April 3, 2014 by Parveer Mann
Once the Davis Cup enters the final eight, you begin to get a clear idea about what countries and players are serious about making a run at this year’s title. This year, some countries are buoyed by the chance to make history (Switzerland and Japan) or elite individual talent (Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), but after this weekend only four will see their dream survive. Here’s a closer look at the individual matchups this week:
Switzerland vs. Kazakhstan (Geneva, Indoor Hard)
For those who always bemoan the Davis Cup because of the players who aren’t playing have no excuses with Switzerland this year. Led by Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland has finally found a way to bring together both their best players for a chance at a possible first Davis Cup title. This possibility is not lost on Stan or Roger who have stated that this could be Switzerland’s year. Plus, it always helps to have a friendly home tie after having to play against Serbia in Serbia earlier this year.
Kazakhstan comes into this tie as the heavy underdog and rightly so. They are without a Top 50 singles player and have an unranked doubles team. The only positive may be that they beat Switzerland in their last meeting back in 2010 but obviously under different circumstances.
My Pick: Switzerland 4-1
Italy vs. Great Britain (Naples, Outdoor Clay)
Barring a stomach illness, Andy Murray will try to lead Team GB to another road win and once again, on clay. If Murray does play, the scenario will be similar to San Diego in February, you expect Murray to win his two matches but who will come up with Great Britain’s third point? It will once again either be James Ward (who beat Querrey in San Diego) or Fleming/Hutchins. Looking at the matchups, I think it will be Fleming and Hutchins who will be leaned on to get that important third and final point.
On the other end, Italy seems to have strategically chosen to play on clay courts in order to both mitigate Andy Murray’s strengths and accentuate Fabio Fognini’s. The ill-tempered but talented clay specialist will be his most comfortable on the surface and should put the Italians ahead early in the opening rubber. However, Italy’s hopes will probably hinge on Andreas Seppi who has the opportunity to either upset Murray or beat Ward in order to ensure the tie.
My Pick: Italy 3-2
Czech Republic vs. Japan (Tokyo, Indoor Hard)
This Japanese team already has made history by advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time but unfortunately, it’ll take a lot more to advance any further. Japan will be missing their best player, Kei Nishikori who if you remember also had to withdraw from last week’s Sony Open (after his big win over Roger Federer). Instead, they will turn to Tatsuma Ito and Taro Daniel in singles play and the very little ATP level experience those players bring.
Conversely, the Czech Republic already knew they would be without Tomas Berdych, who has elected not to play in any ties outside of the Czech Republic this year. But, they’ll still have Davis Cup hero Radek Stepanek for three of the possible five rubbers and that should prove more than enough.
My Pick: Czech Republic 4-1
France vs. Germany (Nancy, France, Indoor Hard)
The French will have their ‘A” team minus Richard Gasquet when they face Germany for the fifth time in the World Group era (since 1981). However, it doesn’t mean any of their best guys have been anywhere near top form. Tsonga had a very poor couple of weeks in Indian Wells and Miami and outside his play in Marseille; he has failed to play up to his ranking. I do like the decision to use Julian Benneteau as the other singles player because he offers a more consistent option for this team than the more unpredictable Gael Monfils.
It’s hard to find any bright spots in this iteration of Team Germany. They will be without their more accomplished countrymen (Tommy Haas and Phillipp Kohlschrieber) and instead will be led by Tobias Kamke. This seems like a perfect example of a country and team just hoping for a miracle to advance and I don’t see one happening.
My Pick: France 5-0