Serbia are as short as 4/11 to win the final of this year’s Davis Cup against Czech Republic, a match that marks the end of the season on the men’s Tour. The Davis Cup is a team competition between the male tennis nations and is a contest that sees players in a mainly individual sport compete in the context of a team format. CzechRepublic are the holders but in Novak Djokovic Serbia have a player who is the key to the outcome of this year’s final eliminator.
The Davis Cup is the premier international team event in the men’s game. It is contested every year between teams in a knock-out format. The first Davis Cup was held in 1900 as a challenge between Great Britain and the United States. By 2013 there were 130 nations in the competition. The United States have won the tournament 32 times and been runners-up on 29 occasions. Australia have won the Davis Cup 28 times and CzechRepublic beat Spain in last year’s final.
The women’s equivalent of the Davis Cup is the Fed Cup. CzechRepublic is the only country other than United States and Australia to hold the Davis Cup and Fed Cup at the same time, a feat achieved in 2012. In 1972 the competition became an elimination event and since then United States have the most wins with 9 titles. Great Britain have nine wins in total but the last was in 1936 so the country have never been Davis Cup champions in its current format.
The structure of the tournament means that the best 16 national teams play in the World Group. The other competing nations play in the three regional zones of Americas, Asia/Oceania and Europe/Africa. Teams in the World Group play in four rounds that culminate in the final, usually in November. The losers in the first round then play the winners of the regional groups for a place in the following year’s World Group. The other nations then continue to compete in the regional groups.
The Davis Cup is organised on the basis of knock-out rounds. Matches are played over five rubbers and the first team to win three of five rubbers wins the tie. Each tie consists of rubbers that are played over three days. On the first day the first two rubbers are singles followed by doubles on day two and reverse singles on the final day. Dead rubbers on the final day when the outcome has been decided can involve younger or lower ranked players at the discretion of the team captains.
Each rubber is played over five sets, the first four of which are decided by a tiebreak if the scores reach 6 all. There is no breaker in the fifth set so play continues until one side is winning by two games. This can lead to a situation in which a player can be serving to win the Davis Cup and then two games later doing the same thing to stay in the competition.
Czech Republic and Serbia are in the first two positions in the International Tennis Federation rankings so the final brings together the best two international teams in the world game. This years final elimination round is being played in Serbia and the hosts have decided to play the match on an indoor hardcourt in the city of Belgrade. The home crowd will be noisy and passionate and Serbia will be hard to beat especially with Djokovic playing in two singles matches which just about guarantees the side two points.
Serbia have beaten Belgium, United States and Canada in reaching the final with the win over the third team in the last four taking place in Belgrade. Czech Republic have eliminated Switzerland, Kazakhstan and Argentina in their elimination matches, all of which have been played indoors on hardcourts. The home side gets to choose the surface which will obviously favour their players which is why it is so hard to win a World Group tie away from home. Of the 14 ties played this season to date 11 have been won by the hosts.
Djokovic ended the season by beating Rafael Nadal in the ATP Tour Final at the O2 Arena in London. However, Nadal ends the season as the world number one after winning ten titles following a lengthy break from the game due to injury. Djokovic now looks the best player indoors, though Roger Federer is still competitive in matches played under a roof inside an arena.
Serbia will not be able to select Viktor Troicki for the final of the Davis Cup. He has been suspended from the game after missing a drugs test, an issue that has seen Djokovic express views not in line with the rest of the men’s game. He has clearly come out in favour of his compatriot who has not been proven to have taken banned substances but the issue takes some of the shine of the final of the Davis Cup in Serbia.
Tomas Berdych is the highest world ranked player in the side representing Czech Republic. The former Wimbledon finalist has been consistently in the top ten in the world rankings for the last three years. At his best he is difficult to beat but he will struggle to win a Grand Slam in the current era. Nadal is the king of clay and could win the next five French opens. Andy Murray and Djokovic are hard to beat on hardcourts and even Federer could win another Wimbledon.
That means Berdych will have a limited number of opportunities to win one of the four biggest prizes in tennis. He needs each of the four elite players to be injured or below form in a Grand Slam and will have to beat at least two over five sets to win that elusive major. This year’s Davis Cup may also be beyond him as the crowd in Serbia and Djokovic’s form and ability make the home side formidable opponents.