ATTENTION switches to the 2018 Davis Cup in week five of the season and while I’ll be in attendance in Marbella, where Spain take on GB, neither of those two sides take my interest in the outright winner market.
I was happy enough with my 33-1 each-way success on Marin Cilic in Melbourne, but the heat did for Juan Martin Del Potro, who played a tough battle in brutal temperatures that he was unable to recover from, either from injury or simply fatigue.
Kevin Anderson went out in round one to Kyle Edmund, who annoyingly we’d backed the week before in Auckland when he withdrew, while Belinda Bencic will be disappointed with her round two performance.
After beating Venus Williams in round one the draw opened up for Bencic, but she was beaten by Luksika Khukhum and it was Elise Mertens that made the semi from that section instead.
Madison Keys made the quarters, but was well off the pace in the last eight against Angelique Kerber in a very flat display.
Davis Cup draw – bottom half
For me the bottom half of the draw looks the most straightforward, with seemingly only perennial Davis Cup overachievers Kazakhstan looking capable of springing a surprise.
Without Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka we can count out Switzerland, while Hungary don’t look up to it at this level and Serbia without Novak Djokovic (and Viktor Troicki, Filip Krajinovic and Janko Tipsarevic) are also readily overlooked.
And the best of the draw looks to have been handed to Croatia, who were runners up two years ago in a final rubber defeat to Argentina, and Marin Cilic and co. look well-placed to go one better in 2018.
An opening round at home on clay versus Canada looks very winnable and they’d also be at home against Kazakhstan in the quarters (assuming that the Kazahks defeat Switzerland).
Croatia would also have a home tie in the semis if they faced, as seems likely, the United States, so their route to another final looks good on paper – but it’s obviously not as simple as that.
Keeping Marin Cilic fit and playing is key to their chances, while Borna Coric needs to kind his game again this season if they don’t want to go back to calling on Ivo Karlovic, who officially retired from DC a few years ago.
He came out of retirement for that 2016 final of course and presumably would do so again, but Cilic is the key man for Croatia and needs to play all of their matches.
It would also aid the Croatia cause if they resolved their dispute with Australian Open doubles champion Mate Pavic, who, according to captain Zeljko Krajan: “refuses to play for the national team and there is no other truth. He does not want to play for the national team.”
Clearly Pavic and Krajan have issues: “For my part, I'm sorry, it's a closed story,” says Pavic. “As long as Krajan is the Davis Cup captain, I will not be there.”
That’s a shame, but you’d think that Cilic would be very keen to get his hands on the Davis Cup trophy after going so close two years ago (and debuting in the event the season after Croatia won it in 2005) and it’s vital that Cilic plays at least some part this weekend after a quick turnaround after Melbourne.
The latest news today (Wednesday) on Cilic’s participation is that he trained on Wednesday and said: “”I try to recover as much as possible. It was a long way, exhausting tournament, especially the final was mentally difficult. I will try to rest, sleep and rest the next day, but also to adapt to the surface after Australia where it was hot enough and fast. I hope I'll be ready.”
The USA look the alternative pick in this half, with Belgium the other contenders and assuming the USA beat a depleted Serbia side on clay in Nis and Belgium defeat Hungary at home it’d be the USA that would have choice of grounds for that quarter final match-up.
It’s hard to discount Belgium after their efforts in DC of late, but it seems a tall order for David Goffin to keep producing huge efforts in Davis Cup as well as challenging in majors and Steve Darcis’s fitness at any given time is guesswork.
I’d assume the USA would choose a quick, high-bouncing surface against Goffin and co, but away from home in Croatia in the last four could well be on clay, which could be the USA’s undoing.
Davis Cup draw – top half
This half looks to be in the hands of the Spanish, with two home ties to kick their campaign off with – against Great Britain and the winner of Australia vs Germany.
It must be said that they’ve deserved a bit of luck with draws, having not played at home since 2013 and after beating GB, which looks a certainty, they’d be happy to face Australia on clay – or Germany for that matter.
Germany would be a tougher tie, but the Germans are away in Australia first up and that won’t be easy for a side relying heavily upon Alexander Zverev, and even if the visitors win that one I can’t see Zverev, Jan-Lennard Struff and Peter Gojowczyk beating Spain on clay.
In the top quarter of that section of the draw it’s hard to see France losing to the Netherlands in round one (10-0 to France head-to-head), but Italy away in the quarters could be tough if Fabio Fognini is in the mood.
That’s assuming that Italy beat Japan away in Morioka in round one, which isn’t a certainty, even versus a Japan side lacking the injured Kei Nishikori, who’s in the early stages of a comeback following a wrist problem.
I’d fancy the Italians to make it tough for France on clay (presumably) just after the back-to-back hard court tournaments in Miami and Indian Wells and at 20-1 the Italians along with Kazakhstan look the liveliest outsiders.
The French are always a warm order for this competition, but their mainstays are getting on now and given that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and co have finally won it after years of failure I’m not sure how up for it they’ll be this year.
It’s a risky wager, as we’re relying on Marin Cilic playing a decent part in the opening tie, but Croatia look the best bets at a price of around the 5-1 mark.
Spain and France look likely to battle it out for a spot in the final and my preference would be for Spain, with France’s 30-somethings having already won it and I’m not sure the likes of Mahut, Tsonga and co. have another title run in them.
- 2 points win Croatia (5-1, Unibet)