The most beleaguered players in January (Djokovic, Nadal & Murray) are tired and skipped the first weekend of the Davis Cup 2012. Interestingly, all ties in the World Group were held indoors (three of them on clay). Although Murray didn’t play, Great Britain rather unexpectedly beat at home Slovakia – decided a first rubber in which Daniel Evans  defeated in three sets Lukas Lacko . Marcos Baghdatis and Ernests Gulbis helped their weak tennis-wise countries avoiding a degradation to Group III this year, delivering two quick singles wins each.
World Group – first round
Oviedo (indoor-clay):Spain – Kazakhstan 5:0
Perhaps it becomes a part of the Spanish tradition that former notable players have to get the Davis Cup trophy as team captains. In the recent years have done it Jordi Arrese (2004), Emilio Sanchez (2008) and Albert Costa (2009, 2011). Now it’s a supposed time for a former No. 2 Alex Corretja, who in his debut had a team weakened by an absence of players who secured the Cup three times for Spain in the last four years. The third-sort team was good enough to overcome Kazakhstan in the first two days. A crucial was the first rubber lasting 4 hours 28 minutes, in which Juan Carlos Ferrero  came back from a 0:4* in the 3rd, and *0:2 defeat in the 5th set against a previously unbeaten in a 5-setter, hard-baseliner Mikhail Kukushkin. “These kind of matches are very tough. Since the beginning, I was playing good tennis. But I had to fight until the end. It was very close the entire match.” declared Ferrero improving his singles Davis Cup record to 18-6 (debuted in the competition twelve years ago) two days before his 32nd birthday.
The best current Russian player Mikhail Youzhny  during his last week victory in Zagreb injured a bit his right shoulder and wasn’t able to compete in singles (in a marathon doubles, first time teaming up with Davydenko, he was the best on court though, despite serving weaker than usually). It helped significantly the Austrian team in advancing to the Davis Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 1995. Jurgen Melzer  used his big experience to win first and fourth rubber, he had said before the tie: “To be honest, I’m far more happy to play Kunitsyn than Youzhny, who has obviously played well in the last [few] weeks.” The tie turned into a disastrous debut for the 28-year-old Alex Bogomolov Jr.  who last year at the same time was still an American citizen. Boggy was easily outplayed by the home boys, he took a set off Haider-Maurer only because the Austrian played arguably the worst service game in his career leading 4:3 in the 3rd set followed up by a pathetic display in the tie-break.
Jurgen Melzer – Igor Kunitsyn 6-2 6-7(3) 6-4 3-6 6-1
Andreas Haider-Maurer – Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-1 6-4 6-7(1) 6-2 Oliver Marach/Alexander Peya – Nikolay Davydenko/Mikhail Youzhny 6-7(1) 7-6(7) 5-7 6-3 4-6
Jurgen Melzer – Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-2 6-4 6-1 Andreas Haider-Maurer – Igor Kunitsyn 4-6 6-4 6-7(4)
Vancouver (indoor-hard): Canada – France 1:4
Due to Gael Monfils’s slight knee injury, French captain Guy Forget had just three players to his disposition in the best of five rubbers. It wasn’t an obstacle to secure the quarter-final berth without serious troubles. The Canadian No. 1 Milos Raonic played a perfect match on day one against Benneteau and Martin Laurendeau appoointed him to doubles instead of Frank Dancevic. Raonic suffered a knee injury during the match on Saturday though, and was replaced by Dancevic in a reverse singles rubber. Raonic’s meeting against Tsonga seemed to be a fascinating one; the Canadian withdrew from a match with Tsonga also last month at Kooyong. Dancevic intimidated the Frenchman a bit in the first two sets with his enthusiastic behavior and spectacular winners, but his basic game is far inferior in comparison to Tsonga’s. Jo is on unusually long streak without a tie-break – 26 sets… It was Canada’s fourth participation in the first round of the World Group in the Open era (previously in 1991-92 & 2004).
Roger Federer caught a national mood in the Olympic year and showed up in the World Group for the first time since 2004! In the meantime he was only helping his country in play-off ties. Probably not too many Swiss supporters could expect that their pupils would be defeated just after two days of the contest. First, in a very cautious more than 4-hour battle Mardy Fish ousted Stanislas Wawrinka despite wasting a match point on serve at 5:4 in the 5th set (the American held his service games to “15” serving at 5:6 & 6:7), then unexpectedly Federer was stunned by John Isner in a very similar scoreline to that the Swiss superstar lost his previous match in Melbourne. “It’s the biggest win of my life. But what it means to me, is our team is up 2-0. Hats off to Mardy for winning the first [rubber]. It took a lot of pressure off of me.” said Isner, who saved five break points in the crucial 3rd set and finished the match in a magnificent style hitting three consecutive return winners (after Federer’s second serves), he finished the dead rubber against Chiudinelli with four aces in a row! On Saturday, Fish got decisive point alongside Mike Bryan in their second common appearance – the previous one four years ago against Spain.
Stanislas Wawrinka – Mardy Fish 2-6 6-4 6-4 1-6 7-9 Roger Federer – John Isner 6-4 3-6 6-7(4) 2-6 Roger Federer/Stanislas Wawrinka – Mike Bryan/Mardy Fish 6-4 3-6 3-6 3-6 Michael Lammer – Ryan Harrison 6-7(0) 6-7(4) Marco Chiudinelli – John Isner 3-6 4-6
Ostrava (indoor-hard):Czech Republic – Italy 4:1
Czech’s strength it’s all about two players: Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek. If not injured, they have been playing singles and doubles regularly in every tie for four years. Initially Cermak and Rosol were appointed to play doubles against Italy but after a successful first day the Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil decided to let the Berdych-Stepanek duo finish the Italian hopes off. “The doubles was pretty easy. My guys were playing very good tennis. For Starace, this surface is very difficult for him – too fast. I think [Berdych and Stepanek] are one of the best doubles teams in Davis Cup right now.” declared Navratil. “We’re happy that we were able to finish the match in three sets,” said Stepanek. “We broke them in the first game and put them under a lot of pressure from the start.” Berdych added: “We’ve played enough matches to know each other well on court – where the other guy’s moving, what he’s doing – so that’s a big advantage. We’re both singles players and we can bring our best games to the [doubles] court.”
Sweden without an injured Robin Soderling has a team on the Group I level at most. In these circumstances Swedish players got very respectable scorelines on the fast Serbian indoor court. A challenger tour-level player Michael Ryderstedt experienced some kind of deja vu of his previous tie against Serbia in Halmstad (July 2011) where he lost to Viktor Troicki 3-6 1-6 7-6(6) 5-7 and to Janko Tipsarevic 2-6 5-7 3-6. This time against Troicki he fought off three ad-match points in the 3rd set, each time after serving a double fault. Troicki served 23 aces in that rubber – the second best result during the weekend by a player (after Raonic’s 24 on day one); the Swedes in the 4-hour doubles match fired 27 aces, it was a debut for the 30-year-old Brunstrom. I’m curious whether D’Joke joins the Serbian team with full commitment at the tough quarter-final match in Czech Republic (first week in April). I suppose rather not if he’s going to repeat his last year’s achievement at the Indian Wells-Miami combo.
Janko Tipsarevic – Filip Prpic 6-3 6-3 6-4
Viktor Troicki – Michael Ryderstedt 6-4 6-3 5-7 6-3 Janko Tipsarevic/Nenad Zimonjic – Johan Brunstrom/Robert Lindstedt 6-3 3-6 6-7(4) 7-6(3) 8-10
Janko Tipsarevic – Michael Ryderstedt 6-2 7-6(5) 7-5
Dusan Lajovic – Filip Prpic 6-4 6-4
Hyogo (indoor-hard): Japan – Croatia 2:3
“I am really happy because we won and in the end that is the most important. I was playing well and my serves were really good and it was a really good week for me.” said Ivo Karlovic  after a perfect weekend for himself. The Croatian giant for the first time in his career won three Davis Cup matches within a tie. His service performance was brilliant, he didn’t face a break point in both singles rubbers, breaking his opponents four and three times respectively. It was the only tie in the first round decided by a fifth rubber… Japan returned this week to the top tier of the competition after 26 years in the Asia/Oceania Group I.
Go Soeda – Ivan Dodig 6-7(3) 3-6 6-4 6-3 7-5 Kei Nishikori – Ivo Karlovic 4-6 4-6 3-6 Tatsuma Ito/Yuichi Sugita – Ivo Karlovic/Ivan Dodig 4-6 4-6 6-3 3-6
Kei Nishikori – Ivan Dodig 7-5 7-6(4) 6-3 Go Soeda – Ivo Karlovic 6-7(4) 1-6 4-6
Bamberg (indoor-clay): Germany – Argentina 1:4
Both team entered into the first round tie deprived of their best players, Germany without Kohlschreiber, the last year finalist Argentina without Del Potro. Given the fact the tie was played on the German soil, the local crowd could expect a better performance from its pupils. Philipp Petzschner couldn’t deal with the pressure of being the leading player of his team, he appeared for the first time in this role… He was destroyed in the opening rubber by a very confident Juan Monaco (I guess he might do some damage in Buenos Aires and Acapulco later this month), afterwards blew a two-sets-to-love lead along with Tommy Haas (Germans were six points away from a straight sets win), who was representing Germany for the first time since 2007, honestly I didn’t expect he would back to the team after receiving an American citizenship. It’s Argentina’s first tie with a former Top 10 player Martin Jaite as a team captain. A reliable David Nalbandian  improves his excellent Davis Cup record to 23-5 in singles and 13-5 in doubles. Will he finally fulfill his dreams of winning the cup this year? For the time being Argentina as a host is a huge favorite of the next match against Croatia, a collision with the biggest nemesis Spain is possible only in the final…
Philipp Petzschner – Juan Monaco 3-6 3-6 3-6 Florian Mayer – David Nalbandian 6-2 0-6 1-6 6-7(5) Tommy Haas/Philipp Petzschner – David Nalbandian/Eduardo Schwank 6-3 6-4 4-6 3-6 4-6 Florian Mayer – Juan Ignacio Chela 5-7 5-7
Cedrik-Marcel Stebe – Eduardo Schwank 7-6(1) 7-5
5-set barometer: 24-18 Juan Carlos Ferrero, 16-11 Stanislas Wawrinka, 14-12 Jurgen Melzer, 13-19 Radek Stepanek, 9-9 Mardy Fish, 8-9 Andreas Seppi, 4-1 Mikhail Kukushkin, 3-3 Igor Kunitsyn, 2-2 Go Soeda, 2-3 Ivan Dodig