Bon Mots, Rising Stars And Pleasant Surprises Made For An Exciting Davis Cup World Group Weekend

Davis Cup

WASHINGTON, February 5, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Every Davis Cup has its pleasant surprises. Take for instance Cameron Norrie of Great Britain. Thrust into the spotlight against Spain due to the absence of Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund, the young, left-handed Brit with the picturesque forehand gave two remarkable performances – one an upset win, the other a heartbreak loss – on the Spanish red clay in Marbella. Meanwhile, down under in Brisbane, Alexander Zverev gutted out a remarkable five-set win over Aussie upstart Alex De Minaur to open Germany’s tie against Australia on the right note. Then, the world No. 5 wunderkind clinched it for the Germans by crushing the mercurial Nick Kyrgios in straight sets on Sunday afternoon.

If Kyrgios lost his cool, as he showed in smashing a racket late during his loss to Zverev, Norrie kept his composure throughout the first-round weekend of Davis Cup World Group play. The 114th-ranked Norrie, who only became a full-time professional last May, had played just five clay court matches in his career – all of them at the ITF Futures level. On Friday, he came back from 0-2 down to defeat world No. 23 Roberto Bautista Agut in his remarkable Davis Cup debut. Then, he showed much poise and promise against No. 21 Albert Ramos-Vinolas despite losing 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in a match that lasted three hours and 43 minutes. Next, Spain hosts Germany in the quarterfinals while Great Britain, which needs to win a playoff tie in September to avoid relegation, has found itself a new star.

“I can’t speak high enough of what Cam’s done all weekend,” said British captain Leon Smith about Norrie. “I’m really proud of him. If he needs some sort of reference point in terms of how far he can go in his career, he certainly got it this week.”

Around the World Group

“We’ll go step by step,” said Spanish captain Sergi Bruguera, who made a successful debut in guiding Spain to a 3-1 victory over Great Britain at Marbella. “Germany are tough with Alexander Zverev who’s playing great and is a great competitor. So, first we’ll just concentrate on them.” Against the British, Albert Ramos-Vinolas won both of his singles rubbers, including the tie-clincher, to help the Spanish advance.

• The United States, which is being picked by some to win the 2018 Davis Cup, moved into the quarterfinals with a 3-1 victory over Serbia in Nis, which played without Novak Djokovic. A tie-clinching, four-set doubles win by American pair Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson on Saturday complemented singles wins by Sam Querrey and John Isner. Next, the U.S. will host Belgium.

• Switzerland, without Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, was shutdown 4-1 by Kazakhstan in Astana. The Kazakhs clinched 3-0 after Saturday’s epic five-set doubles win by Timur Khabibulinn and Aleksandr Nedovyesov. Sometimes, as New York Times tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg tweeted over the weekend, “Davis Cup is a strange alternate tennis reality.” How else do you explain a country which has won four of the last six men’s Grand Slams going down so quickly?

Adrian Mannarino survived a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5, 6-7 (2), 7-5 scare against Robin Haase that lifted defending champion France to a 3-1 tie victory over the Netherlands at Albertville and into the final eight. Mannarino’s triumph left French captain Yannick Noah feeling a sigh of relief. “I really thought we were going to a fifth rubber,” he said. “Like the rest of the weekend, I went through all the emotions. After a set-and-a-half here, I thought for sure there would be a fifth rubber; and then in the fourth set I thought for sure it was over I was thinking about being back home, and suddenly we were in the fifth set. It came down to a couple of points. We were lucky to play at home – that made a big difference.”

Borna Coric was Croatia’s rising star during their 3-1 victory over Canada on the indoor clay at Osijek, winning both of his singles rubbers. He gave a stunning performance during his 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over Denis Shapovalov that was wise beyond his years. It was the first meeting between the 21-year-old Coric and the 19-year-old Shapovalov, who were touted as NextGen ATP stars last year. “I thought that I would play well because I was practicing very well for the past days,” said Coric after his win against Shapovalov. “I had maybe some nerves coming into this match.  But then as soon as I broke him in the first game, it gave me confidence.”

• World No. 7 David Goffin, Belgium’s top player, benefited from his experience in clinching his country’s 3-1 victory over Hungary. Goffin’s 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win over Marton Fucsovics at Liège advanced the Belgians against the U.S. in the quarterfinal round. “I gave a lot to win the second set and my level dropped, but I managed to find more intensity in the fourth and the key was to be more aggressive,” said Goffin. “I played really well in the fourth.”

• Germany gained its first quarterfinal since 2014 with its 3-1 victory over Australia that included two points by Alexander Zverev and an important doubles point by Tim Puetz and Jan-Lennard Struff, who prevailed in five sets over the Australians. “Winning against a really strong Australian team makes us very confident for the next rounds, for the upcoming years,” said German captain Michael Kohlmann. “I think we showed that we have a lot of good players, a lot of strong players and all four guys who are here … they put something into the tie. I think that in the end we showed that we are able to go further than this.”

Random thoughts

It seems every Davis Cup weekend includes at least one marathon thriller that goes the five-set distance. On Sunday, Fabio Fognini booked Italy’s place in the quarterfinals with an epic 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-5 victory over Japan’s Yuichi Sugita in 4 hours and 8 minutes at Morioka.

Fognini collapsed in joy while the look on Sugita’s face suggested devastating disappointment. After the smiling Fognini picked himself up, he received a huge hug from his team captain, Corrado Barazzutti, then was greeted by all of his Italian teammates, who jumped up and down in unison as they hugged their hero.

Speaking of Fognini’s heroic effort, he spent a total of 11 hours and 41 minutes on court during Italy’s tie against Japan. His opening-day rubber lasted 3 hours and 56 minutes and it was followed by a 3 hour and 37 minute doubles rubber with partner Simone Bolelli on Saturday. “I think this was the toughest Davis Cup tie I have played,” said Fognini after his win Sunday. “I played with my heart.”

Indeed, Fognini is all heart.

• France has now reached the World Group quarterfinals for the ninth straight year. Sunday’s win over the Netherlands was France’s fifth consecutive tie win and eighth in nine on French soil.

What they said

• Nick Kyrgios: “I would have given up my Brisbane title to have won this tie. I ultimately had a pretty good summer but it’s tough to think about all that stuff when you lost today.”

• Albert Ramos-Vinolas: “I’m really happy. It was a really good atmosphere today. It was a long match, a great match; we both fought a lot. To finish like this is amazing, when you’re two breaks up and serving for the match.  … This is Davis Cup. It’s not easy to play like a normal tournament, but I think I did a great job.”

* Denis Shapovalov: “It was fun. I actually had a lot of fun playing out there. I thought it was really challenging with the crowd. Borna (Coric) playing so well and I was just trying to figure out a way how to beat him. Unfortunately, I ran out of time.”

• Belgium captain Johan van Herck: “I want them to play tournaments and win matches. I think confidence will be very important for us. Going to play (in the U.S.) will be a huge challenge, but I think we have proven over the years that we are a country that can play really good Davis Cup tennis. So, we’ll go there with ambition to try to win the tie.”

World Group quarterfinal pairings, April 6-8

• France vs. Italy

• Spain vs. Germany

• Kazakhstan vs. Croatia

• United States vs. Belgium

About the author

Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.