Russia vs Serbia
As we expected, Novak Djokovic attempted to play for Serbia to keep their hopes alive. Despite Djokovic not being 100% fit, Nikolay Davydenko played even worse and Djokovic was able to build a 2 sets lead and had 3-0 double break in the third set. Davydenko lifted his level of play in the third set, hitting 17 of his 26 winners in this set alone, but Djokovic still had 4*-3 40-0 when he threw in two double faults to give up all advantage. Davydenko was able to eke out the third set and Djokovic retired, exhausted and dizzy, thus handing the tie to the Russians. In the final meaningless dead rubber, Viktor Troicki, who acquitted himself so well in Friday’s match against Davydenko, produced a three-set upset of Dmitry Tursunov to leave the final score of the tie at 3-2.
Israel vs Sweden
In the first match between Dudi Sela and Thomas Johansson, Sela was trying to produce one more great result for his country and Thomas Johansson was trying to keep his team alive. The first set was a long and difficult one, with each player having multiple break points that neither could convert. Finally, Sela broke and served for the set at 5-3 but was broken to love. After an hour and a half or so of play and a see-saw tiebreaker, Johansson was able to eke out the first set. After an easy second set, Johansson built up a 3-0 double break in the third set but lost four games in a row. After saving a 0-40 game serving at 3-4, Johansson was able to break Sela in the 11th game of the set and serve it out easily for a tough straight sets win. Johansson was thus able to keep Sweden alive and send the weekend’s only tie to a live fifth rubber, much to the dismay of the boisterous Israeli crowd.
So to the weekend’s only live fifth rubber in World Group play, which pitted Jonas Bjorkman against Harel Levy. Levy got off to a tremendous start (probably more accurate to say Bjorkman got off to an abysmal one) by bageling Bjorkman, but Bjorkman came storming back, saved some break points in the second set and won it despite losing more points. In the fourth set, Levy had an early break and barely managed to hold onto his serve until serving for the set at 5-4 when Bjorkman finally reclaimed the break on a Levy doublefault and ultimately won a tight tiebreaker in the fourth. So, Bjorkman was able to complete Sweden’s stunning comeback ending in a 3-2 victory. And their prize is going to Argentina for the quarters…
Germany vs Korea
The only other live tie on Sunday saw Germany trying to wrap up a victory over Korea. Philipp Kohlschreiber played Hyung-Taik Lee in the first match. Kohlschreiber got off to an excellent start, handing Lee a bagel, and then got a little lazy in the second set, which Lee won after saving some break points when he tried to close it out. Kohlschreiber recovered and managed to take the next two sets, including a difficult and tight fourth set, to wrap up a 4-set win and Germany’s victory. In the final dead rubber, unknown Woong-Sun Jun upset Michael Berrer in three sets to finish the tie with a 3-2 score for the Germans.
No real need to talk in-depth about the ties that were completed yesterday after the doubles. In the Czech Republic, Belgians Steve Darcis and unknown Ruben Bemelmans were able to restore a bit of pride for Belgium, winning both the dead rubbers (the 2nd when Pavel Vizner retired), for a final score of 3-2 for the Czechs. Argentina ended up with a 4-1 victory after Jamie Baker somehow beat good claycourter Agustin Calleri in straight sets. So at least Great Britain can leave with a bit of pride after an otherwise painful weekend. In Peru, Spain completed its 5-1 whitewash over Peru with two straight-sets wins today. France also completed its 5-0 win over Romania with two wins from Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement.
Finally, the US ended up with a 4-1 victory in Austria. While America’s top two stars curiously and inexplicably left Vienna early Sunday morning to head back to the US, twin doubles stars Bob and Mike Bryan were left to complete the dead rubbers. Though Mike had not played a singles match in years and was in his Davis Cup singles debut, he acquitted himself quite well against Stefan Koubek until he suffered a hamstring strain and retired early in the 2nd set. In perhaps the most laughable result of the day, Bob Bryan slip-slided around the clay using his aggressive serve and forehand and wonderful volleys to beat Werner Eschauer in three sets (including a bagel in the first).
Zonal Group I Ties
Of course, this weekend saw many of the Zonal groups play. While the higher-ranked countries there have byes, a few notable countries were playing for the right to move to April’s 2nd round (with the winners there given a chance to play in September’s World Group playoffs against the World Group 1st round losers from this weekend – yes, we know it’s confusing). Anyway, in the Europe/Africa Zone, both Macedonia and Switzerland wrapped up their ties with comfortable victories. In the America’s Zone I, Canada wrapped up an easy victory over Mexico, despite playing without top player Frank Dancevic, and will play undesirable foe Chile in April.
In the tightest tie in zonal play, Colombia and Uruguay competed for the right to play Brasil in April. In a rain-affected tie, Uruguayan Cuevas played a heroic 10 sets on Saturday to give his team a 2-1 lead, including the doubles match ending at 8-6 in the fifth. Understandably, this monumental effort took a lot out of Cuevas, and he lost in three easy sets on Sunday to Alejandro Falla, who was able to send the tie to a live fifth rubber, won by Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo, unfortunately leaving Cuevas’s herculean effort all for naught. Finally, in the Asia/Oceania Zone I play, Australia wrapped up an easy 4-1 win over Chinese Taipei behind two wins from Lleyton Hewitt, Japan wrapped up a 5-0 victory over the Philippines, and Thailand and India each wrapped up 3-2 victories.
World Group Quarterfinal Preview
So, the Quarterfinals are now set. At the top of the draw, Russia will have the home advantage over the Czech Republic, which should be an interesting tie assuming both countries’ top players show up. The Czech Republic has solid players in Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek and a clear advantage in doubles with specialists Vizner and Dlouhy, but the Russians can never be underestimated, especially at home. Surface could be key for this tie. Next, Sweden will be the next victims of an Argentine home tie, which will surely be on clay. Argentina has not lost a home tie since 1998, and it’s hard to see Sweden breaking that streak, no matter who plays for each team.
The bottom half of the World Group draw features two very interesting quarterfinals. Spain will head to Germany, which could be a close tie especially if Tommy Haas is healthy and able to play. Look for the Germans to lay down a fast court. Spain will hope that its top two players in Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer show up to play; both stayed home for the first round tie. Finally, the US faces the toughest home tie as they will host France at the already-decided venue indoors in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which held an excellent quarterfinal tie last year. We imagine the Americans will lay down a very quick low-bouncing court, probably one that plays similar to the US Open. With an excellent doubles team and two singles players having fantastic 2008 seasons, France will pose a formidable threat, particularly because their preferred surfaces are the same as the Americans so picking a favorable surface will be difficult for the defending champions, so they will have to rely on their top stars’ excellent home records and the crowd to pull through instead of any surface advantage if they hope to advance to the semifinals.
By the way, there was one fairly decent-sized Challenger event this week in Bergamo, Italy, and it was a good one for hometown player Andreas Seppi, who picked up the singles title with a good win over Julien Benneteau and the doubles title with Countryman Bolelli.
Davis Cup Roundup: First Round Day 3, February 10
Russia vs Serbia