jrank; I’ve also discarded matches where one player has very few [<10 clay or <30 hard matches] recent results on the surface.)

In these last four-plus years, 352 Davis Cup matches and 1853 Grand Slam matches have fit these parameters. 93, or 26.4%, of the DC matches were upsets, against 474, or 25.6%, of the Slam matches. I’m using surface-specific jrank to define “upset” here, in an attempt to remove surface (and the home team’s ability to choose it) as a confounding variable.

The similarity of those percentages starts to cast some doubt on the “different game” theory of Davis Cup. But it isn’t the whole story.

Raw tallies of upsets don’t tell us how big the upsets were, or how lopsided the average match was. For that, we need more detailed projections.

Projecting the outcome of each one of those 352 Davis Cup matches (using only data that would have been available pre-match) gives us an estimate of 92 upsets. That’s almost identical to the observed total of 93 upsets.

Importantly, the prediction algorithm I’m using here is derived from ATP results. Thus, when we say that the number of Davis Cup upsets is the same as expected, what we’re really saying is that the number of upsets is the same as would be expected if they were five-setters on the ATP tour.

Davis Cup is unusual, it is fun, and it can be thrilling. But it is “about the chalk” no more and no less than your average ATP tour event.

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Tuesday Topspin: Back in the USSR

This is what we in the tennis blogging world call a “slow news day.” Davis Cup is over, and the Indian Wells main draw hasn’t been released. Oh well, we’ll make do.

Star maps: Indian Wells has done a great job ensuring that the game’s young stars are in the main draw, granting wild cards to Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Ryan Harrison, and Richard Berankis.  Any tournament that gives more than half of its wild cards to foreign players gets a thumbs up from me.

Missing from the draw, however, is Grigor Dimitrov.  The Bulgarian followed the European challenger circuit to Sarajevo, where he will again be the top seed.  Also following the circuit is Nicholas Mahut, Dimitrov’s opponent in last week’s final.  The more interesting potential opponent for the Bulgarian, though, is in his half of the draw: fourth-seeded Russian Dmitri Tursunov.

Others to watch: Like I said, slow news day, so let’s glance through the futures draws.  Bizarrely, Marc Gicquel is playing France F4 in Lille.  His stock has fallen in the last couple of years, but one would hope that (a) he’s getting a nice appearance fee, and (b) he wins easily.

In McAllen, Texas, at USA F7, here’s an unlikely pair of wild cards: 16-year-old Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and drug cheat Wayne Odesnik.  Odesnik has been on entry lists the last couple of weeks but hasn’t played; I wonder if he decided he wouldn’t play qualifying and has waited for his next wild card.  It’s an interesting draw beyond those two, as well.  Joining the Texas futures swing are two American 19-year-olds, Jordan Cox and Andrea Collarini.

That Russian Davis Cup team: Without Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youhzny, Russia’s Davis Cup team last weekend was the weakest it has put forth in a long time.  While Russia lost to Sweden, Kazakhstan triumphed over the Czechs and moved into the quarterfinals.

Of course, Kazahstan (among many other countries in Europe and Asia) used to be part of the USSR.  The Soviets were generally not much of a factor, spending only five years in the World Group.  But my oh my, what a team they would have right now.

Of course, the Russian contingent isn’t that bad.  You have the Kazakhs.  There are two Ukrainians in the top 40.  Belarus sports one of the best doubles players in the world in Max Mirnyi.  Even Latvia and Lithuania each have a player in the top 100.

Which got me wondering: What would Russian tennis look like if it still spanned the entire USSR?  Here are the singles rankings:

13   Mikhail Youzhny         RUS  
23   Alexander Dolgopolov    UKR  
34   Ernests Gulbis          LAT  
38   Sergey Stakhovsky       UKR  
39   Andrei Goloubev         KAZ  
42   Nikolay Davydenko       RUS  
55   Denis Istomin           UZB  
62   Mikhail Kukushkin       KAZ  
74   Richard Berankis        LTU  
77   Teimuraz Gabashvili     RUS  
96   Igor Andreev            RUS  
99   Ilia Marchenko          UKR  
103  Igor Kunitsyn           RUS  
104  Dmitry Tursunov         RUS  
125  Yuri Schukin            KAZ  
144  Alexandre Koudriavtsev  RUS  
153  Konstantin Kravchuk     RUS  
197  Jurgen Zopp             EST  
200  Vladimir Ignatik        BLR

Pretty impressive, huh?  With a potential doubles team of Mirnyi/Stakhovsky, you could come with a Davis Cup team on par with anyone except for a healthy Spain or France.

Alas, the Russians will have to settle for watching their former compatriots.

See you tomorrow!

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Monday Topspin: Kazakhstan is not weak

(Yes, I know the Seinfeld reference is about the Ukraine.  It seemed appropriate nonetheless.)

Sure, Radek Stepanek didn’t play, and Tomas Berdych may not have been 100 percent.  But really, did anybody see Kazakhstan advancing to the World Group quarterfinals?  Wow.

The hero for the Kazakhs was Andrey Golubev who, astonishingly, defeated Berdych in yesterday’s fourth rubber to even the tie.  That set the stage for the underrated Mikhail Kukushkin to clinch the victory by winning his match against Jan Hajek, exhausted from his five-set effort on Friday.  Next, the Kazakhs will play in Argentina, which may just be winnable for them, depending on who is healthy enough to represent the Argentine side.

The other drama-filled tie yesterday was in Zagreb, between Croatia and Germany.  After Marin Cilic handily won the fourth rubber, both captains went with substitutes, so the tie was decided by Ivo Karlovic and Philipp Petzschner.  It’s too bad Ivan Dodig was too worn out to play again; I’m liking this guy more every week, and I suspect he could’ve beaten either Petzchner or Florian Mayer.  As it was, Karlovic wasn’t strong enough, and the Germans advance to a tough quarterfinal matchup with France.

Elsewhere: In Cherbourg, Grigor Dimitrov took the final in straight sets against Nicholas Mahut.  It must have felt good: In Dimitrov’s last final, he played Mahut and lost in three.  In Dallas, Alex Bogomolov Jr. beat Ranier Schuettler for his second challenger-level championship since November.

Rankings update: Since it was a Davis Cup weekend, there’s very little movement at the top of the rankings.  Juan Monaco, Golubev, Jeremy Chardy, and Somdev Devvarman all gained a few spots thanks to their wins in live rubbers, while Joachim Johansson lept more than 200 places to 537th.

With his victory in Cherbourg, Dimitrov ascends to 71st, a new career high for the Bulgarian.  Bogomolov gains 24 spots to #128, and Andres Molteni, champion in Salinas, breaks into the top 200 for the first time, landing at #185.

Indian Wells: Another day, another withdrawal: It seems like I just mentioned Tommy Haas‘s comeback, to find out that he isn’t playing this week after all.

Looking at the entry lists, what’s fun about the upcoming tournament is that nearly everyone is playing doubles.  In addition to the usual pairs, Rafael Nadal is teaming with Marc Lopez, Novak Djokovic with Viktor Troicki, Robin Soderling with Jarkko Nieminen, Andy Murray with brother Jamie, and Tomas Berdych with Janko Tipsarevic.  I’m sure we’ll see a few of these teams withdraw, but for now, all that’s missing is Federer/Wawrinka.

Check back later today–I’ve got an interesting new feature I’ll be adding to the site.

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Sunday Topspin: Day o’ Doubles

Davis Cup Saturday: The only time the world ever watches doubles.

There was plenty of good tennis to be seen yesterday, as a handful of World Group ties depended heavily on the outcome of the doubles rubber.  Nowhere was that more the case than in Serbia, where Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic overcame Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna in a gripping fourth-set tiebreak.  It’s too bad that neither Leander Paes nor Mahesh Bhupathi could play; a team of either one and Bopanna could have won the match and put India in position for a major upset.

The upset of the day has to go to Jurgen Melzer and Oliver Marach, who saved the day for Austria by defeating Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  The French team was heavily favored, and Melzer was able to make up for his loss on Friday.  The other result that surprised me was the easy defeat of Romania by Argentina.  Sure, it was on clay and the Argentines were at home, but Victor Hanescu and Horia Tecau are almost surely the better doubles team.

So, a quick recap: Sweden, Argentina, and Spain have clinched their quarterfinal berths.  Serbia needs to win just one of two lopsided singles matches.  The U.S. needs only Andy Roddick to come through with another win.  The Czechs are in a similar position with Tomas Berdych.  The French should rest easy knowing that the final rubber (if necessary) will pit Jeremy Chardy against Stefan Koubek.

That leaves Croatia and Germany.  As I write this, Marin Cilic has just sealed a straight-set victory to lock up the tie at 2, meaning that it all comes down to Florian Mayer and Ivan Dodig.  Originally I predicted a German win; at this point, I might give the edge to Dodig and the Croatians.

First-time winners: A couple of players have made names for themselves outside of Davis Cup this week.  Andres Molteni of Argentina was contesting his first challenger-level final in Salinas yesterday, against 100th-ranked Horacio Zeballos.  Molteni won several futures events last year but hasn’t gained much traction at the next level.  In fact, the final was only Molteni’s third time facing a top-100 opponent.

Molteni came through, victorious in two tight sets.  The Argentine is currently #236 in the world; the tournament win should rocket him up about 50 spots, ensuring he can play all the clay court challengers he wants for several months.

Also in the winner’s circle is young Australian Benjamin Mitchell, recording his first title.  His came at Australia F2 over countryman Michael Look.  The win will get him inside the top 500 for the first time, an impressive feat for an 18-year-old.

Indian Wells: After we’ve put Davis Cup behind us, it’ll be all Indian Wells all the time for a couple of weeks.  For now, all we can do is talk about who will be playing there.  David Nalbandian is not–despite notching the win, he struggled through his Davis Cup match in pain, and will be skipping both Indian Wells and Miami.  Tommy Haas, however, will be playing, his first professional appearance in more than a year.

See you tomorrow!

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Filed under Challengers, Daily recaps, Davis Cup, Doubles, Indian Wells

Saturday Topspin: Pim Pim and Somdev

It wouldn’t be Davis Cup without the unexpected.  We got plenty of that yesterday:

  • Starting with the biggest shock: India is level with Serbia.  Somdev Devvarman took out Janko Tipsarevic in straight sets.  What might be an even bigger surprise, Rohan Bopanna took Viktor Troicki to five sets.  With Bopanna, you have to favor India in the doubles, and if Devvarman and Bopanna are playing this well, they’ve got a chance to grab a point in the reverse singles, as well.  Wow.
  • I predicted a Sweden win regardless, but a straight set win for Joachim Johansson over Teymuraz Gabashvili?  I don’t think anyone outside of Sweden saw that coming.  A 2-0 lead basically locks up the win for the Swedes.
  • As I suggested the other day, Jurgen Melzer isn’t exactly unassailable right now, and Jeremy Chardy proved it yesterday with a victory over the Austrian in straights.  The depth of French tennis is simply amazing–Chardy is the nation’s #6 player.

For all of that, the best tennis on Friday may have taken place in Croatia.  Both singles matches went five sets, with Marin Cilic edging Florian Mayer, and Phillip Kohlschreiber squeaking past Ivan Dodig.  Today’s doubles rubber may well end up deciding the tie.

A rung down the ladder, Canada is facing Mexico.  Even without Daniel Nestor, Canada is heavily favored.  I was very curious to see how Milos Raonic would handle the clay.  His opponent is outside the top 500, so maybe the result doesn’t mean much, but Raonic came through with ease, dropping only five games.

The most intriguing matchup in Group 1 is Netherlands vs. Ukraine.  Neither squad would be out of place in the World Group; arguably, either one is better than Belgium and Chile, and perhaps even Russia.  The tie is even at one apiece, after Sergiy Stakhovsky defeated Robin Haase in five sets and Thiemo de Bakker beat Ilya Marchenko in straights.

Back to Dallas: The American challenger is a lot less exciting now; in the first two matches yesterday, Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison exited the tournament.  Sock was impressive for much of the first set, but Matthew Ebden‘s speed and consistency was too much.  Still, it’s an exciting week for the youngster, and the quarterfinal showing should boost him more than 200 places in the rankings, up to the top 600.

More results: Benjamin Mitchell advanced to the final in Australia F2, taking out top seed Vishnu Vardhan.  It’s the second final of his career, and he’ll be gunning for his first tournament win when he faces countryman Michael Look.  The two have faced each other before: in November, Mitchell won in three sets.

HT.com favorites Grigor Dimitrov and Horacio Zeballos keep winning: Dimitrov is in the semis in Cherbourg, and Zeballos has reached the final in Salinas.

Here’s one more name to keep an eye on: Takanyi Garanganga of Zimbabwe.  A former African junior champ, he’s 20 years old, and he’s in the semifinals of USA F6.  He’s reached the later rounds of a handful of futures tournaments, but this is his best result in the U.S.  He had to qualify, so he has strung together five wins this week.  Today, he’ll face his toughest opponent of the week in top-seeded Brit Daniel Cox, ranked 320th in the world

I think it’s time to watch some doubles!

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Filed under Challengers, Daily recaps, Davis Cup