Davis Cup 2015: World Group First Round Preview

Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic will be the top ten players in action as 16 nations launch their 2015 campaign for the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas this weekend. Unlike the previous years where the first round matches were scheduled the week after the Australian Open; this year it has been scheduled just prior to the twin ATP 1000 events in North America which will be played over the next four weeks in Indian Wells and Miami.

The World number one Novak Djokovic who led Serbia to their only Davis Cup win in 2010 will once again lead his country as they take on Croatia who have been robbed of the services of the 2014 US Open champion Marin Cillic who has not played a match in 2015 as he recovers from shoulder injury. The tie to be played in Kraljevo on indoor Acrylic hard courts will also feature Victor Troicki – back after serving a 12 month suspension and veteran doubles player Nenad Zimonjic. Fillip Krajinovic, the man who won both his singles matches in the play off tie against India is the fourth player. Croatia’s hopes lie on the young 18 year old teenager Borna Coric who has registered wins at ATP 500 events against both Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in the last six months. While Nadal was beaten in Basel as he was struggling with Appendicitis, Murray was typically off colour in Dubai last Friday as he was routed in straight sets. Don’t expect any upset here as Serbia should wrap it up at the most in the first reverse singles on Sunday between Djokovic and Coric.

The tie between the 9 time champions Great Britain and 32 time champions United States of America will be fittingly played in Glasgow,Scotland as their own hero Andy Murray ranked fifth in the world will try to beat the visitors for the second year in succession in the first round. The tie will be played on Indoor hard courts this year and maybe decided in the last rubber on Sunday between James Ward and the young left handed American Donald Young who seems to be finally fulfilling his potential as he has climbed to no 47 in the rankings. The 20th ranked towering John Isner will be the highest ranked American player and the presence of the Bryan brothers Mark and Bob will prove decisive as I expect USA to avenge last years defeat in San Diego.

Another 9 time winner of thus event France travel to Frankfurt as they face off against the three time champions Germany on Indoor hard courts. This could be yet another mouth watering contest as last year France rallied from the brink of elimination at home in the quarter-finals as they lost both the singles on the opening day. While the flamboyant Gael Monfils who won the decisive rubber in Nancy will once again represent France; the 2014 loosing finalist will miss the services of their highest ranked player Jo Wilfred Tsonga(no 13). His place will be taken by the 14th ranked Gilles Simon who recently won the ATP 250 event in Marseille; ironically beating Monfils in the final. Germany is well represented by the 28th ranked Phillip Kohlscreiber who will carry their hopes of putting an end to the 76 year old loosing streak to France. Expect the French to edge out the home team once again.

Yet another battle of former champions; 28 time winners Australia will travel to the hometown of legend Ivan Lendl – Ostrava as they play the 3 time champions Czech Republic who will be without the services of the 9th ranked Tomas Berdych and veteran Radek Stepanek. The duo had led them to back to back titles in 2013 & 2014. Former world number one Lleyton Hewitt will join Bernard Tomic, Thanasi Kokkinakis but will feature only in the doubles partnering Sam Groth. The Aussies are trying to win a first round match for the first time since 2006 and should be the favourites to extend their 6-1 head to head record against the Czech who will be led by the 31st ranked Lucas Rosol; better known as Nadal’s conqueror at Wimbledon 2012 in the second round.

The 2014 champions Switzerland will travel to Belgium but will be missing the services of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka as they try to build a new team after winning their maiden crown last year. As per the draw no player ranked in the top 100 will feature in the tie as 21st ranked David Goffin is not playing this tie for Belgium. The veteran Steve Darcis could upset Swiss calculations just like he did Rafael Nadal’s at Wimbledon 2013 first round and 2012 Olympic Games when he beat Berdych in the first round in London. This is a tough call but Swiss will probably pay a heavy price for not convincing either of its superstar to play. If one of them were playing Swiss would have won.

The 1976 champions Italy will be severely tested as they travel to Kazakhstan. The Italians have the services of Fabio Fognini, Andreas Seppi, Simone Bollelli and Paolo Lorenzi – all ranked inside the top 100. The hosts will rely on the in form Mikhail Kukushkin and Andrey Golubev; ranked 58 and 91 respectively. The 22nd ranked Fognini upset Rafael Nadal in Sao Paolo, Brazil in the ATP 500 event two weeks ago. The Italians who lost to Switzerland in the semi-finals last year should prevail against the Kazakhs who were beaten by Federer’s men in the quarter-final in 2014.

Japan will travel to Vancouver as they are drawn against Canada in a battle of two countries that have never won the Davis Cup. The hosts will be led by the 6th ranked Milos Raonic and 62nd Vasek Pospisil but with Kei Nishikori enjoying a career high number four ATP ranking; Canada will have to rely on the services of 42 year old veteran Daniel Nestor in the doubles which could be the key to this tie. Canada should edge out Japan but this may go down to the last tie on Sunday.

In the only tie to be played outdoor on red clay in Buenos Aires, hosts Argentina will square off against South American neighbours Brazil. While this line up would be more appropriate in a premier football event the first round match could give the opportunity to lesser ranked players to rise to the occassion in the absence of the 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro. The Argentines have the services of clay court exponents Leonardo Mayer and Carlos Berlocq but will face stiff resistance from the Brazilian Thomas Bellucci once ranked in the top 20. The established pairing of Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo should give the visitors the edge in doubles. However the 4 time runner up Argentina who are still searching for their maiden davis cup title should beat the Brazilians whose best showing till date is a last four finish in 1992 & 2000.

– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy.You can reach him at the email: sportzcosmos@gmail.com]

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