Gerard Pique boldly describes the inaugural edition of the revamped Davis Cup as a ‘new era for tennis’ but amidst all the glitz and glamour in Madrid’s La Caja Majica there was only gloom for reigning champions Croatia on Monday.
Without their injured talisman Marin Cilic and with the team in upheaval after captain Zeljko Krajan was axed two days before their opening tie against Russia, Borna Gojo lost to Andrey Rublev before Borna Coric was edged out by Karen Khachanov.
To make matters worse, the tie took place in a cavernous 12,000-seat arena with little of the fabled Davis Cup atmosphere Croatia could have relied on in either Zagreb or Split.
And to rub salt into their wounds, they will almost certainly need to beat Rafael Nadal’s Spain in their second Group B tie on Wednesday to reach the knockout phase.
It was a bit different 12 months ago when Cilic fired Croatia to victory over France in a deafening din in Lille’s soccer stadium.
That was the last final before radical changes to the historic team event, voted in by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in 2018 in association with Barcelona soccer player Pique’s investment firm Kosmos, came into effect. The ITF has come under fire for meddling with the unique “home and away” format and replacing it with a soccer World Cup-style event featuring 18 nations, in one city, battling over seven days to be crowned champions.
But it went flat as Rublev won easily 6-3 6-3 before Coric played superbly to win the first set against world number 17 Khachanov but ended up losing 6-7 6-4 6-4. The new format features 12 nations who came through the traditional February qualifying ties, last year’s four semi-finalists and wildcards Britain and Argentina.
Argentina overpower Chile
Argentina secured a unassailable 2-0 lead over Chile in their opening group stage tie of the revamped Davis Cup in Madrid yesterday, courtesy spotless performances in their singles matches.
The International Tennis Federation has faced criticism for meddling with the partisan atmosphere generated by the “home and away” format and replacing it with a soccer World Cup-style format featuring 18 nations, in one city, battling over seven days to be crowned champions. But the Argentina supporters in their blue and white stripes packed the Centre Court and cheered almost every point as Guido Pella eased past Chilean Nicolas Jarry 6-4 6-3 in the opening match.
Diego Schwartzman produced a ruthless display to beat Cristian Garin 6-2 6-2, ensuring the 2016 champions started the campaign with a convincing victory in Group C.
“It’s the end of the season but I think I played one of the best matches for sure of the year, maybe in my career,” said Schwartzman. “I think Guido helped me a lot to be more confident in this match and I played unreal tennis.”
France, bidding to win their 11th Davis Cup title, made a bright start as the experienced Jo-Wilfried Tsonga raced to a 6-2 6-1 victory over Japan’s Yasutaka Uchiyama.
Japan, who have arrived without the injured Kei Nishikori, roared back into the encounter with a surprise victory as Yoshihito Nishioka overcame Gael Monfils 7-5 6-2. The tie will be decided with a doubles match on Court 2.
Kazakhstan’s Davis Cup veteran Mikhail Kukushkin produced a clinical display to beat Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp 6-2 6-2.
But Robin Haase dragged the Dutch team back into the contest with a clutch display in the final set tiebreak to beat Alexander Bublik 7-5 3-6 7-6(5).
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