Thursday, November 30, 2006

Davis Cup Final: The Draw


Davydenko to open for confident Russians

Nikolay Davydenko and Juan Ignacio Chela will open the 2006 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final, with the pressure on the Russian world No. 3 to overturn a 0-5 record against the Argentine.

What is regarded as the marquee match-up of the weekend, Marat Safin versus David Nalbandian, will be the second rubber of the opening day, it was revealed at the draw on Thursday. With Nalbandian also selected for the doubles, the world No. 8 currently has a tough work schedule, being slated to play three matches in a row.

The full draw is as follows, although changes to the line-ups on Saturday and Sunday can still be made up to an hour before play starts:

Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) v Juan Ignacio Chela (ARG)
Marat Safin (RUS) v David Nalbandian (ARG)
Dmitry Tursunov/Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) v Agustin Calleri/David Nalbandian (ARG)
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) v David Nalbandian (ARG)
Marat Safin (RUS) v Juan Ignacio Chela (ARG)

Chela comfortable on faster surfaces

Davydenko is ranked 30 places higher than Chela but the Argentine’s five wins in five matches include a three-set victory in the first round at the Cincinnati Master Series tournament in August this year. The pair have never met previously on carpet, but Chela is more comfortable on faster surfaces than his three clay court titles might suggest.

Crucially for his selection by captain Alberto Mancini as the No. 2 singles player here, the 27-year-old Chela won the decisive fifth rubber on carpet in this year’s quarterfinals in Croatia, albeit against the much less experienced Sasa Tuksar in four sets.

Davydenko happy to play first

Newlywed Davydenko’s name was drawn first by ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti out of the Davis Cup trophy at the draw, handing him an appearance in the opening match of his debut Davis Cup Final, and his first opening rubber in this year’s competition.

The Russian seemed comfortable with his opponent and playing first, shrugging off any suggestions that he might find it difficult to get back into the zone after his wedding celebrations. “I wanted to play tomorrow. I was ready to play. I wanted to play. Marat said he wanted to play second. Great, I wanted to play first.”

A bullish Davydenko added that Chela was picked “because they [the Russians] (sic) know there's no way [Jose] Acasuso or [Agustin] Calleri could beat me on any surface.”

Chela ready to fight

Mancini said that of course Chela’s head-to-head advantage over Davydenko had influenced his decision in picking Chela, although “The three players are very, very similar in terms of rankings. They all have a very good condition and shape.”

“I’m very confident,” said Chela. “I practised very well all the week. I'm ready to play tomorrow, to fight, to try to win.”

Nalbandian-Safin blockbuster

The outcome of the first match is likely to pay a large part in what happens in the Nalbandian-Safin blockbuster. It will be the players’ ninth meeting in an epic series which Safin leads 6-2. Those wins include two on carpet, one of which was in the 2002 Davis Cup semifinals played at the Sports Palace Luzhniki in Moscow, when Safin won 76 67 60 63 in the decisive fourth rubber to send Russia into the final.

Nalbandian and Safin have played twice this year, each match going to the wire: the Russian won in a fifth set tiebreak in the second round of the US Open, and the Argentine won in a third set tiebreak in their last encounter in the Madrid quarterfinals.

“I feel Nikolay has better chances to beat Chela,” said Safin, echoing his teammate’s confidence. “I didn't want to play too early. I want Nalbandian to feel some pressure. If Nikolay beats Chela, Nalbandian will be feeling the pressure, plus he'll also be playing doubles. It will be good for me. He will realise the stakes in this tie will be higher. It will be easier for me. Hopefully we can finish it off in two days.”

Large burden for Nalbandian

Nalbandian will do everything in his power to prevent that from happening but with a gap of 19 places between him and the next highest-ranked of his teammates (Acasuso), the burden for his country falls more squarely on his shoulders this weekend than it does for Safin.

“He's [Safin] a great player, said Nalbandian. “I think I'm not afraid of him. I beat him last time. I'm very confident for tomorrow. He's a great player, but I'll be ready.”

“I don't play many tournaments, so I'm fresh,” the Argentine No. 1 added, but what he didn’t say was that he hasn’t played so much this season because of injury, in particular a nagging abdominal injury. Playing the second singles on Friday, the doubles on Saturday, then the first reverse singles on Sunday is a daunting prospect, particularly if the doubles goes as long as it did when the teams last met in Moscow. Both Safin and Nalbandian were involved in that six-hour-20-minute marathon.

Russian unbeaten at home for 11 years

The home team’s confidence is bolstered by the knowledge that they haven’t lost at home for 11 years. For Safin personally, “The only thing that really can make this year to be worth I think is the Davis Cup. We have everything. It's in our sight. We don't want to lose it 'cause I don't know when is going to be the next time.”

Hawkeye debuts in Davis Cup

The ITF also announced on the day of the draw that Hawkeye Officiating will make its Davis Cup debut on Friday, and will be used at the final to review line calls without restriction. Challenges will not be limited, in the same way that the electronic system was used in its introduction to professional tennis at the Hopman Cup mixed team competition in January. (It's about time. And without restriction? When will the rest of the tour catch on?)


sasha said...

Let's hope it lives up to the hype.
I'll be back for your recaps.