For me, the most wonderful time of the year on the tennis calendar is the weekend of first-round Davis Cup action. Yes, that's right: I'm an unabashed DC fan. Not exactly the most popular thing to be a fan of, but I'm always into it--for the most part. Even though last year's final didn't exactly do it for me, I'm really looking forward to these ties.
And since I'll be following all the results closely, I figured I'd try to write something about each tie, and predict what player will be the one to watch out for and the tie result. So here's my thoughts in easy-to-read, user-friendly format!
* Spain vs. Switzerland (in Spain, indoor clay court)
The Story: Federer vs. Nadal, awesome ... wait neither one is going to be there? Yep, that's right, but the good thing about Davis Cup is that the potential for drama lurks at every tie, even one without the stars of the game.
Player to Watch: Stanislas Wawrinka. The Swiss number two can physically compete on clay with Spain's singles players Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer. The question is will he be able to mentally?
The Outcome: Spain wins 4-1. Wawrinka will get one point, but his teammates are really outmatched.
* France vs. Germany (in France, indoor hard court)
The Story: On paper, France should be a finalist every year with top 20 players aplenty to choose from, but that hasn't been the case. Germany, I feel, plays up to its talent level: a World Group team, but contender? Not really.
Player to Watch: Philipp Kohlschreiber. He has a good-enough game to take advantage of a French flake-out by anyone on their squad.
The Outcome: France wins 3-2. It shouldn't be that close a score, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils haven't been exactly burning up the courts the past few weeks.
* Russia vs. India (in Russia, indoor hard court)
The Story: There are a few countries in World Group play this year that aren't traditional tennis powerhouses, and India is one of them. Tough draw for the team, going up against a perennial contender.
Player to Watch: Leander Paes. Even though he's only going to be playing doubles, I've rarely seen a tennis player be able to fire up partners and teammates like he can. If Rohan Bopanna or Somdev Devvarman pull off an upset, you have Paes to thank.
The Outcome: Russia wins 3-2. I think Russia will drop a singles match and the doubles rubber, but they'll hold on for the win.
* Sweden vs. Argentina (in Sweden, indoor hard court)
The Story: Sweden actually gets to play in front of fans this time! (Referring to last year's tie against Israel). Playing on a fast surface should help the big-hitting home team.
Player to Watch: David Nalbandian. He's not slated to play, but he's on the team. If he's healthy, Argentina really needs to figure out how to sneak him on the court.
The Outcome: Sweden wins 4-1. There's just too much firepower on the side of the home team.
* Serbia vs. United States (in Serbia, indoor clay court)
The Story: This is the first time in a long time neither Andy Roddick or James Blake haven't taken part in a tie. Serbia has never made it to the quarters of the team event.
Player to Watch: John Isner. The 6'9" rising American is having a career year already, but hasn't really done much on clay. Plus, this is his Davis Cup debut. But big serving should do him well in his opening match against Viktor Troicki.
The Outcome: The U.S. wins 3-2. Nobody on the U.S. squad can touch Novak Djokovic and that's a fact. However, the other matches are there for the taking.
* Ecuador vs. Croatia (in Croatia, indoor hard court)
The Story: Ummm, this one can get ugly. Playing against a just-hanging-on Nicolas Lapentti and his never-reached-his-potential younger brother Giovanni, Ivo Karlovic and Marin Cilic might serve 100 aces between them on the opening day on the indoor court.
Player to Watch: Giovanni Lapentti. It's kind of late in the game for baby bro as far as experiencing success goes. But he has had Davis Cup success in the past, so who knows?
The Outcome: Croatia wins 5-0. They bring waaay too much heat for Ecuador to handle.
* Belgium vs. the Czech Republic (in Belgium, indoor clay court)
The Story: Belgium's male players are nothing like the nation's top female players, but somehow they've been managing to hang around in the World Group for the past few years. The Czech Republic is coming off a final-round appearance last year.
Player to Watch: Tomas Berdych. Almost everyone thought he'd be one of the most dominant players on tour by now, but he hasn't come anywhere close to that. He has to be sure the lightning-quick Rochus brothers don't get under his skin.
The Outcome: The Czech Republic wins 3-2. But I'll tell you this: With the quality of shotmakers on both squads, this will be the most entertaining tie to watch.
* Chile vs. Israel (in Chile, outdoor clay court)
The Story: Everyone in the world knows about the tragedy in Chile last week and this will definitely be an emotional tie for everyone involved.
Player to Watch: Actually, it should be players because I think you have to look at the whole Chilean team. Can their desire to do well overcome their understandable sadness?
The Outcome: Chile wins 4-1. Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu always represent their country to the fullest as seen by their huge haul of Olympic medals. They know it's up to them to bring some light to the country, and I think they will.
So there are my thoughts on the Davis Cup ties. Be sure to root, root, root for your home team!