Americans should capitalize on Russian's controversy
Posted: Thursday November 29, 2007 1:13PM; Updated: Friday November 30, 2007 2:24PM
I'd like to take a second to pat myself on the back for my spot-on Davis Cup predictions. If you take a look at the column I wrote back in February, I stated this would be the year the United States would end its Davis Cup title drought. Now, with the final upon us, I feel like it's time to bask in the glory.
On paper, the defending champion Russian team looks relatively formidable given the weapons it should have at its disposal: No. 4-ranked Nikolay Davydenko, No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny and No. 24 Igor Andreev, not to mention two-time Grand Slam winner Marat Safin. But paper doesn't reveal the inner turmoil the Russian team is currently confronting.
That's why I'm here, to give you the inside scoop on this weekend's showdown in Portland, Ore. First, Davydenko is embroiled in the biggest controversy in tennis by being accused of partaking in a match-fixing scandal last summer at a small ATP event in Sopot, Poland. Davydenko hasn't been proven guilty, but the strain of constant inquiries has gradually broken down the steely Russian.
A few weeks back, Davydenko seemed afflicted with the dreaded yips on his serves -- the ultimate curse for a professional athlete -- where the simple execution of a shot becomes the ultimate challenge. The yips are a result of the fraying of one's nerves, since the technique of the stroke rarely is affected. It's all mental and a direct result of one's loss of confidence or inability to deal with the pressure.
Davydenko couldn't find the court with his serve at the Paris Masters, and in subsequent matches has been relegated to just spinning his first serve in at about 90 mph, a good 30 mph slower then his usual first-serve delivery. This is Russia's No. 1 player we're taking about here, its ace in the hole.
And he's barely going to figure into this final matchup. In a surprise move, Russia pulled Davydenko from the singles draw entirely and relegated him to doubles, where he'll pair with Andreev on Saturday. (They'll likely have no prayer -- more on this later.)
No big deal you think; plug in Safin, the only player with a Russian passport who has the arsenal to derail a one-two punch of Roddick and Blake. Unfortunately for the Russian team, Safin has pulled a Roberto Duran -- no más! -- by making himself unavailable for the final. Safin, whose love and appreciation for the game comes and goes about as often as a Britney Spears court hearing, decided he wasn't in good enough form and needed the extra time to prepare for the 2008 season.
That leaves Youzhny, who is an excellent player. He's smooth, moves well and competes like a warrior. But is he capable of single-handedly leading Russia to victory? I think not. The Russians' next two options are Andreev and Dmitry Tursunov.
Andreev is strong as an ox and would be a nightmare if this match were on clay. But it isn't -- it's on a fast hard court. Tursunov is a very talented player and comfortable on U.S. soil, since he was raised in Northern California. And even though he had a big Davis Cup win over Roddick last year in the semifinals, that, too, was played on clay.
I don't even know that discussing the doubles matchup is worth the space in this column. Mike and Bob Bryan are undefeated this fall, winning their Davis Cup semifinal match against Sweden and three subsequent tournaments in Europe. They withdrew from the Masters Cup in Shanghai to rest some nagging injuries and to make sure they would be in peak condition for the Davis Cup final.
The Bryan twins are the best doubles team in the world, and after practicing with them last week, I believe they're playing the best tennis of their lives right now. They won't let this opportunity slip past them. As far as I'm concerned, the American team already has one point leading into the tie. Doubles is wrapped up like an early Christmas gift, compliments of the Bryans.
Simply put, this is the Americans' year. Roddick, Blake and the Bryans have made preparing for the final their priority the second after their U.S. Open campaigns ended, and they will be hoisting the trophy in Portland this weekend.
Former ATP pro Justin Gimelstob writes bi-weekly for SI.com.