Conventionally considered a second-tier competition populated by mid-level players, the Davis Cup also can be perceived as a theater where those outside the ATP elite can seize a rare chance for immortality. Contrasting with most tournaments in this individual sport, the raucous atmosphere of the national team competition often christens unexpected heroes. Studded with several marquee attractions, though, will the quarterfinals perpetuate or diverge from this pattern?
France vs. Spain: Surely thrilled not to see the Wizard of Wimbledon and Ruler of Roland Garros (aka Nadal), the French will be disappointed to contest this tie without the services of fast-court specialist Tsonga. Likely to rise to the occasion is Gael Monfils, who delighted his compatriots last year by reaching the final of the Paris Indoors. Yet one never knows precisely what to expect from the mercurial “La Monf,” who exited prematurely at the last two majors while his first-rubber opponent, David Ferrer, excelled even on his worst surface. Surging within a set of the Wimbledon quarterfinals, the second Spanish singles player has thrived in Davis Cup and can be expected to deliver as sturdy an effort as possible despite the fast indoor court. This first rubber must be claimed by the home nation, for the visitors will be heavily favored to win the Verdasco-Llodra clash that follows it. Although the left-handed Llodra did claim the Eastbourne title before testing Roddick at Wimbledon, Fernando will relish the surface speed and enjoys a far more imposing arsenal of weapons than his opponent.
Somewhat unusually in Davis Cup, the doubles match will oppose two teams who often compete together at ATP events (Benneteau/Llodra vs. Verdasco/Lopez) , so one should expect a hotly contested match at the pivot point of the weekend. If France can secure the 2-1 lead, the hosts will head into the reverse singles with a vital boost of confidence, but Spain’s greater experience in crucial Davis Cup ties must provide them with a slight edge. One of the key factors in the tie will be Verdasco’s ability to win three best-of-five matches in three days (albeit one in doubles), a feat that he nearly performed last year against Germany. Potentially tasked with closing out the tie against Monfils in the fourth rubber, the highest-ranked Spaniard outside Nadal generally responds with aplomb to the demands of Davis Cup. In the 2008 final, he scored the clinching victory over Argentina’s Jose Acasuso after a poorly played but suspenseful five-setter. Since Ferrer will struggle to win either of his singles rubbers, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Spanish captain Albert Costa substitute the superior fast-court player Almagro for him in the fifth rubber should it prove decisive. It probably won’t, for the Spanish team’s far superior teamwork and shared experience should prevail over their flaky trans-Pyrenean rivals. Spain, 70-30.
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