The first round of Davis Cup kicks off this weekend and, yes, the No. 1 player in the world and recently crowned Australian Open champion is in action. The draws take place Thursday and play begins Friday through the weekend. Here are the ties to watch:
• Spain vs. Canada (Vancouver, British Columbia): A depleted Spanish squad goes to Vancouver without five of its top six players, making this a winnable matchup for Milos Raonic and Co. Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez are skipping the tie, which means Spain will be led by No. 32 Marcel Granollers and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in singles and Granollers and Marc Lopez in doubles. Those are two favorable singles matches for the 15th-ranked Raonic, especially on the quick indoor court in the Thunderbird Sports Arena, which means this could come down to the doubles. Expect the home crowd to get loud and rowdy. Tickets sold out in just 80 minutes.
• Czech Republic vs. Switzerland (Geneva, Switzerland): Poor Stanislas Wawrinka. He goes and plays the match of his life against Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open and now he has to lead a Roger Federer-less Swiss team against the defending champions. This would have been the tie of the first round had Federer made himself available, but it’s hard to see Wawrinka’s getting two points in singles and then teaming up with a journeyman teammate to beat Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek. [UPDATE: Stepanek has withdrawn, citing a back injury].
• Brazil vs. USA (Jacksonville, Florida): After skipping the Australian Open with a knee injury, John Isner joins Sam Querrey and Australian Open champions Mike and Bob Bryan for a home tie against Brazil. Brazil has only one man in the top 100 in singles, the talented but inconsistent Thomaz Bellucci, ranked No. 33. Bellucci has beaten Isner on clay but the quick indoor hard court heavily favors the big-serving Americans. Look for the Bryans to clinch this in a 3-0 sweep.
• Serbia vs. Belgium (Charleroi, Belgium): Djokovic had to bail on his Monday morning media obligations in Melbourne to fly immediately to Belgium to prepare for this weekend’s tie. Such is the non-stop life of the patriotic champion. As if the hurried travel and struggle to stave off jet lag isn’t enough, the tie will be played on indoor clay. “It’s going to be a lot of fun next weekend to see how I can adjust to [a] clay court in indoor conditions, playing away Davis Cup, which is always tricky,” he said. Djokovic’s idea of “fun” sure sounds painful.
If Djokovic does take the court, quite likely now that Janko Tipsarevic has pulled out with injury, his match against David Goffin should be fun to watch. As Goffin showed in his fourth-round run at Roland Garros last year, he knows his way around a clay court.
• Croatia vs. Italy (Turin, Italy): This week Andreas Seppi becomes the first Italian to crack the top 20 since Renzo Furlan in 1996, and he’ll lead the Italians in what should be a spirited tie on indoor clay in Turin. Fabio Fognini, Paolo Lorenzi, and Simone Bolelli make up the rest of the Italian team, while the Croatians are led by Marin Cilic, Ivan Dodig, Antonio Veic, and Mate Pavic. Fognini always finds a way to bring necessary (as well as unnecessary) drama, and Seppi vs. Cilic should be a must watch.
Open GDF Suez — Paris, France
Sara Errani is the top seed, followed by Petra Kvitova, Marion Bartoli, and Dominika Cibulkova. I’m still not willing to give up on Kvitova yet, and her decision to take a last minute wild card into the Paris Indoors after losing to Laura Robson early in Melbourne was a good call. Kvitova is the queen of the indoors, winning the title here two years ago, and perhaps a return could signal a spark. I just get the sense that if Kvitova can get a few wins under her belt, she’ll gain the confidence to put her game back on track. Good chance to do that this week.
PPT Pattaya Open — Pattaya City, Thailand
For the first time in four years, Ana Ivanovic is the top seed at a tournament. That’s just shocking. But instead of dwelling on the four year rollercoaster that brought her back to being on the cusp of the top 10, maybe it’s best to just focus on the present. Ivanovic, who leads the field with Maria Kirilenko, Hsieh Su-Wei and Sorana Cirstea, has an interesting path if she wants to win her first title since Bali in 2011. She could face the ageless Kimiko Date-Krumm in the second round and Daniela Hantuchova in the third round. Both are obviously winnable matches, but given Ivanovic’s tendency towards streaky play, nothing is a sure thing.