The pick of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinals looks likely to be the tie between France and USA, taking place at the picturesque Monte Carlo Country Club on 6-8 April, and American captain Jim Courier is excited about the challenge that lies ahead.
“The general overview is France is a very deep team,” said Courier, who guided USA to an emphatic 5-0 away victory over Switzerland in the World Group first round in February. “There are going to be five tough matches for us. We have to play our best to stand a chance.
“We did that with Switzerland. We'll be well prepared. We like the environment. We'll be comfortable in Monte Carlo. We're happy to be playing there and we'll look forward to laying it out there.”
Courier, who took charge of the American team at the start of last season, has named a full strength line-up for the trip to France with Mardy Fish and John Isner playing singles and Bob and Mike Bryan providing the doubles expertise.
Fish finding form
Fish, ranked No. 8 in the world, has been struggling to find his best form in 2012 although he did record an impressive five-set win against Stanislas Wawrinka in Davis Cup. Until this week, the American No. 1 hadn’t won back-to-back matches all year but, as if on cue, he’s picked up his game and is through to the quarterfinals at the Masters 1000 event in Miami.
“Mardy is feeling better, having won a couple of matches,” said Courier. “He's in a better frame of mind this week in Miami. He's been working in the past few weeks with Mark Knowles as his coach. There is a new voice in his ear. That always hits a bit of a refresh button for a player, which it looks like he needed after the start of the season.
“Other than Davis Cup, it had been a pretty tough start for him. I think he's gotten himself back on track and is back out there fighting, competing and grinding, all those things that he said he wasn't doing after his match in Palm Springs, he's been doing in Miami. He's not playing his best tennis yet but he's playing better and competing a lot better.”
Isner on way up
Playing in the second singles position for USA is the in-form John Isner, who is up to No. 10 in the world after finishing runner-up at the Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells. The 26-year-old, who stands at 6’ 9” tall, can also draw strength from his Davis Cup victory over Roger Federer earlier in the campaign.
“John is very comfortable with the team environment, having played four years of college ball [at the University of Georgia], so I think he likes it,” said Courier. “I think he feels a responsibility to the team, and that seems to help him focus in. It certainly did in Switzerland.
“He's getting more experienced at Davis Cup, as well. He hasn't played a ton of live matches. It will be fun to see how he develops in Davis Cup as well as how he's developing just in general. He still has a lot of upside potential.
“I do think that Switzerland was a key point for him for this year and possibly for his career as to gaining confidence and playing against the top players. He's taken that confidence, had a great run in Palm Springs. Hopefully he's going to have a big year. He's already having a really good one but there's a lot of big events ahead.”
Bryan brothers together again
The dependable Bryan brothers will be reunited again on the doubles court after Bob missed the tie against Switzerland for the birth of his first child. The world No. 1 pair have only ever lost two Davis Cup doubles rubbers since making their debut together in 2003.
“As a captain, to have the world's best on your team at any level is obviously a great comfort,” said Courier. “Bob and Mike are a pretty self‑sufficient entity. They get out there, they get after it. It's pretty remarkable to be on the bench with them and watch how they operate and to see what they do.
“Mike and Mardy made a great pick-up team in Switzerland but I think it will be to everyone's benefit to have the singles guys focused on singles and getting some rest on Saturday, and Bob and Mike getting ready to go to battle in doubles.”
Roddick steps aside
Andy Roddick, who defeated Federer on his way to last 16 in Miami this week, is the high profile absentee from the American team but he has already stated that Fish and Isner are the first choice singles players at the moment.
“Andy said pretty clearly after we had our victory in Switzerland as a team that Mardy and John deserved the right to continue on with what they started, and I agree with Andy’s statement” said Courier.
“He remains open to opportunities down the line for the team. As he clearly stated, if you look back at transcripts, if one of our guys were to be injured, he would be available. So that's the kind of team guy Andy is.”
France possess great depth
Courier’s opposite number, Guy Forget, also has his top players available for the tie. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau have been announced by the French captain in the initial team nominations, while Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet are also in the frame for a call up.
“You have to keep in mind that Guy has really until next week to determine who the four players on his team are going to be,” said Courier. “He could change two of those guys out. From what we hear, Simon is going to be there with the team. I'm not sure about Gasquet.
“So I'm not convinced the four players he presented are the four players that will be nominated come next Thursday. They might be but we're not too focused on that. We'll be able to focus in on Thursday when we know exactly who Guy nominates and we'll go from there.
“It’s a great team he has to work with. Great choices. So many combinations he can use in singles and in doubles. He's done a terrific job over the years. He's been a fantastic captain. We know it's going to be a tricky one all the way around.”
The tie between France and USA is being streamed live on the official Davis Cup video website: DavisCup.tv