VIENNA, AUSTRIA: Flying high at 10th in the singles rankings and 8th in doubles, Jurgen Melzer will look for an even higher cruising altitude when Austria and France prepare to take-off in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie in Vienna.
The rush of aviation metaphors is prompted by one of the more original venues in the Davis Cup’s 110-year history. The competition differs from regular tournaments in that all ties are one-off events, to be arranged at just a few months’ notice. Often, ready-made stadiums are available, but the competition allows teams to be creative. Spain has built several arenas from scratch, allowing it to take top-level tennis to cities by-passed by the regular tours.
So when Austria drew the nine-times champions France at home, and then discovered all its regular Viennese venues were booked up, it had to be creative. And it has been. This weekend’s tie will take place in Aircraft Hangar 3 at Vienna airport, a building that can accommodate a Boeing 777 and normally houses planes belonging to Niki Lauda, the 62-year-old former Formula 1 world champion. Lauda’s latest airline, FlyNiki, is a sponsor of the Austrian Davis Cup team.
Lauda himself was at Thursday’s draw, which has produced this line-up for the weekend:
R1: Jurgen Melzer (AUT) v Jeremy Chardy (FRA)
R2: Stefan Koubek (AUT) v Gilles Simon (FRA)
R3: Oliver Marach / Jurgen Melzer (AUT) v Julien Benneteau / Michael Llodra (FRA)
R4: Jurgen Melzer (AUT) v Gilles Simon (FRA)
R5: Stefan Koubek (AUT) v Jeremy Chardy (FRA)
The one surprise name in that list is Jeremy Chardy. With France missing three top players through injury – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet – the French captain Guy Forget was expected to put his highest-ranked available player, Michael Llodra, into opening day’s singles action. But with the tie being played on clay and Llodra generally most effective on quicker courts, Forget opted for Chardy, describing him as his ‘joker’ who could go out and hit freely against Melzer.
When the Austrians chose their unusual venue, it was thought they had only an outside chance of winning. With Koubek having withdrawn from Davis Cup involvement, everything depended on Melzer against a French team with phenomenal strength in depth. But the three injuries are testing that strength in depth to the full, and while France has lost three players, Austria has gained one, with the 34-year-old Koubek returning to the Davis Cup fold despite playing most of his tennis on the Challenger circuit these days. The tie is now a genuinely 50:50 contest.
Austria’s captain Gilbert Schaller could have gone with the higher-ranked Martin Fischer in singles, but opted instead for Koubek’s experience. Despite this, France will be favourite to end the opening day with at least one point, as Simon has been playing well this year while Koubek’s ranking is down at No. 206. Having said that, Simon knows Koubek has been ranked in the Top 20, and said ‘Stefan doesn’t need to play well all year, he just needs to play well on Friday, so I have to be at my best.’
Schaller made one change to his nominated team, bringing in Oliver Marach, who has been playing on the South American clay court circuit, in place of Julian Knowle. In rankings terms it makes a lot of sense, as Marach is ranked 12th as against Knowle’s 36th, but it is still a big gamble. Melzer and Knowle have played 14 times together, while Marach has never played a Davis Cup doubles and never teamed up with Melzer. In addition, Marach plays a different style of doubles to Melzer and Knowle, so despite Melzer being the Wimbledon doubles champion, the French will be favourites for Saturday’s rubber.
Watch this tie live on: DavisCup.tv
Jeremy Chardy (FRA) - 03/03/11
Captain Guy Forget (FRA) - 03/03/11
Stefan Koubek (AUT) - 03/03/11
Jurgen Melzer (AUT) - 03/03/11
Captain Gilbert Schaller (AUT) - 03/03/11
Gilles Simon (FRA) - 03/03/11