What Davis Cup Round 2 Means For …

Rob YorkSenior Writer IJuly 13, 2009

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21:  James Blake of the United States of America reacts after a point during his fourth round match against Marin Cilic of Croatia on day eight of the Australian Open 2008 at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2008 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The United States: If there is anything good about the current scheduling of the Davis Cup, it’s the leveling of the playing field. When ties take place one week after a major, it rather complicates the efforts of top nations to field their best teams, thus increasing the odds of an upstart nation taking the upper hand.

The United States DC squad would have had a tough contest on its hands in any event against the Croats in this round, playing on clay against the towering duo of Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic.

With Andy Roddick having not fully recovered from his epic Wimbledon final, the best American hopes were James Blake and Mardy Fish, both gifted athletes but shaky competitors.

Count me as unsurprised that they could not sustain the Americans’ efforts until Roddick’s recovery for round three. That Karlovic escaped from a two-set gap in the first rubber against Blake only adds to the American No. 2’s dismal year and horrid five-set record, though.

Croatia: Now 3-0 in DC competition against the Americans, the tallest team in tennis now looks like a serious dark horse threat for the Cup. Cilic in particular deserves credit, having outlasted Fish in the second rubber and overpowered Blake to clinch the tie.

Added to his near-defeat of Tommy Haas at Wimbledon, this result clearly identifies Cilic as six-and-half feet of player no one is going to want to face on the summer hard courts.

Furthermore, the Croats must like their chances at home in round three against …

The Czech Republic: In most years this team would clearly qualify as the dark horse. The Big Slap forehand of Tomas Berdych put the Czechs ahead in the first rubber against Argentina, but it was the unorthodox attack of Radek Stepanek that kept them there. The Worm teamed with Berdych to win in doubles and then blitzed Juan Monaco on Sunday.

The Czechs will travel to Croatia for round three on Sept. 18-20. While there may be little in terms of advantages to gain from surfaces in this contest between Eastern European teams, the hometown support likely hands the advantage to the Croats.

Argentina: Juan Martin del Potro certainly did his part in winning two matches against the Czechs, but with David Nalbandian out of action the lankiest of top 10 players saw his efforts amount to naught.

If DelPo’s maturation continues, and he can get some backup, this will be the team to beat in the near future.

Israel: Shalom!

Their first round victory away against Sweden was marked by controversy, taking place during Israel’s anti-Hamas offensive in Gaza. This home victory over Russia–who won the Cup just two and a half years ago–was pure joy.

Their comprehensive 4-1 victory–sealed by a doubles win that made it 3-0–puts Israel in its first DC semifinal. Singles players Harel Levy and Dudi Sela played inspired tennis on day one, beating the far more heralded Igor Andreev and Mikhail Youzhny, each in four sets.

They’ll need all the inspiration they can summon, because their next task may be the hardest in DC tennis. They play away against …

Spain: Philipp Kohlschreiber’s top-notch performance against the defending champs wasn’t enough, as the depth of the Spanish team and the home clay carried them to a 3-2 victory over Germany.

The absence of both Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer contributed to making this match a close one. However, Fernando Verdasco capture a singles victory on Friday, added a doubles win with Feliciano Lopez the next day, and Juan Carlos Ferrero followed up on his quarterfinal Wimbledon run by clinching the third point on Sunday.

By the time they host Israel on Sept. 18-20, Nadal and Ferrer may be back, pushing aside all hope of this team failing to defend the Cup.