WASHINGTON, April 5, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
When the United States Davis Cup team faces Belgium this weekend in a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinal tie in Nashville, Tennessee, it will have the advantage of playing in front of a home crowd inside the intimate Curb Event Center at Belmont University as well as fielding both a full and healthy squad. The return of No. 16 Jack Sock to go with No. 9 John Isner and No. 14 Sam Querrey gives the Americans great depth at singles. Add No. 52 Steve Johnson and No. 54 Ryan Harrison to the mix and United States team captain Jim Courier has plenty of solid options for both filling out his singles and doubles lineups.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the net, Belgium will play understrength as it will be missing its top two singles players, No. 10 David Goffin and No. 143 Steve Darcis, who are both injured. Goffin has still not recovered from a freak eye injury he suffered in Rotterdam in February. Instead, the Belgians will turn to No. 110 Ruben Bemelmans and No. 319 Joris de Loore in facing their American foes in singles – and possibly doubles, too. Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, both doubles specialists, round out Belgium’s roster.
While the United States is the most successful country in Davis Cup history with 32 titles – it last won it all in 2007 – the Americans haven’t reached the Davis Cup semifinals in six years. However, this could change over the weekend.
Although the United States will be heavily favored against Belgium, Isner isn’t taking anything for granted. “You throw the rankings out the window in Davis Cup,” he said last week, while competing in Miami where he won his first ATP Masters 1000 title. “Sometimes players don’t play as well as they are capable of because of the pressure and sometimes players can have the pressure on them and play at an extremely high level.
“Look, we’re not looking past this team by any means. Sure, we’re the favorites on paper. Our team is very strong, but it’s going to be a touch match.”
During a pre-tie press conference on Wednesday in advance of Thursday’s draw ceremony, Courier acknowledged that the depth of the American roster is a big advantage. Not only does the American team captain have five very capable singles players, but also in Sock and Isner, he has the No. 7 doubles team in the world. “We have five players here that can all play a high level of singles and doubles, any combination. That gives us a lot of flexibility,” said Courier. “So we’re prepared for whatever comes.
“I’m lucky as the captain, American tennis fans are lucky, that we have so many great options. All of the players are passionate and want to be here.”
Belgium team captain Johan Van Herck agreed with Courier about the depth and flexibility of the American roster. “I think they have a real strong team. It’s a team that can go really deep in the Davis Cup, that maybe can win the Davis Cup,” he said. “They have a lot of options. In singles or doubles, they can choose many options. I think it’s up to us to first look at our team. We have to look at our own team and try to get our team ready with everything we got.”
After advancing over Serbia 3-1 in the first round on indoor red clay in Nis, Serbia, Courier said he welcomes playing Belgium at home on an indoor hard court surface that should favor the Americans. “A lot of fans will get into a U.S.A. chant,” he said. “It’s very much an interactive atmosphere in between the points, very high energy.
“Our players tend to be a bit more emotional in Davis Cup because they are playing for their nation and for their teammates than they might be in a standard ATP or a Grand Slam event. It does bring out a lot of intensity on and off the court.”
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.