WIENER NEUSTADT, AUSTRIA: Welcome to the Davis Cup, Clemens Trimmel. The 33-year-old rookie captain of the Austrian team hadn’t been in the job five minutes and wily old Shamil Tarpishev had pulled a stroke on him.
To the surprise of everyone – including some members of his own team, thought Austria’s Jurgen Melzer – the long-standing Russian Davis Cup and Fed Cup captain chose to omit Mikhail Youzhny, quite clearly his best player, from the opening day’s singles rubbers in this World Group first round tie at the Arena Nova near Vienna.
“I think everybody in that room was surprised – including some of the Russian players,” said Melzer, who will now face Igor Kunitsyn on day one. Tarpishev had craftily nominated the Davis Cup debutant Alex Bogomolov Jr as his No. 1. “We have to take it as it is. Kunitsyn is a very good player, he has a lot of routine and he has a winning record against me, so it might have been a smart move to put him in.”
That comment sounded like more mind games in response from Melzer, although he was quick to add: “To be honest, I’m far more happy to play Kunitsyn than Youzhny, who has obviously played well in the last [few] weeks.”
Kunitsyn, who is ranked No. 79 in the world, revealed that he was told he would be playing on day one 10 minutes before the draw ceremony. “Someone had to play and the captain picked me - that’s his choice – and I’ll try not to disappoint him.”
Tarpishev explained that he felt Youzhny, who has played a lot of tennis lately, was not fit enough to play all three days. Don’t be too surprised, though, if Youzhny figures in the reverse singles. At the moment, the 2002 Davis Cup hero has been nominated just for the doubles, alongside Nikolay Davydenko against Oliver Marach and Alexander Peya.
Whatever the eventual line-ups, it is a beautifully balanced tie. Russia, the two-time Davis Cup champions, would normally be strong favourites but they no longer have a player in the top 10; Austria, meanwhile, are quietly confident of getting their rookie captain Trimmel off to a winning start.
Much of the interest will focus on the two rookies – Trimmel and Bogomolov Jr. The latter, who was born in Moscow but has lived most of his life in the United States, was ruled eligible to compete for Russia in December 2011.
“He’s a Russian guy, he has Russian citizenship,” said Tarpishev. “Last year he was about 160 in the world and didn’t fit into the team because of his ranking, but at the end of the year he had a big progress.”
The 28-year-old Bogomolov, whose father Alex Sr coached Russian greats Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Andrei Medvedev, has been waiting a long time for this day. He was an outstanding youngster in the States but has taken some time to realise his full potential.
“I feel great,” he said. “It was definitely my hope to play for Russia [one day], but when you’ve been ranked outside a hundred for as long as I have it’s what it is – a hope. I was fortunate enough to turn it all around so now I’m here and I’m excited to play.”
Bogomolov faces Andreas Haider-Maurer on day one, a player with whom he once played doubles, and should square the tie, assuming Melzer turns around his poor run against Kunitsyn, who beat him in five sets in the second round of last year’s US Open.
“I lost 7-6 in the fifth after a battle and I felt I was the better player for most of the match, I just couldn’t close it out. I feel if I do well, if I do my stuff, I’m going to come out on the winning side.
Melzer has shouldered the responsibility for Austria’s success in Davis Cup for a while now – “I’ve been carrying them for six to eight years,” he said – but felt that the emergence of Marach and Peya as a sound doubles pairing had lifted the burden somewhat and he could now concentrate on the singles.
He may need to win both his rubbers if Austria is to come through this tie.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Melzer (AUT) v Kunitsyn (RUS)
R2: Haider-Maurer (AUT) v Bogomolov Jr. (RUS)
R3: Marach / Peya (AUT) v Davydenko / Youzhny (RUS)
R4: Melzer (AUT) v Bogomolov Jr. (RUS)
R5: Haider-Maurer (AUT) v Kunitsyn (RUS)
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Alex Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) - 09/02/2012
Andreas Haider-Maurer (AUT) - 09/02/2012
Igor Kunitsyn (RUS) - 09/02/2012
Jurgen Melzer (AUT) - 09/02/2012
Captain Clemens Trimmel (AUT) - 09/02/2012