SANTIAGO, CHILE: In past years the second rubber on the first day of this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off would have been a clash of the No. 1s but Chile's Fernando Gonzalez is coming back from a string of injuries and plays here as the hosts No. 2.
The former world No. 5 singles player has only played six events, only three of which have come at tour-level, after undergoing hip surgery to cure a troublesome knee.
But Gonzalez has a fine pedigree in Davis Cup and hasn't lost a singles rubber since the 2007 World Group play-offs when he fell in five sets to Dudi Sela at the Canada Stadium in Ramat Hasharon.
Standing in his way is Italy's Fabio Fognini, who has risen up the rankings this year despite suffering from injury problems of his own. The clay court specialist reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros before having to give a walkover to Novak Djokovic due to a thigh strain.
The first rubber sees Paul Capdeville take on Potito Starace and both players will be desperate to give their side the best possible start in what is sure to be a closely fought tie.
Capdeville memorably overcame USA's John Isner on the first day of Chile's World Group first round tie in March so is no stranger to causing an upset in the competition.
Italy will be hoping to preserve their perfect record against the South Americans, one of their victories even came in the 1976 Davis Cup Final. That was Italy’s first Davis Cup title, and it was won at the same Estadio Nacional venue as this tie.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Paul Capdeville (CHI) v Potito Starace (ITA)
R2: Fernando Gonzalez (CHI) v Fabio Fognini (ITA)
R3: Jorge Aguilar / Nicolas Massu (CHI) v Simone Bolelli / Daniele Bracciali (ITA)
R4: Paul Capdeville (CHI) v Fabio Fognini (ITA)
R5: Fernando Gonzalez (CHI) v Potito Starace (ITA)
Home team, high on confidence
The big news about this tie was that Chile, for the first time ever, chose to play in an outdoor hard court, as opposed to the traditional clay. The visual impact is striking, but how confident is the home team on this surface?
“I like the court a lot,” said Chile’s No. 1 Paul Capdeville. “Most of my best tennis has been played on hard courts. I am playing quite well recently, I like the court, fast and very suiting for my tennis. I hope to have a good weekend.”
Captain Hans Gildemeister stated that “the choice of ground, court surface and the experience of my players will be the key to win the series. Tomorrow we have two points we can win, and we will go for them.”
The Italians were cautious about Gonzalez’s true fitness level, one of the key questions of the tie.
“I know him,” Fognini said. “If he wasn’t 100 per cent fit he would not be here. It’s going to be a very tough game.”
Captain Corrado Barazzutti was here in 1976, when Italy beat Chile 4-1 in the Davis Cup final, winning the first match for his team. Some 35 years have passed and the venue, obviously, brings back good memories in him.
“It’s been a long time, and there are many things that have changed. I hope, however, that this time I will leave with memories as good as those I cherish from then,” he said.
Live scores of this tie will be available on the Davis Cup website, and live radio commentary of the World Group semifinals will also be broadcast.