Davis Cup Semifinal Preview: Belgium vs Australia

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Team Belgium

Belgium comes in to this Davis Cup as the #7 seed, with essentially the same team that led them to a runner-up finish in 2015. Steve Darcis was the first-round hero for the Belgians, defeating two higher ranked players in singles–including a four set victory over young sensation Alexander Zverev. The Belgians also topped the Zverev brothers in doubles en route to a 4-1 win in front of a German crowd. They then added David Goffin, who proved to be key against Italy, winning both his singles matches without dropping a set. Darcis added another singles win to overcome a doubles defeat, leading to the match being clinched after four rubbers, and a 3-2 victory at home. Both these matches were played on hard court, which proved not to stop the Belgians, although they will make the switch to clay for this weekend’s tie.

As mentioned above, Darics, the World #77, should not be overlooked due to his ranking, winning all three of his singles matches this year. The 33-year-old Darcis brings his veteran leadership to the team, as well as an impressive 22-8 career record in singles Davis Cup matches, with a strong 10-1 mark on those played on clay courts. Goffin is the highest ranked player of the four teams remaining this year at World #12, and has played his best tennis representing his country, winning 13 of his last 14 sets played over the last two seasons. He is 17-3 in Davis Cup singles matches in his career and will be tough to beat once, much less twice.

The doubles team gets a bit more questionable, as Ruben Bemelmans and Arthur de Greef round out the team, with Bemelmans holding the top doubles ranking of the four Belgians at #252. He is 7-6 career in doubles at the Davis Cup, and has played almost every doubles match for Belgium the past few seasons, so he will be highly likely to take the court for doubles. He played the first two ties this season with Joris de Loore, who was not named to the team, and has played with both Darcis and Goffin in 2015 and 2016. It is anyone’s guess who Belgian captain Johan van Herck will chose to pair with Bemelmans, whether he will go with one of the two stronger players who are playing singles, or choose to rest them and have de Greef play.

Team Australia

The Australian team, though unseeded, has looked like one of the teams to beat this year. They began the tournament by sweeping the first three matches against Czech Republic, not losing a single set until the fourth, meaningless, match. They then took on the United States where Jordan Thompson scored a massive upset over American Jack Sock on the way to a 3-2 victory that was clinched in the fourth match. Both these matches were played on hard courts in front of a home crowd, giving the Aussies an advantage that may not have been needed, but helped nonetheless. Both these will change this weekend as they travel to Belgium to play on red clay.

Australia has the youngest team remaining and one of the youngest in the tournament, with three of the four players 23 years of age or younger. They are led by the young talent Nick Kyrigos, who is the World #20 but has had a long history of attitude problems. He has not shown any issues in Davis Cup matches this year, winning all nine sets he has played over three matches, including straight set victories over top Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey. He has been dominant and can beat any player when at his best, but he will be playing on his worst surface, which will take away some of his huge power. World #70 Thompson is playing in his first Davis Cup, and has excelled. He has won the three singles matches he has played, two of which were against players with a higher ranking.

The #2 doubles player in the world, John Peers, anchors the Australian doubles team, but his partner for the two previous ties (Sam Groth) is not on the Australian team for this tie. Peers split his two doubles matches this year and will likely find a new partner in Thanasi Kokkinakis, who has had a successful comeback this season after an injury-plagued 2016. He is the lowest ranked doubles player of the other three, but none of them are in the top 75, and the Aussies will likely want their young players to focus on their difficult singles matches.

Preview

On paper, the Australians have the slight edge with Peer’s high doubles ranking and Thompson’s ranking slightly higher than that of Darcis. However, the Belgians will have the home crowd behind them, and more importantly, have the chosen surface. Belgium may not seem to have the greatest team, but they have experience, players who have stepped up in big matches, and a top player to anchor the team in Goffin. Both top singles players should win their first matches over their lower ranked counterparts, and Australia holds the advantage in the doubles tie. Goffin is the higher ranked player and is much more comfortable on clay than Kyrigos, giving him a significant advantage. This tie will be close and will likely come down to the match between Darcis and Thompson. This could really go either way, but Darcis is comfortable on clay and has experience winning big matches. The Belgians have the edge going into this tie, but it would be little surprise if a talented Australian team can pull out the victory.

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