BORAS, SWEDEN: The form and fitness of world No. 749 Joachim Johansson could be the key to who emerges victorious from the Sweden-Russia Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie being held in Boras this week.
The former world No. 9, plagued by elbow and shoulder problems in recent years and who has played just two matches since representing Sweden in the Davis Cup 12 months ago, was named on Thursday alongside world No. 4 Robin Soderling as the host nation’s nominated singles players.
While few would bet against the in-form Soderling picking up two points for his country against Russians Teymuraz Gabashvili and Igor Andreev, an air of mystery surrounds exactly what kind of tennis Johansson will produce when he enters the Borashallen in southern Sweden on Friday.
Since losing in four sets to Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer this time last year, he has played just two matches at an Italian Challenger event in February. Despite his inactivity, however, Swedish captain Thomas Enqvist is happy the former US Open semifinalist can compete with world No.76 Gabashvili and Andreev, the world No.97.
“He’s hitting the ball great and it’s nice this time we can take the fitness issue out of the picture,” said Enqvist. “He’s ready to play the full weekend. It’s tough of course, he’s going to have to play two top 100 players who are out on the tour playing every week so it’s a good challenge for Joachim.”
Any doubts over whether Pim Pim, as he’s known in these parts, can go the distance over five sets appear to be in the past and the man himself argues that he is in the team on merit, rather than thanks to former glories.
“We had a practice camp last week in Stockholm with eight or 10 guys and Thomas brought six guys here and I’m still in the team,” Johansson said. “I’m focusing on right now. I don’t want to think about the past or the future. I don’t think anyone here can guarantee anything right now, but me and Thomas and Magnus [Larsson] think I could play ten, 15 sets this week if I needed to.”
What is in no doubt whatsoever is the form of Sweden’s No. 1, Robin Soderling, who arrives at the tie having lost just one match this year having won three singles titles during the first two months of the season in Brisbane, Rotterdam and Marseille. The big-serving right-hander says he is confident of continuing that same form when he opens the tie against Andreev at 3pm local time on Friday.
“It’s always a bit different compared to regular tournaments, but I try to see it as any other match, try to do my things and try to play well,” he said. “I always like to play Davis Cup, it’s always fun. I grew up with Davis Cup - I came to a lot of matches. My dream was to one day play for my country and it feels great to be here.”
While Soderling is used to leading his country into battle, his opposite number, Gabashvili, is experiencing it for the first time after Russia’s highest-ranked player, world No. 13 Mikhail Youzhny, retired from Davis Cup tennis last month and Russian No.2 Nikolay Davydenko ruled himself out of the tie. He said Russia’s plan was to target Johansson and hope their doubles team of Dmitry Tursunov and Igor Kunitsyn can come away with a valuable victory against Simon Aspelin and Robert Lindstedt on Saturday.
“Probably the key is to win the second matches against Johansson,” Gabashvili said. “He’s an unbelievable player but he hasn’t played much in the last five years so in a five-set match we’re hoping to take that opportunity then we’re hoping [we can win the] doubles too. These three matches are the key.
“Our ability to play doubles is very good. Tursunov is playing good doubles with Kunitsyn and even Andreev used to play very good doubles so we have quite a few choices.”
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Robin Soderling (SWE) v Igor Andreev (RUS)
R2: Joachim Johansson (SWE) v Teymuraz Gabashvili (RUS)
R3: Simon Aspelin / Robert Lindstedt (SWE) v Igor Kunitsyn / Dmitry Tursunov (RUS)
R4: Robin Soderling (SWE) v Teymuraz Gabashvili (RUS)
R5: Joachim Johansson (SWE) v Igor Andreev (RUS)
Robin Soderling (SWE) - 04/03/2011
Igor Andreev (RUS) - 03/03/2011
Captain Thomas Enqvist (SWE) - 03/03/2011
Teymuraz Gabashvili (RUS) - 03/03/2011
Joachim Johansson (SWE) - 03/03/2011
Robin Soderling (SWE) - 03/03/2011