The 106th edition of the Davis Cup is fast approaching its climax as four teams remain to battle it out for national pride in the tennis equivalent of football’s World Cup.
Last year a Juan Martin Del Potro inspired Argentina came from behind to beat Croatia 3-2 in a thrilling final and irrevocably end their final hoodoo after four previous runner-up finishes.
The reigning champions surrendered their crown ended at the first hurdle in February, slipping to a dramatic loss on the clay of Buenos Aires to Italy as the charismatic Fabio Fognini came from two sets down to defeat Guido Pella in the deciding singles.
How will the semi-finals pan out? We look ahead to what promises to a fascinating three days of Davis Cup action.
Belgium vs. Australia
The only country left in the draw that has yet to lift the coveted trophy. First entered the competition in 1904 where they made the final, losing to the British Isles. 101 years later, they equalled this result with Great Britain once again proving to be their nemesis, as Belgium succumbed to the brilliance of Andy Murray.
The Journey So Far
A four-one demolition of dangerous first round opponents Germany signalled Belgium’s intent as Steve Darcis overcame Philipp Kohlschreiber and teenage sensation Alexander Zverev on the hard courts of Hamburg. Their quarter-final tie against ‘Bel Paese’ (Italy) proved to a much closer affair, but David Goffin’s straight sets victory over Paolo Lorenzi was enough to give his nation an unassailable 3-1 lead and book their place in the last-four for the second time in three years.
In February, the 26-year-old became the first Belgian male player to achieve an ATP top 10 ranking after reaching the final of the Rotterdam Open. The baby-faced Goffin may be an outsider in an era of power hitting and extreme physicality, but what he may lack in brawn, he makes up for in heart and tenacity. Was the driving force in his country’s surprise run to the final two years ago – could this be the moment he finally comes of age?
The second most successful nation in the competition’s history, emerging triumphant on 28 separate occasions – second only to the United States with 32 titles to their name. Current captain Lleyton Hewitt was part of the victorious team that prevailed over Spain in the 2003 final at the Rod Laver Arena – the last time that Australia conquered the rest of the field.
The Journey So Far
Their opening encounter against the Czech Republic was done and dusted after three rubbers and they backed this up with a hard-fought victory at home to the United States in the last-eight. It was the divisive Nick Kyrgios who secured their semi-final berth as he impressively powered past the big-serving threats of John Isner and late substitute Sam Querrey without dropping a set.
The serial controversialist recently questioned his commitment after his poor performance at the US Open with his career continuing to be defined by moments of brilliance and unrelenting frustration. Australia legend Laver has admitted that the 22-year-old has the ability to be the best player in the world if he can harness his mercurial talent. Kyrgios has already ousted Novak Djokovic twice this year and recently toppled Rafael Nadal in Cincinatti, but which version of the current world number 18 will turn up in Brussels?
Belgium 3-2 Australia
Expect drama in this one with the key encounter likely to be the doubles match-up on the Saturday.
France vs. Serbia
A nation possessing tremendous strength in depth with 19 players in the world’s top 200 – it is therefore startling that you have to go back to 2001 for their last Davis Cup success. Skippered by 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah, the nine-time winners are strong favourites to achieve their very own ‘La Decima’ come November.
The Journey So Far
France have waltzed their way to this stage of this competition, comfortably disposing of Japan and Great Britain respectively. The likes of Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet (both former top-ten players) and Lucas Pouille have all notched up victories in their serene progress so far.
World number 20 Pouille may be the highest ranked Frenchman amongst his peers, but Mahut is as much a competent singles player as he is a is a distinguished doubles player, having been ranked world No. 1 and reaching all four Grand Slam finals in men’s doubles.
The 35-year-old is a seasoned veteran on the tour and lifting a first Davis Cup would be fitting for the man renowned for being part of the longest match in professional tennis history against John Isner in their historic first round clash during the 2010 Wimbledon Championships.
Their emotional victory over France in 2010 saw them become the 13th nation to win the Davis Cup. Three years later they once again reached the final, but a resilient Czech Republic piloted by Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek came away from Belgrade by the odd rubber in five.
The Journey So Far
Serbia will be without their star man and 12-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic after he announced he would miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury. The world number five has featured in both ties so far which saw Russia and Spain despatched with ease, but they now face a formidable task in their quest to overcome the French.
A powerful server and purposeful player on all surfaces, the 31-year-old was at the centre of arguably his country’s greatest sporting triumph when he won the deciding rubber back in 2010. Troicki comes alive in this competition and since 2010 he has contributed to Serbia reaching at least the quarter-final or better.
It is his record against top 10 players (60 losses vs. 9 wins in his career) that has hampered him from breaking into the top tier of men’s tennis, but he will be expected to step up to the plate in the absence of team-mate and close friend Djokovic.
France 4-1 Serbia
Without “Nole”, Serbia have the proverbial mountain to climb against the strongest team left in the competition. France should have this tie wrapped up before the reverse singles commence.