The Davis Cup has reached the quarter-final stage and while the USA, Spain and Croatia are expected to ease to victories this weekend, the tie between defending champions France and Italy could be very tight.
USA have won the Davis Cup more times than any other country, but the last of their 32 triumphs came 11 years ago and they are overdue another victory.
The omens are good for Jim Courier’s side even though they have been handed a quarter-final tie against Belgium, last year’s beaten finalists.
The Belgians will be without their top player, David Goffin, who is recovering from the eye injury he sustained in Rotterdam in February while Steve Darcis is also missing.
The USA team is at full strength and they will have been buoyed by John Isner’s victory at the Miami Open last weekend.
The 32-year-old claimed the first Masters 1000 title of his career by beating Alexander Zverev in the final after stunning the in-form Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-finals.
Isner is currently at number 17 in the world rankings and will be part of a team that also includes the world number 11 Jack Sock and Sam Querrey, who is currently 14th, as well as the versatile Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson.
In contrast, Belgium will be led by world number 116 Ruben Bemelmans and seem to have little chance of causing an upset in Nashville. Now may be the time to bet on USA at 33/10 to win the Davis Cup outright this year and claiming only their second title since 1995.
While the USA appear to be far too strong for Belgium on paper, the quarter-final clash between France and Italy looks set to be the most even last-eight encounter.
France are the defending champions after their 3-2 triumph against Belgium in Lille last year was their 10th overall success, and first since 2001.
Yannick Noah’s side are 59/20 to win the Davis Cup again this year but face a very tricky quarter-final against a revitalised Italian side in Genoa.
World number 10 Lucas Pouille will lead France, with Adrian Mannarino, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Jeremy Chardy and Nicolas Mahut also in Noah’s side. However, France have not won a Davis Cup tie in Italy, 11/1 to win the competition outright, since 1927.
Corrado Barazzutti has a talented squad to choose from, with Fabio Fognini, Paolo Lorenzi, Andreas Seppi, Simone Bolelli and Matteo Berrettini all potential match-winners, and so Italy may have the quality to defeat France at 4/5.
Italy have reached the Davis Cup final on seven occasions but have only tasted success once – in 1976 when they got the better of Chile.
The Italians saw off Japan in the last round two months ago while a weakened France side had to dig deep before defeating the Netherlands. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Pouille had been forced to withdraw from the French team at the last minute because of injuries.
The quarter-final match between Spain and Germany will involve some of the top players in the world, with the likes of Rafael Nadal, Zverev, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Roberto Bautista Agut locking horns.
Spain reached the last eight by seeing off Great Britain’s challenge in February and have the strength in depth to win a first Davis Cup since 2011. Sergi Bruguera’s side can be backed at 39/20 to claim the trophy for a sixth time.
Spain dominated the Davis Cup between 2008 and 2011, when they won the competition three times, while they were edged out by the Czech Republic in the 2012 final.
However, they have not reached the final in any of the last five years and were knocked out by Serbia in the quarter-finals in 2017.
Spain have the advantage of playing this weekend’s last-eight match on clay in Valencia and have Nadal, who has won 22 of his 23 Davis Cup singles rubbers, in a strong line-up that also includes Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta, Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer.
Germany have the world number five Zverev, Kohlschreiber, Jan-Lennard Struff, Tim Puetz and Maximilian Marterer in their ranks. Zverev has lost all three of his previous contests with Nadal and has won just two games in their only meeting on clay, which was in Monte Carlo last year.
Everything would appear to point to a routine Spain victory, available at 5/19, but Germany can take heart from the fact they won the last encounter between the two teams on a hard court in Frankfurt in 2014, and they boast a 10-6 lead in their previous meetings.
Kazakhstan have reached the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup on four previous occasions but are not expected to triumph against a strong Croatia team in Varazdin this weekend. Kazakhstan first competed in the Davis Cup 23 years ago and won through to the last eight in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
They knocked a Switzerland team that was shorn of the services of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka out in February but are unlikely to repeat the trick against a Croatia side that have the advantage of playing at home.
World number three Marin Cilic and the in-form Borna Coric will be expected to win their singles matches while Zeljko Krajan’s team also includes Viktor Galovic, Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic.
Croatia defeated a strong Canada side in the last round and were Davis Cup finalists as recently as 2016 but edged out 3-2 by Argentina.
That was only Croatia’s second appearance in the final following their success in 2005 when they beat Slovakia 3-2.
Kazakhstan have named Mikhail Kukushkin, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, Dmitriy Popko, Timur Khabibulin and Denis Yevesyev in their team.
Kukushkin (92) is the only member of the side currently in the world’s top 100 players, with Nedovyesov (235) the next highest ranked.
Croatia should have little difficulty defeating the Kazakh team while they are 33/10 to win the Davis Cup outright this year.
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