The draw for the Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals on 26 April threw up some exciting clashes to look forward to in September. We take a look at some of them.
A neutral tennis fan with tickets to any of the 2022 Group Stage venues in the Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals would be spoilt for choice. The draw on 26 April set up a number of encounters that are not only hard to predict, but will almost certainly have the arenas buzzing.
Group A: Bologna, Italy
The Group A clash on everyone’s radars is likely to be home host Italy against Croatia.
Their last meeting was in the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals 2021, with victory for the Croatians led by Marin Cilic. Cilic, however, lost his match against Jannik Sinner, and Lorenzo Sonego put up a spirited fight against Croatia’s Borna Gojo. Olympic doubles champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic sealed the tie and a place in the semi-finals for Croatia with a straight sets win over Sinner and Fabio Fognini.
A repeat appearance by all four Croatians would make them a very real bet for top spot in the group, but the Italians not only have the experience of Fognini to match the youth and talent of Sinner and Sonego, but if they can count on Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini and the young Lorenzo Musetti – who took two sets off Novak Djokovic at Roland-Garros in 2021 – the fight will be on.
Also in Group A are Argentina, who took the Davis Cup title in 2016, and Sweden, which has been enjoying a resurgence over recent years under the watchful eye of captain Robin Soderling.
Neither team should be written off. Argentina has beaten Croatia in all of their four meetings, has an equal 2-2 record against Italy and a 3-2 record against Sweden, although the two sides have not met since 2010.
Sweden and Italy have played an extraordinary 20 Davis Cup ties, with Italy just edging the record. It could be an exciting clash of youngsters, with a potential meeting between twentysomethings Sinner, Berrettini, Sonego and Musetti, against 26-year-old Elias Ymer and his brother Mikael, 23. This will be the first time Sweden has come up against Argentina.
Group B: Valencia, Spain
There always seems to be a ‘group of death’ in any tournament, and this is arguably it. It is impossible to predict who will top this group, which includes Spain and Canada – the 2019 winners and runners-up – as well as the semi-finalists from 2021, Serbia.
Canada’s run to the final in 2019 was achieved by just two players – Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil, with Felix Auger-Aliassime regaining match fitness to play in the final. Neither Shapovalov nor Auger-Aliassime, both in the world top 20, were available for the Finals in 2021, and Frank Dancevic’s depleted team failed to make it out of their group.
But neither team should be judged on its 2021 performance. A full-strength squad under Dancevic will be formidable. And added to the obvious boost that comes from having Rafael Nadal on the team, Sergi Bruguera’s Spain will be hoping to include the young Carlos Alcaraz, just 18 years old and already in the world top 10 and with four ATP finals under his belt.
Spain has defeated Serbia on seven of the ten occasions that the two teams have met, and the tie in Valencia throws up the very real possibility of a clash between Nadal and Djokovic, the most prolific rivalry in history; the pair have met 58 times with Djokovic just tipping the record at 30-28. Serbia won the last meeting between the two nations – in the quarter-finals in 2017.
The fourth team in the group is Korea, Rep.,which made the Finals following a 3-1 win over Austria in Seoul in the Qualifiers. The team has a 0-1 record against Spain, and has never come up against Canada or Serbia, so there is potential for a surprise.
Group C: Hamburg, Germany
Two other teams that failed to play to the form book in 2021 were France and Australia. Both finished second in their respective groups with France falling to both the Czech Republic and Great Britain in Innsbruck, and Australia missing out in Turin following a win over Hungary but defeat by eventual runners-up Croatia.
Both teams have the potential to do well with a full complement of players. Eight Frenchmen in the world top 100 offers captain Sebastian Grosjean the luxury of choice. The experience of Gael Monfils, Benoit Paire and Adrian Mannarino balances the young talent of Ugo Humbert and Arthur Rinderknech, with five-time Grand Slam doubles champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut an obvious boost.
Australia had a tough time in Turin in 2021, with John Millman the first casualty of Hungary’s surprise star Zsombor Piros, who then went on to beat Marin Cilic, ranked more than 250 places above him. Lleyton Hewitt’s men took revenge in the Qualifiers 2022 with a hard-fought win over the Hungarians and a determined Hewitt will be looking to pick from his six top-100 players led by Alex de Minaur.
Both teams will need to be at full strength to take on Germany, which came through top of Group F in 2021, going on to beat Great Britain for a semi-final place. World No.3 Alexander Zverev added his formidable presence to the team in the Qualifiers 2022 against Brazil, and if he plays in the Finals, combined with the talents of Dominik Koepfer and Jan-Lennard Struff, Germany will prove a difficult challenge for everyone.
Belgium failed to make the Finals in 2021 having lost to Hungary in the Qualifiers 2020, but are set to make a reappearance in Hamburg following a hard-fought victory over Finland in Espoo in the Qualifiers 2022. Belgium will certainly be looking to former world No.7 David Goffin, the only player in the top 100.
Group D, Glasgow, United Kingdom
The USA and Great Britain will face each other in Glasgow in a rivalry that goes back to the very first Davis Cup final in 1900. That time, the USA emerged victorious, claiming its first of a record 32 titles.
The two nations have played each other 20 times over the years, with the USA just edging the record at 11-9, but Great Britain have come out on top in the last two meetings in 2014 and 2015.
If everyone is fit, USA captain Mardy Fish has an extraordinary 12 top-100 players to choose from, including seven in the top 50, led by Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz. Rajeev Ram is currently the top-ranked doubles player in the world, giving Fish surely the nicest of headaches, and some confidence following the USA’s exit in the Group Stage in 2021.
If the British players feel something familiar about the Group Stage in Glasgow, it will be because they are once again reunited with Kazakhstan and Netherlands in a rerun of Group E in 2019. On that occasion, Leon Smith’s team of Andy Murray, Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans, joined by doubles pair Neal Skupski and Jamie Murray, topped the group and made a run to the semi-finals where they lost to eventual champions Spain.
2019 was the only time Kazakhstan and Great Britain have met in the Davis Cup, but both teams made the quarter-finals in 2021. The continued performances of Alexander Bublik and Mikhail Kukushkin mean that Kazakhstan should never be underestimated and it will prove a tough opponent. This will be the first Davis Cup encounter against the USA for Yuriy Schukin’s team.
As two sides seemingly destined to play each other, Kazakhstan booked its appearance at the Finals in 2021 at the expense of Netherlands, underlining an impressive home record in Nur-Sultan with a 3-1 victory in the Qualifiers. Two years on, the Dutchmen pulled off a decisive 4-0 victory over Canada in the Qualifiers 2022. With Botic van de Zandschulp’s continued progress up the rankings, joined by Tallon Griekspoor in the top 60, Paul Haarhuis’ men will head to Glasgow with some confidence.
The Group Stage of the Davis Cup Finals will be played 14–18 September 2022.