FRIBOURG, SWITZERLAND: This is team tennis, and yet it’s hard for this Switzerland-USA Davis Cup by BNP Paribas first round tie not to be all about one man.
For the first time in eight years, Roger Federer has made himself available for the first round. The 16-time Grand Slam champion leads a Swiss team on indoor clay here in Fribourg, about 20 minutes by train from the Swiss capital, Bern, against an American team missing the injured Andy Roddick.
Federer’s presence, alongside that of his Olympic gold medal doubles partner Stanislas Wawrinka, makes Switzerland one of the leading nations in this year’s competition – always presuming Federer plays beyond this weekend.
The world No. 3 is the man everyone wants to meet, be photographed with and shake hands with in Fribourg this week. It’s the third tie running in which he has answered the call of his friend and Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi, and the last time involved a trip to Sydney the day after losing to Novak Djokovic in the US Open semifinals. That suggests he really wants to win the Cup this year, but he continues to keep his cards close to his chest.
“It’s just another tie for me,” he said, “it doesn’t matter when and where it is, it’s all a matter of priorities. My team is a group of great friends, that’s what I enjoy about it, that I can spend some time with them, and hopefully try to win but if we don’t it doesn’t matter. It’s about trying your best and having a good time.”
No one in Swiss tennis circles is quite sure whether this is a bluff, or whether Federer really sees Davis Cup as a series of isolated weekends rather than a knockout competition that leads to one nation holding the trophy. As it’s the one meaningful trophy in tennis he has never lifted, the assumption is that he wants to win it, but he is doing nothing to fuel that particular fire.
If nothing else, his approach helps keep the focus on this weekend, in which he and Wawrinka are nominated to play on all three days.
Realistically, for the US to win, Fish has to beat Wawrinka in the opening match. There is also a belief that Ryan Harrison’s nomination alongside Mike Bryan is a ploy to keep the Swiss guessing, and even the American captain Jim Courier says the length of matches Fish and Isner play on the opening day will influence his ultimate choice of doubles pair.
That suggests Fish could well team up with Mike Bryan, the way he did in September 2008 when the two Americans beat Spain’s Lopez/Verdasco on the clay of Madrid. Any suggestion it might be asking too much of Fish to play on all three days is refuted by his performance in September 2010, when he played two singles five-setters and a four-set doubles on the clay of Bogota to help the USA beat Colombia.
With Federer playing, the visitors are clearly the underdogs, but there is a good spirit in the American team. And Fish makes an interesting point: “We like our chances here. We have the most uncomfortable player on our team in Isner, and I’m certainly glad I’m not playing him.”
Isner has played Federer twice before but never on clay, and his big serve might yet create problems for the 2009 French Open champion. This tie could yet be a lot closer than Federer’s presence leads one to believe.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Wawrinka (SUI) v Fish (USA)
R2: Federer (SUI) v Isner (USA)
R3: Federer / Wawrinka (SUI) v M. Bryan / Harrison (USA)
R4: Federer (SUI) v Fish (USA)
R5: Wawrinka (SUI) v Isner (USA)
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