After a several month wait, the Davis Cup semifinals are this weekend, and all four teams have high aspirations of winning this year's title. Germany travels to Moscow to play the Russians on clay, while the Americans will battle on carpet in Sweden.
Russia v. Germany
Russia has the better of the depth in this matchup, with four players who regular find themselves seeded in major tournaments. Germany has the veteran Tommy Haas and Phillip Kohlschreiber, who had a pretty good run in the US Open last month. The doubles team of Waske and Petzschner is the weak link in this tie.
#11 Tommy Haas (Ger) v. #37 Igor Andreev (Rus)
While these two have never met each other, both have tons of match experience at the Davis Cup level. While Haas is the better player, Andreev has far more experience on clay. Haas has only played 6 clay court matches all season, while Andreev has played 38, winning 24. The Russian crowd will also get behind Andreev early and try to propel him to the upset. A Haas victory is vital for Germany to stand a chance at winning the tie.
Prediction: Haas in 4 sets; Germany 1-0
#32 Philipp Kohlschreiber (Ger) v. #4 Nikolai Davydenko (Rus)
The two have split two career meetings, but have never played on clay. Davydenko had some struggles on clay until this season, when he reached the semifinals of the French Open. Kohlschreiber did not fare so well, losing in the second round in poor fashion. This has all the makings of a mismatch, and the Russian crowd will push it over the top.
Prediction: Davydenko in 3 sets; Tied 1-1
#206 Philipp Petzschner/#139 Alexander Waske (Ger) v. #29 Dmitry Tursunov/#17 Mikhail Youzhny (Rus)
A classic Davis Cup matchup of a case where two good singles players who do not play a lot of doubles (Russia) play a less talented duo, though Waske has the most doubles experience on court. In both the first round and the quarterfinal, Waske helped Germany take the doubles point, though with a different partner. As for the Russians, Youzhny played singles in the first round, and that has been it in the playoff round. I expect talent to win out here and set Russia up nicely for Sunday.
Prediction: Tursonov/Youzhny in 4 sets; Russia 2-1
#11 Tommy Haas (Ger) v. #4 Nikolai Davydenko (Rus)
Clearly the marquee match of the tie. These two have not met on clay since 2005, when Davydenko had his way with Haas. Haas will be looking to avenge his loss to the Russian last month in Flushing. Davydenko is enjoying a great year and has found his way on clay. Haas, who is also having a fantastic year, will be doomed by his lack of clay matches on the season, and will not be able to overcome Davydenko.
Prediction: Davydenko in 4 sets; Russia clinches 3-1
#32 Philipp Kohlschreiber (Ger) v. #37 Igor Andreev
If the match is indeed secured at this point, there may be a change in the lineup, as happens frequently. If this does happen to be a deciding match, Andreev will be tough to beat with his impressive clay court record and the home crowd behind him. Either way, look for Russia to finish strong in front of the home fans.
Prediction: Andreev in 2 sets; Russia wins 4-1
Sweden v. United States
To the casual tennis fan, this would look like a mismatch on paper. The US returns their star-studded lineup that helped them clinch a semi-final spot with a win over Spain in April. Sweden has gone with a solid mix of talent that will trouble the United States.
#5 Andy Roddick (USA) v. #162 Joachim Johansson (Swe)
Do not let the rankings fool you. Johansson has only played six singles matches this year due to injury. In 2005, he was a top ten player in the world, and beat Roddick in the 2004 US Open Quarterfinal. Both players serve big, so there will be a lot of aces, and the match will progress quickly. Roddick is coming off one of the best matches of his career in a US Open loss to Roger Federer, but he should be confident. Expect Johansson to make it interesting, but a lack of match experience will hurt him, as Roddick will win in three very close sets.
Prediction: Roddick in 3 sets; United States 1-0
#7 James Blake (USA) v. #56 Thomas Johansson (Swe)
Johansson has had an up and down season, going 21-21 so far. He was humbled by Roddick in the US Open, but does have a title under his belt. Blake has been inconsistent all season long, and will need to be on his game to defeat the veteran. Johnansson has been able to step up his game in the Davis Cup, beating David Nalbandian in the quarterfinal tie in singles, then beating him again as part of the doubles. Blake should be able to handle the carpet and his big game should provide the difference.
Prediction: Blake in 5 sets; United States 2-0
Doubles #1 Bob Bryan/#1 Mike Bryan (USA) v. Doubles #11 Jonas Bjorkman/#13 Simon Aspelin (Swe)
This will be the best match of the weekend in either tie. These four are great doubles players, as three do not even play singles on tour. The Bryans are 63-9 together this season, while Aspelin partned with Julian Knowle of Austria to win the US Open last month which included a defeat of the Byrans in the quarterfinals. Bjorkman has defied tennis logic, remaining a threat on tour even at age 35. He and his partner Max Mirnyi of Belarus reached the Australian Open Final earlier this year, though they struggled in the other three majors. This match will be full of great action and back and forth play, and will likely go the distance. The factor in this one will be whether or not Bjorkman and Aspelin are able to stay on the same page, because the slightest error will cost them the match. The Bryans will not make such an error.
Prediction: Bryan/Bryan in 5 long sets; United States clinches 3-0
#5 Andy Roddick (USA) v. #56 Thomas Johansson (Swe)
If the US has clinched the tie in doubles, look for Bob Bryan to play in Roddick's spot, as he did in the quarterfinal against Spain. Bryan is an interesting singles player to watch, as he doesn't hit too hard, but is quick and obviously great at net. If it is indeed Bryan on court, Johansson will pull it out, but if the score of the tie is 2-1 to either country, Roddick will prevail over his Swedish counterpart.
Prediction: Johansson over Bob Bryan in 2 sets; United States 3-1
#7 James Blake (USA) v. #162 Joachim Johansson
Blake usually plays in a clinched tie, and Mike Bryan isn't a huge fan of playing singles, so this match should be maintained, unless Sweden trots of Bjorkman for what could be his last Davis Cup match for Sweden. Either way, Blake elevates his game when the pressure is off and he will put away either opponent to finish up the tie and send the US to the final.
Prediction: Blake in 2 sets; United States win 4-1
Both these ties should make for a great weekend of tennis. Whichever two countries prevail, they will have earned it and it will make for a great final November 30-December 2.