On paper, it looked like this weekend’s Davis Cup quarterfinal ties would be close and exciting, with all of the twists and turns and surprises that we’ve come to expect from the team competition. But the only surprise in store for us turned out to be how straightforward the contests were. By the end of the first day, the scores of all four quarters stood at 2-0, and they were all clinched by early Sunday, with hardly a dramatic twist or controversial moment among them.
That didn’t mean there was nothing to see, of course, especially for the winning sides. Here’s a look at three factors that made this Davis Cup weekend as one-sided as it was.
Surface still matters
The weekend’s four winners—Belgium, France, Serbia, Australia—were all playing at home. This shows the power of a passionate Davis Cup audience, but it also shows the importance of the biggest perk of being on home soil: the right to select the court. We hear a lot about how the surfaces in tennis have become too similar, but as we saw this weekend, players from certain countries will always be more naturally attuned to one type of court over another.
Looking at the line-ups in the France-Great Britain and Serbia-Spain ties and going by the rankings, you might have thought they could go either way. But it quickly became apparent that GB’s Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans were at a big disadvantage against Lucas Pouille and Jeremy Chardy on the red clay that the French had laid down in Rouen. The same went for Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta on a hard court in Serbia; he was ranked 20 spots higher than his opponent, Viktor Troicki, but he couldn’t take a set from him.
Nicolas Mahut, though, found himself playing on an entirely unique surface...
The Davis Cup stalwart remains a thing
The age of analytics has destroyed, or attempted to destroy, some of our cherished sports myths, most prominent among them being the idea that there is such a thing as a “clutch player.” And maybe a stats guru will tell us one day that there’s no such thing as a clutch Davis Cup player—known in tennis parlance as a “stalwart”—either. But this numbers nerd would have to reckon with Steve Darcis’s career playing for Belgium, and Viktor Troicki’s play for Serbia so far in 2017.
The 33-year-old Darcis is ranked 51st, and has never been higher than 44th in his career. But when he’s wearing the Belgian colors, he’s 21-8 in singles, and he seems to only to be getting better in Davis Cup. In the first round, he led Belgium past a tough German team with wins over Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev. And this weekend, Darcis got Belgium off to a strong start with an opening-rubber win over Paolo Lorenzi. Darcis is a flashy shot-maker, but he hits those shots with more of a sense of purpose, and calm, when he’s playing for his country than he does when he’s playing for himself.
Much the same could be said for Troicki. He’s ranked 38th at the moment, and his ATP record so far this year is just 9-8. But he has become the anchor of the Serbian team. Against Russia in the first round, he beat Karen Khachanov in a fifth-set tiebreaker and came back the next day to win the doubles with Nenad Zimonjic. He did the same against Spain, beating the higher-ranked Carreño Busta in singles and clinching the tie with Zimonjic the next day. There’s pressure in Davis Cup, but playing for others, rather than just for yourself, has a way of helping talented players focus those talents and keep the distractions at bay.
If Serbia wins the title, which looks like a strong possibility, it will likely be on Troicki’s back as much as his friend Novak Djokovic’s.
Davis Cup may be the best thing to happen to Nick Kyrgios
The 21-year-old Kyrgios has obviously had his differences with Australian tennis authorities. Last year, he was absent for the Davis Cup team’s defeat against the U.S., and he didn’t play make the trip to Rio for the Olympics. But everything is different in 2017 for Kyrgios, and that starts with what he’s done for his country. In the first two rounds, Kyrgios is 3-0, and 9-0 in sets. With wins over John Isner and Sam Querrey this weekend, he almost single-handedly beat the U.S.
I’d say he even had a hand in the singles match he didn’t play. With Kyrgios a virtual lock to win two points, Jack Sock of the U.S. knew he couldn’t lose to Jordan Thompson in the first rubber. That’s a lot of pressure, and it looked like it got to him.
As for Kyrgios, he handled the pressure with more aplomb than he has on the ATP tour in the past. Down 1-4 in the third set to Querrey, he may have thrown that set away in the past. Instead, with his mentor and captain Lleyton Hewitt urging him on, Kyrgios dug in and came back.
Up until now, Kyrgios has never seemed to be in the no-nonsense Aussie tennis tradition; if anything, his flamboyant style flaunted it. But that tradition and community Down Under looks like it’s going to help him make the next step in his career.