The 2012 Davis Cup kicks off this weekend, albeit without a host of star names. There is no Novak Djokovic for Serbia, no Rafael Nadal or David Ferrer for Spain, no Andy Murray for Great Britain and no Juan Martin Del Potro for Argentina. So with five of the top ten players missing, it is easy to see why people question the relevance of the trophy.
However, it has been running for over 110 years since the United States beat Great Britain in the first ever edition back in 1900, organised by the Harvard tennis player, Dwight Davis, and it still holds a place in the hearts of many players and fans alike.
Spain v Kazakhstan
The defending champions, Spain, may be without four of their six highest ranked players, but they are still strong favourites to defeat the Kazakhs in the first ever meeting between the two countries. With a completely new four-man team, it provides a chance for some new stars to stamp their mark on Spanish Davis Cup history. Led by world number 11, Nicolas Almagro, Spain will look to defend a 12-year unbeaten record on Spanish soil.
Kazakhstan enter their second year in the World Group, aiming to try and remain there. A famous victory over the Czech Republic last year was the highlight, before falling to Argentina in the quarter-finals. They will be led by Mikhail Kukushkin, fresh off a run to the last 16 of the Australian Open, beating Viktor Troicki and Gael Monfils, and Andrey Golubev, the former world number 33.
Despite a much-weakened squad, it would be a major surprise if Spain were not to come through this tie comfortably. Nicolas Almagro is a tough proposition for any player on clay, while the experience of Juan Carlos Ferrero and the doubles ability of Marc Lopez should see them through.
Spain: Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Marc Lopez
Kazakhstan: Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Yuriy Schukin, Evgeny Korolev
Austria v Russia
Two of the lesser fancied teams in the World Group clash in Wiener Neustadt. Austria thought they had the beating of France last year in what would have been an upset, but Jeremy Chardy fought back from a set down to clinch the deciding rubber. Jurgen Melzer remains the star of the Austrian team as the veteran of 55 Davis Cup matches.
Two singles victories from him will be crucial if the Austrians are to stand a chance, although they will fancy their chances of winning the doubles rubber with the combination of Marach and Peya, who have 15 doubles titles between them, as well as Melzer’s 3 Grand Slam doubles titles and 10 other doubles titles.
The major talking point for the Russians is the appearance of Russian-born American, Alex Bogomolov. He joins the experienced pair of Mikhail Youzhny, fresh off his first title in 18 months in Zagreb, and Nikolay Davydenko. They will fancy picking up two victories against Andreas Haider-Maurer, leaving them only needing to win one additional rubber to clinch the tie.
The Russians are rightly favourites here, but if Jurgen Melzer can win his two singles rubbers, they have every chance of taking this tie in the doubles.
Austria: Jurgen Melzer, Andreas Haider-Maurer, Alexander Peya, Oliver Marach
Russia: Alex Bogomolov, Mikhail Youzhny, Nikolay Davydenko, Igor Kunitsyn
Canada v France
With six top 50 players, France are the favourites to lift the Davis Cup this year. Only beaten by the Spanish last year, they have named both Tsonga and Monfils in their team for this tie. There are growing doubts surrounding Monfils though, but with Gilles Simon the likely replacement, it will hardly weaken the team. With top doubles player, Michael Llodra as well, they have a formidable team.
Canada are making their return to the World Group after an eight year absence. Led by the young pair of Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, and backed up by the experienced doubles player, Daniel Nestor, who played the last time a Davis Cup tie was hosted in Vancouver twenty years ago.
Milos Raonic will be the key man for Canada and will need to win both his matches if Canada are to have any chance of shocking the pre-tournament favourites. However, even if he does, France could easily still progress by winning the doubles.
Canada: Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil, Frank Dancevic, Daniel Nestor
France: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Julien Benneteau, Michael Llodra
Switzerland v USA
Switzerland will fancy their chances as an outside bet for this tournament with the strong pairing of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka. Having already won Olympic gold together, they clearly click as a doubles pairing, and clearly nothing needs to be said about the singles ability of the 16-time Grand Slam champion. With growing rumours that his career could be winding towards the end, the Davis Cup is one of the only honours in the game that still eludes Federer.
The USA have a strong team, but might struggle on the clay in Switzerland. Mardy Fish and John Isner are both more at home on a hard court, while Bob Bryan misses the tie due to the birth of his child.
Had this tie been on a hard court, it might have been a close run thing, but on the clay, you would expect Federer and Wawrinka both to have the edge over their American counterparts. However, stranger things have happened and it would be a fool to completely write off the USA.
Switzerland: Roger Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka, Marco Chiudinelli, Michael Lammer
USA: Mardy Fish, John Isner, Ryan Harrison, Mike Bryan
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