Roundup – Davis Cup WG playoffs

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The France vs. Serbia and Belgium vs. Australia World Group semifinals weren’t the only Davis Cup ties going on this weekend.

There were eight other crucial tussles. The winners stay in the World Group for 2018 (or earned a promotion). And the losers either were relegated to the dreaded zonals, or remain there to hope for another playoff tie in 2018.

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Here’s a summary. We note which players are missing for each squad. Because the absences list is significant.

Beyond Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, who haven’t played Davis Cup recently (and Wawrinka, obviously, is not available), notable among the no-shows were many of the German players.

That obviously includes the Zverev brothers, Alexander and Mischa.

For Canada, Milos Raonic missed yet another Davis Cup tie. It’s a legitimate absence, after he had a procedure done on his wrist a few weeks ago. But still; they’re getting kind of used to carrying on without him at this point.

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Canada: Denis Shapovalov, Vasek Pospisil, Brayden Schnur, Daniel Nestor
India: Yuki Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Rohan Bopanna, Purav Raja

Missing: Milos Raonic, Peter Polansky (CAN), Leander Paes (IND)

The Canadian team, which seems to have had the goods to compete for the big prize the last few years, has been held back because of regular injury absences from top player Raonic.

That was the case again this weekend in Edmonton. But 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov came through and won both his singles matches. Legend Daniel Nestor and 2014 Wimbledon doubles champion Vasek Pospisil, both battered with injuries, came up with the third point in a four-set doubles win Saturday.

You would expect Raonic to be back for 2018. And FΓ©lix Auger-Aliassime is not far away from joining the team. With Vasek Pospisil still having his best tennis ahead of him at age 27 (you would hope) and Daniel Nestor around for one more year, you know the seeded nations don’t want to run into Canada in the first round.

Kazakhstan: Mikhail Kukushkin, Dmitry Popov, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, Timur Khabibulin
Argentina: Diego Schwartzman, Guido Pella, Maximo Gonzalez, Andres Molteni

Missing: Juan Martin del Potro, Leonardo Mayer, Horacio Zeballos, Federico Delbonis, Guillermo Duran (ARG). Alexander Bublik (KAZ)

The defending champions of 2016 will have to compete in the Americas zone in 2018. That just shouldn’t happen. And it’s something the ITF must address – even if its proferred solutions so far probably won’t make a whit of difference.

The key was Schwartzman, who is having the best season of his career. But he was beaten by Kukushkin, well capable of beating anyone on the day, in the fourth rubber.

As well, two Davis Cup rookies, veterans who don’t even play together, was the best they could come up with for the doubles. That also hurt.

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Russia: Karen Khachanov, Andrey Rublev, Daniil Medvedev, Konstantin Kravchuk
Hungary: Marton Fucsovics, Attila Balazs, Zsombor Piros, Gabor Borsos

Missing: Mikhail Youzhny (RUS). 

The Russians went with a youth movement. And it didn’t pay off.

But despite having to crawl their way back up to the World Group in 2018, there’s no doubt a squad that features Khachanov, Rublev and Medvedev will make some waves in Davis Cup in the years to come.

It also happens, at this juncture, that they are the three highest-ranked singles players the Russians have.

Notably, Igor Kunitsyn is the Russian captain, which explains why you saw him so often around Khachanov and Rublev at the big events this season. It’s strange not to see Kamil Tarpischev snoozing on the bench. But with the youth movement arriving, it’s a good thing.

The Hungarians, led by journeyman Fucsovics, pulled off a major victory. He defeated Rublev in five sets on Friday, and Khachanov in straight sets on Sunday. For a 25-year-old who has played Davis Cup in the zonals since 2010, this may remain his career highlight – especially doing it at home.

Hungary has played Davis Cup since 1924. It has been in the World Group just twice – in 1994 and 1996. Until now.

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Netherlands: Robin Haase, Tallon Griekspoor, Thiemo de Bakker, Matwe Middelkoop
Czech Republic: Jiri Vesely, Lukas Rosol, Adam Pavlasek, Roman Jebavy

Missing: Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek (CZE). Jean-Julien Rojer, Wesley Koolhof (NED)

The Netherlands, with just Haase in the top 250 in singles, were serious underdogs against even this diminished edition of the Czech Republic squad, which notably won the Davis Cup in 2012 and defended it in 2013.

Berdych hasn’t played since the first round in 2016 (he didn’t play at all in 2015). And Stepanek has barely been on the court for a year because of back issues.

Still, they have quality players. So to go back to the zonals is a tough blow.   

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Switzerland: Henri Laaksonen, Marco Chiudinelli, Adrian Bodmer, Luca Margaroli
Belarus: Dzmitry Zhyrmont, Yaraslav Shyla, Max Mirnyi, Andrei Vasilevski

Missing: Roger Federer, Stan Wawarinka (SUI), Egor Gerasimov, Uladzimir Ignatik (BLR)

The tie was the 55th in the career of the Beast, Max Mirnyi of Belarus.

And despite being played at home in Switzerland, it was notable for the rather sparse crowd that attended. In a nation that has big tennis stars but doesn’t have an overwhelming tennis culture, the fans are led by the stars. 

Things looked especially grim when the highest-ranked player on either side, Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland, went down to unknown 24-year-old Belarussian Yaraslav Shyla (ranking: No. 390) in the first rubber.

Interestingly, Laaksonen had made a quick racket switch from his longtime Wilson (which he used at the US Open) to Technifibre. To say he had a bad day is an understatement – to take nothing away from Shyla.

Mirnyi did his job in doubles even if the two unknown Swiss took him and Andrei Vasilevski to three tiebreakers.

On Sunday, the favorites did the job. Laaksonen went back to his Wilson and forced a fifth rubber. And Marco Chiudinelli, Federer’s lifelong friend, may have played his final Davis Cup rubber in clinching the win for Switzerland.

The question, of course, is this: with Switzerland in the world group in 2018, will Federer and Wawrinka consider another run?

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Croatia: Marin Cilic, Viktor Galovic, Franko Skugor, Nikola Mektic
Colombia: Santiago Giraldo, Alejandro Falla, Alejandro Gonzalez, Juan Sebastian Cabal

Missing: Borna Coric, Ivo Karlovic, Ivan Dodig, Mate Pavic (CRO). Robert Farah (COL)

It probably wasn’t easy for Marin Cilic to go all the way down to Colombia after his US Open disappointment and summer injury. But he did it.

And obviously it made all the difference in a routine win. 

Cabal was without his regular partner Farah, who is injured. But he and Falla still pushed the Croats to five sets in the doubles. It wasn’t enough.

Croatia, Davis Cup finalists last year, mercifully remain in the World Group.

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Germany: Jan-Lennard Struff, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, Tim Puetz, Yannick Hanfmann
Portugal: Joao Sousa, Pedro Sousa, Gastao Elias, Joao Domingues

Missing: Alexander Zverev, Mischa Zverev, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Florian Mayer, Dustin Brown (GER)

The Germans were missing some big faces. But they were deep enough that they were able to take care of Portugal.

The opening day was a shocker, with favored Joao Sousa losing for Portugal and favorite Struff losing for Germany. But it ended 1-1, as it probably should have. 

Elias and Sousa, who played the Olympics together in Rio, lost a heartbreaker in five sets to the pickup team of Struff and Tim Puetz. And Sousa lost another heartbreaker in five sets to Struff. That 8-6 tiebreaker in the fourth set, with Sousa up two sets to one, was everything.

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The Centralito – gone from the tour, but not forgotten.

On the plus side for Portugal (not that it will make them feel any better), the Centralito was back in action.

No longer used since the ATP Tour event in Portugal relocated, it remains one of the most picturesque courts in tennis.

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Japan: Yuichi Sugita, Go Soeda, Yasatuka Uchiyama, Ben McLachlan
Brazil: Thiago Monteiro, Guilherme Clezar, Marcelo Melo, Bruno Soares

Missing: Kei Nishikori, Taro Daniel, Yoshihito Nishioka (JAP). Rogerio Dutra Silva, Thomaz Bellucci, Joao Souza (BRA)

With Brazil winning the doubles – finally being played early Monday morning in Japan – this World Group playoff tie was the last one to be live. Yuichi Sugita put it away with a straight-sets win over Thiago Monteiro.

Typhoon rain washed out play in Osaka Saturday. And the government wouldn’t allow play to go on Sunday because of a typhoon red alert.

At 25, ranked No. 141, McLachlan actually is the highest-ranked Japanese doubles player.

The story? Well, he was born in New Zealand. And raised in New Zealand. But two weeks ago, he switched his allegiance to Japan, which he can do because his mother Yuriko is Japanese. 

Another player who might have suited up for Japan, Akira Santillan, has returned to his Australian roots after a few years representing Japan.

The 2018 World Group draw will be made Wednesday morning in London. It’ll be pretty interesting to see where everyone falls.

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For more on this weekend’s Davis Cup ties, go to their website.

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