IN the third of four parts previewing the Davis Cup Qualifiers, we take a look at the next three matches taking place this weekend across the globe. There are 12 matches all up, with the winner of each match qualifying for the Davis Cup Finals in November, while the loser of each match goes into World Group playoffs.
UZBEKISTAN vs. UNITED STATES
Date: February 3-4
Venue: Olympic Tennis School (Uzbekistan)
Surface: Hard (Plexipave – Indoor)
Coming off a triumph at the United Cup, the USA will be red-hot favourites against Uzbekistan. The fifth ranked USA have not loaded up on its top stars, but Australian Open semi-finalist Tommy Paul has been named alongside Mackenzie McDonald. With a Top 10 doubles pairing of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek, the USA has the complete set. Denis Kudla has also been named for the nation as a backup singles talent, and is still ranked higher than anyone from Uzbekistan.
For a long time, Denis Istomin has been the only Uzbekistan player of note, reaching the Top 100. But now aged 36, Istomin is just inside the Top 500 and is still the man to look to for support as the playing captain of the team. He is alongside youngster Sergey Fomin who is the top ranked youngster who turned 22 this week, while Sanjar Fayziev is the specialist doubles player, ranked just inside the Top 200. All in all, this should be a 5-0 whitewash.
CHILE vs. KAZAKHSTAN
Date: February 4-5
Venue: Campus Trentino (Chile)
Surface: Clay (Outdoor)
The nation that got the home court advantage was always going to have an upper hand here, with Chile earning that honour and being able to play the Davis Cup tie against Kazakhstan on the clay courts of South America. Many of the Chileans are clay specialists, whereas if it was played on a neutral hard court, the results would likely be very different. Former Top 20 player Cristian Garin has free fallen down the rankings to 87th in the world after a horror last couple of seasons, with he alongside Alejandro Tabilo and Nicolas Jarry as potential singles players in the tie. The clay courts give Chile a bonus, but Kazakhstan will not go down easily.
In the past, Kazakhstan have had the three veterans of Mikhail Kukushkin in singles, and Aleksandr Nedovyesov and Andrey Golubev, who are all now 35 years-old. They are back in, but have the improving Alexander Bublik and rising young gun Timofey Skatov to take over the reigns. All things considered, Kazakhstan punches above its weight in terms of quality in both men’s and women’s, and if this had been any other surface, Kazakhstan would win easily. However on clay it evens the playing field. They should still win, but there are less guarantees.
REPUBLIC OF KOREA vs. BELGIUM
Date: February 4-5
Venue: Olympic Tennis Court (Republic of Korea)
Surface: Hard (DecoTurf – Indoor)
Belgium will make the trek over to South Korea for a fairly balanced Davis Cup tie. Both nations do not have the depth to trouble the top world nations, but at 12th and 22nd respectively, the countries are always thereabouts on the cusp. The home nation is headlined by 52nd ranked Soonwoo Kwon who came off a great title in Adelaide before a disappointing first round loss at Melbourne Park. He is the only singles player of note, with Seong Chan Hong next best at 257th in the world. Jisung Nam and Minkyu Song are solid doubles players, ranked around the 150 mark and could cause an upset in that format.
Looking to Belgium, and the inconsistent David Goffin remains the figurehead of the nation. He turned 32 in December, but is still inside the Top 50, with 23-year-old Zizou Bergs his second in command at 130th in the world. The Belgian doubles pairing of Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen is experienced, both Top 50 players on their day, and should worry South Korea significantly. On form, Kwon could win both of his singles matches, especially on a home court, but Belgium should win the rest for a 3-2 victory and advance through to the Finals.