There is an old saying that “one man’s loss is another man’s gain” and that’s certainly true of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinal tie between France and USA this weekend.
Both teams have been forced to tinker with their line-ups after the withdrawal of Mardy Fish and Gael Monfils from the US and French sides respectively. As such Ryan Harrison and Gilles Simon – two players who are otherwise on the periphery of the team – will have the opportunity to gain from the invaluable experience of playing in such a high-profile tie.
Asked how he felt about stepping into Fish’s shoes and playing in his first live Davis Cup rubber, 19-year-old Harrison said: “Obviously excited. Ready to get out there and to [be] part of the experience. I’m looking forward to it.”
The teenager, who is thought to be the next star of American tennis, is better known for his exploits on the hard courts of his native country, but he assured the local media at the Monte Carlo Country Club on Tuesday that he would be happy to play on the red stuff that has so often been the bane of his team’s Davis Cup chances.
“I love to play on clay,” he explained. “Where I grew up in Louisiana I had 12 clay courts so I’m very comfortable sliding and I like playing on it. It’s going to be something that helps my game.”
Despite the absence of Fish, who cited extreme fatigue as his reason for not making the Trans Atlantic flight, the Americans welcome back Bob Bryan to the Davis Cup fold.
The twin missed USA’s famous 5-0 victory over Switzerland in the first round this year as he was busy changing nappies following the arrival of his first child, Micaela, on 31 January.
“Obviously I’m happy to be back on the Davis Cup team.” He explained. “[I] Had some of my best memories playing for our country. It’s gonna be exciting, as always, and we’ll be ready to go.”
The tie is finely poised, even more so after Fish’s withdrawal was balanced by the fact that Monfils, the French No. 2, is also unable to play due to an injury to his left side.
Such is the strength in depth of French tennis at the moment, though, captain Guy Forget seemingly had a difficult decision to make choosing between Simon and Richard Gasquet to replace Monfils.
In a press conference prior to the tie, however, Forget explained that he had spoken to both players and that his decision had been made for him – Simon was fit and ready to go, while Gasquet felt he wouldn’t be able to compete over five sets on clay due to a niggling elbow injury.
Simon is expected to play singles on the first day and he will have a difficult job of stopping the in-form John Isner, who might not look like a clay court player, but given that he defeated Roger Federer on the same surface in Fribourg in February and pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets in the first round at Roland Garros last year, the 6ft 9in American looks like he will be a match for anyone on the red dirt.
As always, the doubles rubber could prove crucial and the visitors will take heart from the fact that the Bryan brothers are the reigning Monte Carlo-1000 doubles champions.
If results were to go with rankings, the tie could well go down to a decisive fifth rubber – step up Harrison and Simon. It could be time to make the most of your opportunity.