The premier international men’s tennis competition returned over the weekend as the nations of the World Group all set out with their eyes on the Davis Cup title. There was also the added threat of defeat sending a nation into the playoffs where their elite status would be on the line. Although some of the star players were absent, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray both recovering from surgery, there were still some exciting ties. Here’s what we learned.
Spain a force on the clay even with Rafa
It was unsurprising that the Spanish Davis Cup team elected to play on red clay. Even without perhaps the greatest clay courter of all time in Rafael Nadal, they are still a formidable force on the red dirt. Though it is not Roberto Bautista Agut or Feliciano Lopez’s favourite surface, there are few more adept than Pablo Carreno Busta and Albert Ramos Vinolas. Both men played well as the Spanish took advantage of a weakened British team shorn of Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund.
Though Cameron Norrie put in a very impressive performance to recover from two sets down against Roberto Bautista Agut in the second singles match, there was none-the-less a feeling of inevitability about the tie. All the more so when Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot fell to Lopez and Carreno Busta in the doubles. With five players in the top forty, and one of real quality in Pablo Carreno Busta, even without Nadal the Spanish look a real threat this year. All the more so if they can keep playing on clay.
Zverev comes through when it counts
Alexander Zverev has not enjoyed the best start to what could be a big year for him. Hopes were high of a first challenge at a Major going into the Australian Open only for Hyeon Chung to derail him in five sets in third round. In the young German’s defence, Chung went on to defeat Novak Djokovic and reach the semifinals. But Djokovic was ailing and has since had to resort to surgery. One suspects that the German could also have beaten him.
But Zverev recovered from that disappointment to play a key role in Germany’s success against Australia. The Australian team, typically a force in Davis Cup play, is currently going through something of a transition, with young guns Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alex De Minaur having to get used to carrying the team themselves. But whilst the future looks bright for the Aussies, the present will be looking good to the Germans.
Zverev showed his mental mettle, something he has lacked at the Slams, to see off De Minaur in his first match, hanging tough in a five set battle to earn a valuable point for Germany. He then defeated Kyrgios comfortably, as the Australian struggled with an increasingly troublesome elbow. That coupled with a surprise doubles win for Jan-Lennard Struff and Tim Puetz over John Peers and Matt Ebden was enough to send the Germans through.
With a team led by Zverev, and with the options of the powerful Struff and the elder Zverev brother, Mischa, Germany probably has its strongest Davis Cup team since it could boast the Grand Slam champions Boris Becker and Michael Stich. That, coupled with the likely continued absences of other top names, could give the Germans enough for a very deep run in this year’s competition.
David Goffin again shows commendable commitment
The top players are often unfairly maligned for skipping Davis Cup ties. The competition, unlike say the Football World Cup, is held annually and all of the Big Four have led their nations to Davis Cup glory, Nadal more than once. With the tennis calendar so packed, it is unrealistic to expect them to play every tie every year, particularly as their health becomes more fragile. But David Goffin’s commitment to the Belgian cause is still very admirable.
He again led his team to victory in a tie, as they defeated a Hungary side led by Marton Fucsovics, who recently made it to the last sixteen at the Australian Open. Fucsovics impressed in his first match, defeating Ruben Bemelmans, but ultimately the Belgians had enough to win the next three matches. Having made the final twice in recent years, they will be hoping their strong team spirit and the quality of David Goffin give them enough to go all the way.