NEUCHATEL, SWITZERLAND: Emilio Gomez may have had his own idea about whether Miss Neuchatel 2013 was, in fact, the "goddess of good luck", as described by the mc, when she picked out the name of Stanislas Wawrinka to play first in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Cup Play-off against Ecuador in this picturesque part of western Switzerland.
It meant that Gomez, as the Ecuadorian No. 2 and ranked No. 350 in the world, had the dubious privilege of opening this tie against a man who at the recent US Open disposed of a series of household names before going out in the semifinals in a monumental five-setter against the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
To say that not a lot is expected of Gomez on Friday would be an understatement, but this Ecuadorian team are a proud bunch and they seem determined to make a small mockery at least of the world rankings which indicate a difference between the two teams of some 1500 places – and Roger Federer, the former world No. 1, isn’t even available to the Swiss. Indoor tennis doesn’t exist in Ecuador but hopefully they will acquit themselves creditably at the Patinoire du Littoral stadium by the shores of Lake Neuchatel.
Had Wawrinka taken that extra couple of steps in New York and won his maiden Grand Slam title he would now be the Swiss No. 1, hard though it is to comprehend. As it is, he is just four places behind Federer. With the 28-year-old Wawrinka playing the best tennis of his life and Federer, at 32, surely still good enough to make another Grand Slam semifinal at least, it’s now or never as far as Swiss Davis Cup dreams are concerned.
Naturally, out of respect for their opposition this weekend, the Swiss were reluctant to look no further than this tie, but they must know that the window of opportunity is closing.
Marco Chiudinelli, as Switzerland’s No. 3, is invariably the man who benefits from Federer’s absences from Davis Cup, but even he is hoping that the great man makes himself available in 2014. Chiudinelli faces Julio-Cesar Campozano in the second rubber here and spent Wednesday watching his opponent practise to gain some knowledge of his style.
"It’s sad when he [Federer] can’t play because obviously we want him to be with us – it’s always the best weeks when he is with us, not only performance-wise but ambience-wise," he said. "He always brings out a lot of good vibes in the team on and off court."
On the question of Switzerland’s Davis Cup potential, he added: "I think you have to try over several years. The Czechs did for many, many years and then they were lucky with the draw and lucky that they played their best tennis in the most important matches and so eventually won it.
"Who knows, maybe we could have done the same thing if over the last seven years we had tried each year, but unfortunately we haven’t always been playing with the strongest team. If you have two players who are that much better than the rest, which is the situation in our team, then you only have a realistic chance of going far in the draw if your top players play. We have to win this tie now and who knows what happens in 2014 – maybe Roger gives us a shot."
Of course, Ecuador has managed the impossible before - and according to its most famous player Nicolas Lapentti, who is now president of the Ecuador tennis federation, national television still shows clips of the country’s inexplicable defeat of Great Britain (Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and all) at Wimbledon in 2000. Victory here would surpass even that achievement.
"We don’t have a team with big stars like Nicolas Lapentti and Andres Gomez before, but we have a group of young players that leave everything on the court when they represent our country," said the captain Raul Viver, who was also captain in 2000 and for seven years before that.
Ecuador's most outstanding achievement in recent years was probably its defeat of Brazil in Brazil in a World Group Play-off in 2009 when Campozano, now their No. 1, played and Gomez was a practice partner. "They saw Nicolas play there in the last match cramping in the last two sets and winning the match, so that was a learning experience and an inspiration for them," said Viver. "He’s our president now and so his presence here is a motivating factor for us."
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) v Emilio Gomez (ECU)
R2: Marco Chiudinelli (SUI) v Julio-Cesar Campozano (ECU)
R3: Stanislas Wawrinka/Marco Chiudinelli (SUI) v Roberto Quiroz/Gonzalo Escobar (ECU)
R4: Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) v Julio-Cesar Campozano (ECU)
R5: Marco Chiudinelli (SUI) v Emilio Gomez (ECU)
Julio-Cesar Campozano (ECU) - 12/09/2013
Marco Chiudinelli (SUI) - 12/09/2013
Captain Raul Viver (ECU) - 12/09/2013
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) - 12/09/2013
Captain Severin Luthi (SUI) - 12/09/2013