The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, Novak Djokovic and Serbia face the United States in one of four Davis Cup quarterfinals, while Venus and Serena Williams headline the field at The Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C.
The quarterfinals begin on Friday. Here’s a look at the matchups:
• Serbia vs. United States (Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Idaho): The best and easiest route to three points for the Americans is to effectively concede two points to Djokovic in singles, beat Viktor Troicki, twice and win the doubles behind Bob and Mike Bryan. (Serbia’s No. 2, Janko Tipsarevic, is not playing.) On paper, that’s perfectly doable. Troicki hasn’t played Sam Querrey or John Isner since 2011, the same year that he reached a career-high No. 12. Troicki was victorious in both those encounters, but he’s been on a steady decline ever since, falling to No. 44. He has yet to win back-to-back tour matches this year, and his only victory against a top-50 player came against then-No. 50 David Goffin of Belgium in Davis Cup.
One has to like Querrey’s and Isner’s chances on a quick indoor court at altitude, but their ability to shoulder the pressure is a concern. This is Querrey’s first Davis Cup as America’s No. 1, which means he’ll face Troicki on Friday. The 25-year-old American will try to rebound from what he described as an “awful” performance in a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Tomas Berdych in the fourth round of the Sony Open. Isner, meanwhile, has split 14 matches this year, including losses to the likes of Edouard Roger-Vasselin (No. 105 at the time), Denis Istomin (No. 63) and Ryan Harrison (No. 68), and his best victory was against No. 29 Kevin Anderson. The 27-year-old Isner is still struggling with his confidence, having tumbled to No. 23. This tie could very well come down to Isner’s match with Troicki on Sunday. Given how much Davis Cup means to Isner and knowing that a match against Troicki is one he’s expected to win, the pressure could be paralyzing.
• Italy vs. Canada (Thunderbird Arena, Vancouver): This is the toughest test in the young Davis Cup career of Milos Raonic, who will have his first career meetings against both No. 18 Andreas Seppi and No. 31 Fabio Fognini. Raonic is coming off an illness that led to a third-round withdrawal in Miami. The fast hard court will feed right into Raonic’s big game, but Seppi and Fognini aren’t exactly pure clay-courters. Seppi won an indoor hard-court tournament in Moscow last October, and Fognini, who’s enjoying a surge in form over the last year, was a finalist at another indoor hard-court event in Russia, the St. Petersburg Open, in September.
• France vs. Argentina (Parque Roca, Buenos Aires): Without Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentines are long shots against a rock-solid French team composed of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra. Juan Monaco hasn’t won an ATP match all year (though he did win his two Davis Cup matches against Germany in February), and David Nalbandian hasn’t been able to summon his best form this season.
• Czech Republic vs. Kazakhstan (National Tennis Centre, Astana): The defending champions will be without their No. 1, Berdych, who is out with a shoulder injury. The Czechs will welcome back Radek Stepanek, who is set for his first event since undergoing neck surgery after the Australian Open. Lukas Rosol, Jan Hajek and Ivo Minar round out the Czech lineup, which will take on Mikhail Kukushkin, Evgeny Korolev, Andrey Golubev and Yuriy Schukin. The Czechs still have the advantage on paper despite Berdych’s absence, as the highest-ranked Kazakh is Kukushkin at No. 156. But Kazakhstan has pulled off Davis Cup stunners before, including in 2011 when this same team beat a Berdych-led Czech group at home in the first round.
The Family Circle Cup
Serena Williams returns to defend her title against a nicely packed field that includes sister Venus, Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur and Sloane Stephens. Serena was absolutely devastating here last year, when she lost a mere three games in the semifinals (against Stosur) and final (against Lucie Safarova) combined. That confidence-boosting run kick-started a 17-0 roll through the clay season that ended with her shocking first-round loss to Virginie Razzano at the French Open.
I’m expecting another title for Serena here, this time by defeating Wozniacki in the final. Click here for the draw.
Even with Victoria Azarenka’s withdrawal, the last hard-court stop of the spring season boasts a surprisingly strong field for an International-level tournament. Angelique Kerber is the top seed in Mexico, followed by Marion Bartoli, Maria Kirilenko and Ana Ivanovic. Given her recent form, I’m picking Kirilenko to win her second title of the season. Click here for the draw.