Unless you are a tennis aficionado, it is unusual to get excited about tennis at this time of year. Scraping frost from icy windscreens will hardly conjure up images of strawberries and cream on Henman Hill, SW9. However, this year the first round rubbers of the 99th Davis Cup offer the mouthwatering prospect of world nº1, Roger Federer, meeting world nº4, Raphael Nadal, on the clay courts of Logrono, Northern Spain
This year’s competition starts on March 5th, when the leading 16 teams in the world play four knockout rounds to determine who will become world champions in December
The defending champions, Spain, are unbeaten on home soil since 1999, and Nadal expects to be present in the team which has won four of the last ten championships. Should the “Nadal Knee” flair up again, coach Albert Costa has nine further players in the top 75 of the ATP rankings from which to make his team selection.
The Swiss, by comparison, are rated 12th, have never won the Davis Cup and have only ever reached the 2nd round three times in the last decade. In all the 98 previous years of Davis Cup competition, they have only once recorded a victory over Spain – in 1946. Mr Federer will have to pull out some absolute magic to see Switzerland progress any further in this years competition.
In other first round ties, Germany travel to old adversaries France who have an excellent record in the competition, yet a lower national ranking. The Indian team visit Moscow to try and belie their odds of 300/1 to win the competition, and Sweden entertain Argentina who will be without injured world nº5 – Juan Martin Del Potro. The Swedes have a rich pedigree of Davis Cup success (winners 7 times) and will be focused on avenging a 4-1 defeat by the Argentineans in the 2008 quarterfinals.
In the second half of the draw, Croatia host Ecuador, who are appearing at the top flight for the first time in ten years, pre-tournament favourites Serbia play host to the United States – the competitions´ most successful team – whilst the “Battle of the Outsiders” takes place in Chile, who play Israel. The final rubber matches up Belgium and last years beaten finalists, the Czech Republic. The Czechs beat France, Argentina and Croatia before succumbing to Spain in last years final and will be putting in a determined effort once again.
If you are wondering about Great Britain, they were relegated from Division 1 of the European league last year, and face Lithuania in Vilnius. Andy Murray has said that he is not going to compete in this year’s competition, but Team GB should have no difficulty advancing to the next stage, although watch out for Rickardis Berankis – Lithuania’s 19 year old rising star and former world junior champion.
In respect of betting opportunities, back the Czechs and lay the Swiss. The Czech Republic team is located in the much easier half of the draw, with probably only Serbia standing in their way of a second successive final appearance. Generally available at 7/1 (15/2 with Paddy Power) and each way terms of ½ odds for first or second available, the Czechs certainly represent value, and present the opportunity at these odds for a “safety net lay” before the Serbia game. The Swiss are not only going to have to overcome the Spanish, but probably also the French and Argentineans (with a recovered Del Potro by then) to make it to the final. They look very skinny at 12/1.
Prices for each of the first round rubbers should be available soon and we will be looking at extracting some value from these games and the individual matches. It is also worth considering that each of the three lower leagues (Americas, Europe/Africa and Asia/Oceania) also have their own competitions similar to the World Group, so a wealth of betting opportunities to explore.