Davis Cup has come under fire in recent years with many players and fans calling for changes to the format and structure in order to ensure that all the top stars can participate without it adding too much load to their already stacked schedules.
A long list of marquee players, like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are missing this weekend’s World Group first round ties, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to look forward to over the next few days.
Here are a few reasons to tune into the Davis Cup World Group action this weekend…
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) January 31, 2018
KYRGIOS-ZVEREV NO. 5
The young rivalry between Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev will take centre stage in Brisbane on Sunday in what promises to be an exciting showdown between Australia and Germany. The tie is likely to still be alive by day three and Kyrgios-Zverev could prove to be the crucial rubber to seal it for either side. Kyrgios leads Zverev 3-1 head-to-head and has more experience representing his country than the German world No. 5.
Zverev is contesting just his third Davis Cup tie (is 1-4 win-loss in the competition) while Kyrgios has won five of his last six Davis Cup rubbers.
Following a disappointing third round loss for Zverev to Chung Hyeon at the Australian Open, success this weekend could be the perfect pick-me-up for him, while Kyrgios, who has long said he dreams of winning Davis Cup for Australia, will be fired up with the backing of the home crowd.
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) February 1, 2018
Some exciting young faces look set to make their Davis Cup debuts this weekend, including Australia’s Alex de Minaur, who opens the tie against Zverev on Friday.
De Minaur, who turns 19 this month, had an incredible Australian summer, reaching the semi-finals in Brisbane (took out Milos Raonic en route) and the final in Sydney (beat Fernando Verdasco, Benoit Paire and Feliciano Lopez en route), before losing his first round to Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open. It will be interesting to see how the talented teen fares with the pressure of playing for his country.
Others set to make their debut are Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie and Liam Broady, who have been tasked to take on the Spaniards in Marbella, with Kyle Edmund not fit enough following his heroic run to the Australian Open semi-finals.
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) February 1, 2018
CROATIA v CANADA LIKELY TO DELIVER
While Croatia are on a four-tie winning streak on clay – the surface they’re playing on against Canada this weekend – they have also lost five of their last six home ties.
World No. 3 Marin Cilic is exhausted and jet-lagged having played the Australian Open final last Sunday in Melbourne. He is with the team in Osijek but is regarded as the fifth player, who can be fielded if necessary throughout the weekend but is currently not part of the line-up, with the Croatians now led by Borna Coric in singles.
Coric will open the tie against Peter Polansky, while Viktor Galovic will contest his first-ever Davis Cup live rubber when he takes on Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in the second singles on Friday.
The Canadians are led by teenager Shapovalov, who has a 3-2 win-loss record in Davis Cup singles rubbers. Canada are looking to end a four-tie losing streak away from home.
An all-NextGen clash between Coric and Shapovalov will be a mouth-watering prospect on Sunday.
🇭🇷 @borna_coric is playing as Croatian No. 1 and will face 🇨🇦 @PPolansky in the opening rubber tomorrow! #Cilic is the 5th player and can be drafted in over the weekend! #DavisCup pic.twitter.com/Wlued5gle3
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) February 1, 2018
DEFENDING CHAMPS LEFT TSONGA-LESS
Title holders France made a last-minute change to their five-man squad with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga pulling out of their tie against Netherlands injured and replaced by Adrian Mannarino.
The French will be led by Lucas Pouille, clinched the deciding rubber in last year’s final against Belgium to give his country a first Davis Cup title since 2001, and Richard Gasquet in singles. The Dutch have Thiemo de Bakker and Robin Haase as their singles players, with doubles star Jean-Julien Rojer taking centre stage on Saturday alongside Mattwe Middelkoop.
Dutch captain Paul Haarhuis favours experience over ranking in picking @Thiemodebakker to play singles on Friday.
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) February 1, 2018
A few changes have been introduced to Davis Cup in 2018 including the following rules:
– The introduction of five-man teams in the 2018 World Group and Zone Groups I and II.
– Amendments to the dead rubber policy across the World Group and Zone Groups I and II now mean that no fifth rubber will be played if the fourth rubber is decisive, the same as the current rule for the Davis Cup Final.
– In the World Group, only the fourth rubber will be played if the score is 3-0. The fourth rubber will be best-of-three tiebreak sets.
There is Davis Cup action this weekend taking place across the globe with last year’s finalists both playing with a home-court advantage as defending champions France host the Netherlands in Albertville, and runners-up Belgium host Hungary in Liege.
Some nations are missing their biggest stars with Spain hosting Great Britain without an injured Rafael Nadal, and the Brits fielding a team without Andy Murray, who is recovering from hip surgery.
Serbia are Novak Djokovic-less in their home tie against USA while Switzerland face Kazakhstan sans Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka.
Here’s a look at the standout statistics ahead of this weekend’s Davis Cup World Group matches.
1 – Spain’s top player this weekend in their tie against Great Britain, Pablo Carreno Busta, has won just one of the four live rubbers he has ever contested in Davis Cup.
1 – win and four losses for Germany’s top man this weekend, Alexander Zverev, in Davis Cup.
2 – Only twice have all five rubbers of a Davis Cup tie gone to 5 sets – the 1946 European Zone semi-final that saw Yugoslavia defeat France 3-2 and the 2003 World Group play-off when Romania defeated Ecuador 3-2.
2 – Japan are bidding to reach the World Group quarter-finals for just the second time.
3 – France joined Great Britain in third place on the list of most Davis Cup titles won when they triumphed over Belgium in the final last year to claim a 10th trophy in the competition.
4 – Serbia have won four of their last five home ties. They host USA in Nis this weekend.
5 – years since Serbia have last won a tie on clay. They play USA on indoor clay this weekend.
5 – Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut is on a five-match winning streak in Davis Cup. He’ll be looking to extend that when they face GB this weekend in Marbella.
5 – Great Britain are looking to reach the quarter-finals for a fifth straight year.
5 – Australia have played five of their last six ties at home. They host Germany in Brisbane this weekend.
5 – Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has won five of his last six Davis Cup rubbers, with the only loss coming against David Goffin in the semi-finals last year.
6 – hours and 43 minutes, is the length of the longest singles rubber in Davis Cup history. It took place when Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer defeated Brazil’s Joao Souza in the World Group first round in 2015.
7 – France have won seven of their last eight home ties in Davis Cup.
7 – Great Britain’s Jamie Murray has won seven of his last eight Davis Cup doubles rubbers.
9 – France are bidding to reach the quarter-finals for a ninth consecutive year.
10 – wins and 0 losses for France against the Netherlands in their Davis Cup history. They square off in Albertville, France this weekend. Their most recent meeting was in 2009.
10 – comebacks from 0-2 down in Davis Cup World Group ties have ever been completed. Sweden has produced four of these comebacks. Croatia recorded the most recent one, defeating USA in Portland in the quarter-finals in 2016.
13 – Andreas Seppi is competing in Davis Cup for the 13th year, putting him joint-third on the list for most years played by an Italian player, along with current captain Corrado Barazzutti.
14 – Great Britain and Spain are meeting for a 14th time in Davis Cup but the first since 1986. The Brits lead their head-to-head 8-5.
15 – nations in total have ever won the Davis Cup with USA leading with 32 title wins in the competition.
17 – Belgium’s David Goffin has won 17 of his last 18 Davis Cup singles rubbers.
24 – wins and 10 losses for Marin Cilic in Davis Cup singles rubbers – the most by any Croatian. He could equal Ivan Ljubicic’s record for most Davis Cup match wins by a Croatian player (in singles and doubles) if he triumphs in three rubbers this weekend against Canada in Osijek.
25 – Italy’s Fabio Fognini could reach 25 Davis Cup match wins if he claims a rubber this weekend against Japan. He is currently 24-11 overall in the competition and has competed for his nation every year since 2008.
25 – years since Germany last won the Davis Cup (they are three-time champions in the competition).
28 – years since Belgium and Hungary last squared off in Davis Cup. Their last meeting was in 1990, before seven of the nine players nominated for this weekend’s tie in Liege were born.
86 – years since Japan and Italy had last played each other in Davis Cup. They face off this weekend in Morioka.
— Fabio Fognini (@fabiofogna) January 30, 2018
The Australian Open just ended but the travelling circus that is the tennis circuit is already onto its next stop with two WTA tournaments taking place this week in St. Petersburg and Taipei and Davis Cup first round action held this weekend across the world.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille will lead reigning champions France, who are hosting the Netherlands in Albertville from February 2-4 while a Nick Kyrgios-led Australia face visiting Germany – spearheaded by Alexander Zverev – in Brisbane.
Freshly-crowned Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki is top seed in St. Petersburg, where French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and French duo Caroline Garcia and defending champion Kristina Mladenovic are also competing.
China’s Peng Shuai headlines the field in Taipei.
These are the main storylines to look out for during the upcoming period on the tennis tour…
New mum Serena Williams plans on making her first competitive appearance since her Australian Open victory 12 months ago next month (February 10-11) in USA’s Fed Cup first round tie against the Netherlands in Asheville. The Americans are the reigning champions and have brought in their very best to face the Dutch, with Serena joined by her sister Venus, alongside Coco Vandeweghe. It will be Serena’s first Fed Cup showing since 2015, and should ease her back into competition before she heads to Indian Wells in March, which will be her first WTA tournament since Auckland in January 2017.
Serena had her first child, Alexis Olympia, last September. She played an exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko in Abu Dhabi in December but opted out of defending her Australian Open title saying she wasn’t ready yet to compete at the highest level.
While she will technically have no ranking, having been out of action for over 12 months, Serena can enter tournaments using her Special Ranking, which is the one she had before going on maternity leave. In her case, her Special Ranking is No. 1 and she can use it to enter as many as eight tournaments. She will be unseeded in draws though.
Victoria Azarenka’s comeback from maternity leave was derailed last year because of a custody dispute that prevented her from travelling with her son Leo out of California. Azarenka has reportedly made headway in the case and has accepted a wildcard into the Qatar Open draw taking place from February 12-17.
The Belarusian ex-world No. 1 has played just two events since having her baby in December 2016. Doha will be her first tournament since Wimbledon last July, where she made the fourth round. Her ranking is currently 208 in the world. Azarenka’s Special Ranking is No. 6 and she can still use it to enter seven tournaments before June 18, 2018. Like Serena, Azarenka will be unseeded in draws.
— victoria azarenka (@vika7) January 22, 2018
BATTLE FOR ATP NO. 1
If Roger Federer accepts a wildcard into any tournament in February, he has a chance to overtake Rafael Nadal at the top of the rankings, with only 155 points currently separating them. Federer lost in his second match in Dubai last year so only has 45 points to defend next month and has a real chance to get back to No. 1 in the world for the first time since 2012 if he decides to play a tournament before Indian Wells.
But even if he doesn’t play, he can still get to No. 1 without hitting a ball if Nadal, who is recovering from a hip injury, doesn’t defend his runner-up points in Acapulco (starts February 26).
We are yet to hear from Team Djokovic on what the Serb has decided to do regarding his lingering elbow problem. Novak Djokovic fell to Chung Hyeon in the Australian Open fourth round, while suffering from elbow pain that had kept him out of the game for six months. Will Djokovic go for surgery? Will he need another extended break? We should know more in February.
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 22, 2018
WOZNIACKI’S POST-SLAM FORM
We’ve seen it many times before; a player wins her first major then suffers a dip in form. American Sloane Stephens hasn’t won a match since lifting the US Open trophy last September. She’s 0-8 since. Can Wozniacki keep up her motivation after finally clinching a maiden Grand Slam title and returning to the top of the rankings? We sure hope so.