By this time next week the re-invented Davis Cup event will be up and running at the Caja Magica in Madrid.
Eighteen nations will compete at one location for the silver salad bowl trophy that was first awarded by Harvard University student Dwight Davis in 1900 for friendly tennis matches between the United States and Great Britain.
As well as the 18 nations being at a single site, the other innovation will be two-out-of-three match ties as well as two best-of-three set singles and one doubles to decide the outcome – all on the same day.
Eighteen is an awkward number so the way it works is there are six groups of three countries each, and from round-robin play in those groups six winners will emerge. Then the two other nations with the best records in the groups will be added to make up the quarter-finals.
Here are the six groups:
|GROUP A||GROUP B||GROUP C||GROUP D||GROUP E||GROUP F|
Canada will play in Group F with Italy and the United States. Below are the announced players for those teams.
|Félix Auger-Aliassime||Mateo Berrettini||Taylor Fritz|
|Vasek Pospisil||Simone Bolelli||Reilly Opelka|
|Brayden Schnur||Fabio Fognini||Sam Querrey|
|Denis Shapovalov||Andreas Seppi||Jack Sock|
|Lorenzo Sonego||Frances Tiafoe|
Canada starts off next Monday at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. ET in Canada) against Italy and then plays at 6 p.m. on Tuesday (noon ET in Canada) versus the United States – best-of-three match ties with, as mentioned, two singles followed by a doubles.
CANADA vs. ITALY: There are question marks about the Italy team. Firstly, its No. 1 player, No. 8-ranked Berrettini, is in the field at the ATP Finals in London and could be playing as late as Sunday “if he makes the final.” That would be a tough turnaround to be in Madrid against Canada the very next day. However, Berrettini lost his first match on Sunday to Novak Djokovic and his second on Tuesday to Roger Federer, both in straight sets, so he should be finished in London on Thursday. It’s highly unlikely he can make the semi-final stage.
Second, Fognini has been bothered by a nagging ankle injury for most of the year and is 1-3 at his last three tournaments including losing 6-1, 6-1 to the retiring Janko Tipsarevic in Stockholm and 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to Shapovalov in Paris. On top of everything, his wife, Flavia Pennetta, is about to give birth to their second child, a daughter to go with two-year-old son Federico.
The Italians got disappointing news after 18-year-old sensation Jannik Sinner beat No. 18-ranked Alex de Minaur of Australia 4-2, 4-1, 4-2 in the final of the ATP NextGen Finals in Milan last Saturday. During the trophy ceremony he answered a question and informed the home crowd that a commitment to his off-season training program would prevent him from playing in Madrid
Some of the uncertainty about the Italians, who depend on Berrettini and the No. 12-ranked Fognini, means the outcome is basically a toss-up with Canada possibly having an advantage with Pospisil and Shapovalov likely to play the doubles.
CANADA vs. USA: The main absentees from the American team, led by first-time captain Mardy Fish, are No. 19-ranked John Isner and the doubles pairing of Bob and Mike Bryan.
Canada would be favoured but the 7-foot Opelka is a wild card with his big serving and Fritz has been playing well lately. Querrey and Tiafoe are less likely to play singles. If Sock is fit, and he had to retire at his last event with a back injury, he and anyone else would be a pair to be reckoned with in doubles.
Canada’s position in the two ties would have been strengthened had Milos Raonic, out with a back issue, been able to play. Auger-Aliassime could be vulnerable because his record since Rogers Cup in Montreal is 2-5 and he hasn’t played for four weeks after withdrawing from Vienna with a left ankle injury.
The way the schedule is set up, if Canada wins its group it would be in the quarter-finals on Thursday against the winner of Group D, which includes Australia, Belgium and Colombia. The Australians, with a team featuring de Minaur, Nick Kyrgios, Jordan Thompson, John Millman and John Peers, would be favoured to come out of that group. The Aussies could potentially offer stout and likely entertaining opposition for the Canadian squad captained by Frank Dancevic with Daniel Nestor as coach.
If Canada was to qualify as one of the two teams with the best records among the non-winners in the six groups, it would play in one of the Friday quarter-finals.
The individual tie formats are No. 2 singles vs. No. 2 singles followed by No. 1 singles vs No. 1 singles and then the doubles, with the event being played on hard courts indoors.
In the case of ties in the group or to determine the two runner-up nations to qualify for the quarter-finals, the following formula (in order) will be used:
• Highest percentage of matches won
• Highest percentage of sets won
• Highest percentage of games won
• Davis Cup Nations Ranking of Monday November 18th
Of the top eight players, four are scheduled to play the Davis Cup Finals and four will not be there. Roger Federer, ranked No. 3, won’t be in Madrid because Switzerland failed to qualify and neither did Austria, so No. 5 Dominic Thiem will also not be in the Spanish capital. Alexander Zverev, No. 7, announced early in the year that he would not play despite representing Germany in the qualifying round in February and No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas and his essentially one-man team will not be competing again until the World Group II Playoffs in February.
The others who are scheduled to play are No. 1 Rafael Nadal, under a lot of pressure to participate at home but always vulnerable to injury at this time of year, and No. 2 Novak Djokovic who could be playing in London on Sunday in the ATP Finals championship match and then have to be in action for Serbia against Japan on Wednesday in Madrid.
Nadal and his Spanish mates play Russia – with Daniil Medvedev, Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev – in what could be a blockbuster opener on Tuesday night.
The other two top-eight players are No. 4 Medvedev and Berrettini.
There’s big money available to the players – with each team guaranteed $600,000 (US) to be split among its players from a total of $18 million in prize money. Another $9 million will be shared among the national tennis federations.
The winning team will get about $2.4 million to divide among its players with runners-up taking home roughly $1.75 million.
Gerard Piqué, the famous 32-year-old Spanish soccer star is the head of Kosmos Holding, the company that has invested $3 billion (US) over 25 years in the Davis Cup Finals.
His life partner, and mother of his two children, is the celebrated pop singer Shakira. So it’s no surprise that she will be performing in Stadium One before the final on Sunday, November 24th.
Jannik Sinner, the 18-year-old Italian who was champion at the ATP NextGen Finals in Milan last week, has to be the most impressive young player to come along since… Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov.
He won the title Saturday with a 4-2, 4-1, 4-2 victory over top seed Alex de Minaur, the runner-up the past two years. It took only 65 minutes for Sinner to basically hit the 20-year-old Aussie off the court. De Minaur was under constant pressure and only won 23 per cent of his second-serve points.
All the other players in the third-year event were at least two years older than Sinner. He decisively beat Frances Tiafoe, 21, Mikiel Ymer, 21, Miomir Kecmanovic, 20, and de Minaur – only losing his second round-robin-match to 21-year-old Frenchman Ugo Humbert 4-3(5), 3-4(3), 4-2, 4-2.
At 6-foot-2 and with terrific power off both forehand and backhand sides, as well as a big serve and a nice touch at the net, Sinner has a very bright future.
Currently with a No. 96 ATP ranking, he’s the youngest player in the top-100. Of note, he did not play any junior Grand Slam tournaments and his highest combined (singles and doubles) ITF junior ranking was No. 133.
Sinner’s birthday is August 16, which makes him exactly a year and eight days younger than Auger-Aliassime.
(Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz)