ANTWERP, BELGIUM: Johan Van Herck and Gilbert Schaller are doing their best to deflect attention from their roles as captains of Belgium and Austria respectively, as the two nations compete for a place in next year’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group at the Lotto Arena in Antwerp.
For it is out with the old and in with the new. Van Herck takes charge of his first tie, following on from Reginald Willems, whilst Schaller leads Austria for the tenth and final time before stepping down. Both, though, are more interested in what their teams can achieve, rather than getting all misty-eyed over their part in proceedings.
Schaller revealed: “It’s special, of course, and I will try to enjoy it, but once the tie gets started then I will be focusing on trying to win because that is our goal, to be back in the World Group.”
The Austrian captain has lost five of his previous nine ties but is keen to go out on a high: “Five wins and five defeats wouldn’t be too bad. It could be better but with the team we’ve had in recent times, that is a good achievement to be in the World Group.”
His highlights include a 3-2 win in Israel last year, after claiming both reverse singles rubbers on the Sunday. Schaller also enjoyed overseeing a win at Wimbledon over Great Britain.
Van Herck, meanwhile, is keen to wreck Schaller’s final fling and – in doing so – get his own Davis Cup captaincy off to the perfect start. He said: “I’m feeling proud to be a Belgian captain and ready to go but the most important thing is the team.”
Belgium arrive at this point, and needing to win a play-off to maintain their place in the World Group, following a 4-1 defeat by Spain earlier in the year. Austria lost to France, 3-2. The visitors, though, boast a Grand Slam champion, with Jurgen Melzer fresh from claiming the men’s doubles title at Flushing Meadows.
Melzer has struggled to overcome jetlag, following victory at the US Open, but he insists that Davis Cup was always on his schedule: “This is what tennis players have to deal with. Having Davis Cup the week after a Grand Slam – if you go far – is never easy. The only option is not to play and I will always raise my hand for my country.”
The Austrian number one is full of confidence and has momentum. Putting weariness to one side, he feels he is better prepared because of his match action.
Belgium’s leading light, Xavier Malisse, tells a different story. His was not a fairytale in New York. A first round exit has meant time at home but Malisse explained that there is no magic formula for success.
“Jurgen’s going to feel confident. Maybe he’ll be a little tired. I feel a little less tired having had more than two weeks off, but in Davis Cup anything is possible. It’s a different event and different to playing individually in tournaments.”
Austria have never lost to Belgium, winning all four meetings between the two nations. Malisse and Darcis, though, both have winning records over Melzer, whilst Andreas Haider-Maurer plays only his second Davis Cup. Experience will be key, as will cool heads. Many expect this to go the distance.
The full draw for the weekend is listed below:
R1: Xavier Malisse (BEL) v Andreas Haider-Maurer (AUT)
R2: Steve Darcis (BEL) v Jurgen Melzer (AUT)
R3: Rubens Bemelmans / Olivier Rochus (BEL) v Oliver Marach / Alexander Peya (AUT)
R4: Xavier Malisse (BEL) v Jurgen Melzer (AUT)
R5: Steve Darcis (BEL) v Andreas Haider-Maurer (AUT)
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.
Jurgen Melzer (AUT) - 15/09/2011
Captain Gilbert Schaller (AUT) - 15/09/2011
Steve Darcis (BEL) - 15/09/2011
Andreas Haider-Maurer (AUT) - 15/09/2011
Captain Johan van Herck (BEL) - 15/09/2011
Xavier Malisse (BEL) - 15/09/2011