Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Cup Before the Clay

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

This week is like the warm-up. It is like the serves and the gentle rallies before a ball is hit in anger. You're sitting there impatiently with popcorn or nachos or cereal and waiting for the match to begin. I sit here waiting for that clay season to start swinging, to do the twist. Yes, watching them warm up is interesting, but until I see Nadal hit that forehand on that surface the clay court season hasn't started.

Before we look at that, though, the Davis Cup continued. Here are some fun numbers:

10 - Straight ties the Czechs have won
5 - Straight doubles matches Federinka have lost in the Davis Cup
1 - Ties Britain have won at World Group level since 2002
1 - Amount of Davis Cups in the past ten years where France weren't seeded. They made the final in 2010.
44093.75 - Amount of points the top-ranked Czechs have in the Davis Cup records
60 - Combined times Australia and USA have won the Cup
27 - Combined times everyone else has won it
1 - Combined amount of World Group matches won by Australia and America this year
4 - Kazakhstan's years in World Group
2 - Places Italy and Switzerland went up in the rankings after this round
1 - Country that doesn't border another semifinalist. France, Italy and Switzerland all border one another, but Austria sits betwixt Switzerland and the Czechs.

But enough of my talking [and my number crunching]. Stuff happened in the latest installment in one of tennis' most storied tournaments, and it went like this:

Oh, news flash -- Fed has taken a wild card into Monte Carlo. How exciting. Watch out Rafa. Federer is coming for you. The Federer-Nadal rivalry just gets more one-sided with every passing meeting.

*Davis Cup QF*
Czech Republic def. Japan 5-0
France def. Germany 3-2
Italy def. Great Britain 3-2
Switzerland d. Kazakhstan 3-2

...The only tie to conclude on Saturday ended 5-0 to the Europeans. There are just two seeds left in the competition and they meet in the semifinals. France will host the Czech Republic. Far be it for me to give advice, but I will anyway. If I were France, I would play it on indoor grass. Play to the strengths of Tsonga and Gasquet, with three Wimbledon semifinals between them and previous success in ATP grass tournaments, too. I think whatever the surface, and I'd bet my bottom dollar it's going to be clay, the French will win that tie.

Stepanek led the Czechs after Berdman elected not to play, possibly due to the fact Japan is far -- really, really far -- away. He lost the first set, but wouldn't lose another in the tie. Dropping the opening breaker to Ito 7-5, he won the next breaker 7-5. After that, he took control and won the next two sets 6-1, 7-5. Turning 36 this year, he knows this could be his last shot at winning the Davis Cup again..

Remember Rosol? He did a Gasquet. Go two sets up to love up and then inexplicably decide to switch off. Rosol led 6-4, 6-4 against Daniel but then crumbled quite magnificently and lost the next two sets 6-3, 6-4. He then decided that actually going 2-0 up would be helpful in the long run and he won the last set comfortably 6-2. I don't understand either, but it worked.

Stepanek and Rosol then combined together to ease past Ito/Uchiyama 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. I always thought Berdman was the key ingredient of the success, but maybe Stepanek is the man behind the magic.

Rosol and Vesey won their rubbers in three sets and two sets, respectively.

Against a stronger team, the Czechs may have been punished for lacking The Berdman, but Japan were without their Kei man.
…No Haas, no Kohl. Not even Mayer was present. France, meanwhile, had Benny, Llodra, Monfils and they were even led by Tsonga. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, France played Benny first, not Monfils. Kamke put him to the sword, winning 7-6, 6-3, 6-2. Why they refused to play Monfils I will never know. Kamke played a great match but Benny was never at the races, once he lost that 4-0 lead he had in the first set. Next, Tsonga blew it. He really blew it big time. Leading two sets to one, he couldn't close despite having two match points in the fourth set. It was a poor performance from the Frenchman. Had he taken either of those, the tie would have panned out very differently.

Llodra's calming influence [yes, I know what I just said] helped as he and Benny came through in four sets 6-1, 7-6 [5], 4-6, 7-5. Llodra is always excellent at doubles, and always makes his partners feel stronger. Once France secured the doubles, nothing was going to stop the comeback. Tsonga dismissed Kamke 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to make it 2-2. Then Monfils finally played and eased past Gojowczyk 6-1, 7-6, 6-2. He even won that breaker to love. I will never understand the French methods, but, hey, they're fun to watch.
...The underdogs, led by Fognini, had their work cut out for them. The same can be said for their next tie in Switzerland. I ,again, think that if the Swiss play on grass they will easily win. Anyway, Fognini started off by dropping a set to Ward in a four-set victory. Despite winning comfortably in the end 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, the Italian looked off-form and it looked as if the Brits would simply sweep the next three rubbers. Murray ground out Seppi in three sets, though the match was postponed overnight. There had been bad weather all tie. Perhaps playing three days in a row on heavy clay against old-school dirtballers was what did it for Murray. Anyway, after completing a 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 decision at 11 in the morning, Murray had to go and play in the afternoon. He and his partner Fleming were too strong for Bolelli/Fognini and cruised for most of the match, winning 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. All Murray had to do was dispatch an out of form Fognini. BUT something happened the British did not foresee.

Flavia Pennetta turned up.

Suddenly, Fognini decided he would, too. This combined with the fact Murray reaches new levels of abysmal on clay meant that the upset was on. And Fognini never looked like losing. He was calm, cool and collected in winning in three straight -and straightforward- sets. That rubber would always be the decider. Once it was decided, Seppi duly sent Ward packing.

The British game plan is simple. Murray wins his singles and they nick the doubles. It didn't work this time as Murray wasn't good enough and when the vital component doesn't work, the game plan is messed up.
...The Kazahks may have been the underdogs, but they showed that they are a great Davis Cup team with a big opening win. Golubev beat a slam champ. A current slam champ, no less. Golubev won two breakers, both by 7-5 scorelines in his upset victory.

Federer always restores balance. He dismissed Kukushkin for the loss of just eight games in the second rubber. He has been playing some amazing stuff of late. The loss to Kei was an outlier. He is still dragging Switzerland along with him.

Federer and Wawrinka dropped the doubles again but surely it would be alright. Well, no. Vavsy lost the opening set, before rebounding to grind out a very tight four-setter 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. He started a little slowly, but got better and better as the match wore on. He passed the baton to Federer to complete the victory. And Fed did so in style, winning an opening set breaker to love before winning the next two sets 6-2, 6-3.

Well the Swiss move on to an all-unseeded semifinal. Tell me again, why do the Davis Cup seed teams?

1. SUI/KAZ #4 - WAWRINKA d. KUKUSHKIN 6-7/6-4/6-4/6-4.
...Despite losing a very tight opening set in a breaker [7-4], Wawrinka recovered. Whilst Kuki stayed at a solid level, Wawrinka just got better and better as the match went on. He started to dominate, to win the rallies. Behold -- the screw was turning and, with one last epic effort to win an epic deuce, Wawrinka hammered the screw in and claimed victory.
2. GER/FRA #2 - GOJOWCZYK d. TSONGA 6-7/7-6/3-6/7-6/7-6.
...Giving the Germans a precious two to nothing lead in the process, Gojo caused a mighty upset. He survived a fourth set 10-8 breaker and then won the final set by the same score. The man who nearly beat Nadal in January, nearly claimed another scalp.
3. KAZ/SUI #3 - GOL/NED d. WAW/FED 6-4/7-6/4-6/7-6.
...Winning the final breaker 8-6 was enough to win the tie and give the underdogs, the big big underdogs, a precious 2-1 lead. With the best player in Switzerland losing his opening rubber, it fell to some guy. I think, I think, his name was Robert... Richard... Roger something. Anyway that guy won and the Swiss are through to a home tie against Italy. They will win that.
4. ITA/GBR #4 - FOGNINI d. MURRAY 6-3/6-3/6-4.
...Fabulously fruity Fabio Fognini found form, finally. He dropped a set to Ward but then bounced back to dismiss, yes dismiss, Murray. Consider the big four officially disbanded. The last remnants of that order are being swept away. They are the big four in name only. Murray showed his inability to play on clay once more and that, coupled with his inability to figure out Fognini led to Britain's demise. The fifth rubber was a dead rubber either way. Murray had to win and he couldn't.
5. KAZ/SUI #1 - GOLUBEV d. WAWRINKA 6-7/6-2/3-6/7-6.
...What would have happened has Vavsy won that fourth set breaker? We shall never know. What we do know is that he has lost a little bit of form since he won the Aussie. Take nothing away from Golubev, though. I have to say the Kazahks are a great Davis Cup team. It doesn't make sense, but every year they do well. Golubev single-handedly nearly knocked out Switzerland and that was very impressive.

Anderson [1] d. [7] Haase
Monfils [2] d. [3] Paire
Monfils [1] d. [1] Anderson

...I think that Monfils will be able to return well, especially on the clay. If he can lessen the damage of the Anderson serve, he will be at an advantage.

Isner [1] d. Sock
Robredo [2] d. [4] Verdascp
Isner [1] d. [2] Robredo

...Isner is really good on clay, except at the French, of course. But that's a slam, so what can you expect?

Thank you and go visit WTABACKSPIN please.

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