ROQUEBRUNE CAP MARTIN, FRANCE: USA might have to keep all their fingers-and-toes crossed when they head to Spain in September to play in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinals. And that’s taking into account that Team USA have proven to be a dynamite force on clay in Davis Cup this season, beating Switzerland 5-0 and France 3-2 this weekend.
But Spain could be an entirely different challenge and that is a fact that all participants are aware of and taking into consideration. Nevertheless, American captain Jim Courier is more than encouraged by how this Davis Cup season is going for his squad.
“We’ve had the worst (Davis Cup) draw than you can possibly imagine so far,” Courier said. “I’m shocked that we’re still in the Davis Cup this year. Honestly, at the beginning of the year it was my hope that we would be able to stay in the World Group. I mean, Switzerland away you would think we’d probably lose that match, and when we got past Switzerland we thought maybe we’d have a chance but thought we’d lose this one as well.”
And why not feel confident when he’s led two underdog teams to battle this season and come out winning the Davis Cup weekend war. Here at the Monte Carlo Country Club, world No. 11 John Isner was a powerful force in taking down Gilles Simon in straight sets and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, ranked No. 6, in four sets.
“Beating Jo and beating Gilles are two very good wins,” Isner said. “If I can keep playing like that I’m going to be hard to beat.”
And so he’s certainly not going to count his team out. He’s confident his players will arrive with the similar fight that they brought to Switzerland and France. He anticipates they’ll put forth every ounce of energy they can to doing what some might think unthinkable: beating Spain.
“Spain, we’d probably lose it on paper,” Courier said. “But they don’t play it on paper. We have to play it and we have players who are capable and passionate and hungry. We’re going to be the underdog but we’ll be ready to play.”
The Spanish come complete with top-ranked stars, who often love clay and feel comfy on other surfaces. There lineup could include second-ranked Rafael Nadal, fifth-ranked David Ferrer, 12th-ranked Nicolas Almagro, 15th-ranked Feliciano Lopez, 19th-ranked Fernando Verdasco and 26th-ranked Marcel Granollers.
The Americans will likely be hoping that they’ll be able to compliment Isner with either Mardy Fish or Andy Roddick playing singles. Ryan Harrison, who lost both of his matches here playing in his first ever Davis Cup live tie, could use a bit more polish to take on Spain.
Isner sounded as if the semifinal against Spain will be a challenge the American team will be ready to handle.
“Just like France, and probably even more so, they could throw anybody at us, they’re so deep that country,” Isner said. “But whoever we go up against, whatever the conditions are, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to believe we’re going to win.
“That’s what we’ve done these first two rounds. People didn’t think we could beat Switzerland. I’m sure there were some people who didn’t think we could beat France. We’ll go into that tie very confident and obviously ready to go.”
It’s true that the two countries are even at 5-5 when it comes to playing each other in Davis Cup. Spain have had the upper-hand their last two clashes.
Most recently, in Spain surprised USA on a lightning fast indoor hard court designed to help the Americans to victory. Instead, it worked to a 3-1 favor for Spain in Andy Roddick’s hometown of Austin, Texas at the quarterfinal stage last year.
But to take a look at their record when they’ve met on clay and Spain are clear-cut favorites with a 4-1 advantage. That includes a clash in 2008, when Spain scored a 4-1 win in the semifinal played on clay in Madrid.
USA have been the Davis Cup champions 32 times with the last time being in 2007. Spain have lifted the trophy five times, but all five of those victories have taken place from 2000 onwards.