The Davis Cup World Group 2016 has been a fascinating tussle since March. The 16 teams to qualify for this year’s group (the highest level of inter-country men’s tennis) were last year’s champions Great Britain, Japan, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Italy, Argentina, Poland, Canada, France, Germany, Czech Republic, United States, Australia, Croatia and Belgium.
This weekend, an enthralling set of semifinals took place – and both of them were closely fought. Argentina defeated Great Britain 3-2 in Glasgow, while Croatia defeated favourites France at home by the same margin. In the first case, it went down to the final reverse-singles rubber. But Croatia, thanks to Marin Cilic’s phenomenal season and form, went up 3-1, leaving the last rubber to be dead. For the first time since 2005, when Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic powered them to the title, Croatia are back in the Davis Cup Finals.
But it was the match between giants Argentina and Great Britain, both nations playing their top-ranked players, that enthralled fans all over. Andy Murray, fresh from a very successful last few months, ignored his tired legs and played in three of the five rubbers – as much as can be expected. But his first match loss to crowd favorite and comeback kid Juan Martin Del Potro – Murray’s only singles loss in Davis Cup play all season – was a telling blow, and even his doubles win (with champion brother Jamie Murray) and reverse-singles victory couldn’t stop Argentina from going through by a whisker. After losing the first two matches, Murray to Del Potro and Kyle Edmund to Guido Pella, the Brits came back to level it 2-2, and it all came down to Davis Cup specialist Leonardo Mayer to pull it off against Daniel Evans. Mayer won in four hard-fought sets, propelling his nation into the final against Croatia – to be played two months later on the hard courts of Croatia.
The Davis Cup has also been in the news locally because of former champions Spain’s trip to India last week for the World Group playoffs – where a full-strength Spanish team, led by David Ferrer, Rafael Nadal, Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez would defeat the Indians 5-0 to make it back to the World Group after two years.
The final, of course, will be something to look forward to. Two players make the headlines – Marin Cilic and JM Del Potro, both one-time US Open winners, and both of who defeated top guns Federer and others at their peak to win their sole Grand Slam title.
Del Potro returned to competitive tennis after two years in 2016, and has been on quite an impressive tear again. He won the silver medal at the Olympics, bettering his bronze from four years ago, losing to Andy Murray in the final last month. He also defeated Novak Djokovic in the first round of the Olympics, Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon as well as making the quarters of the US Open. Cilic held match points against Federer in the Wimbledon quarters, only to end up losing.
Neither of them has won a Davis Cup title before.
DAVIS CUP FACTS:
1. Argentina has NEVER won the Davis Cup in its history, reaching the final thrice in the last decade alone.
2. USA has won the maximum titles so far – 32 – but won their last only in 2007. Australia is second, with 28 titles, the last being the memorable 2003 triumph, powered by Lleyton Hewitt, who came back from 2 sets down against a young Federer in the semifinals.
3. Great Britain won their first title in 2015 in 79 years.
4. Spain has won five titles alone since the beginning of this century.
5. The Big Four – Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray – have each won the Davis Cup with their countries. Nadal has been present in two final victories (2009, 2011), while the others have won one each (Federer in 2014, Djokovic in 2010 and Murray in 2015)
6. The Czech Republic and USA hold the record for being 35 years in the World Group.