The 2018 edition of Davis Cup kicks off this weekend as World Group play features some intriguing ties that might not be as clear-cut as they seem.
Here’s a look at eight players whose performance could have the biggest impact on their team’s chances.
Ruben Bemelmans (Belgium)
Hungary vs. Belgium in Liege, Belgium on indoor hard
On paper, two-time Davis Cup finalist Belgium is a heavy favorite. David Goffin is all but sure to win both of his ties, and Ruben Bemelmans should take both of his, as well. But if he slips up and Belgium happens to lose the doubles, things may get very interesting.
Dusan Lajovic (Serbia)
United States vs. Serbia in Nis, Serbia on indoor clay
Without Novak Djokovic or Victor Troicki in the lineup, the host country’s hopes rest on Dusan Lajovic’s shoulders. All of the Americans (Sam Querrey, John Isner, Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson) have had some degree of success on red clay and are the heavy favorites. It’s crucial that Lajovic wins his opener against Isner for Serbia to have a chance.
Denis Shapovalov (Canada)
Croatia vs. Canada in Osijek, Croatia on indoor clay
The young Canadian is one of the brightest stars in the game today. Playing on the road, on clay, without another Top-100 singles player to back him up against a fellow young star Borna Coric are daunting tasks. Canada needs Denis Shapovalov to win both of his matches to have a shot at advancing.
Henri Laaksonen (Switzerland)
Switzerland vs. Kazakhstan in Astana, Kazakstan on indoor hard
The margin of error is slim for Henri Laaksonen—Switzerland’s top player in this tie with Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka both sitting out. He had to avoid the upset in his opener against Dmitry Popko as the veteran Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan was likely beat Adrian Bodmer—which is exactly what happened. The doubles rubber is a toss-up, and Laaksonen and Kukushkin could be playing a live fourth rubber for survival’s sake.
Alex De Minaur (Australia)
Germany vs. Australia in Brisbane, Australia on outdoor hard
Now granted, Alex de Minaur was one of the hottest players on tour the first couple of weeks of the season. However, having him kick off his Davis Cup career against a strong German team is a lot to ask of a soon-to-be 19-year-old. This tie could go the distance, and the young Aussie is slated to play the fifth rubber against the solid Jan-Lennard Struff.
Cameron Norrie (Great Britain)
Great Britain vs. Spain in Marbella, Spain on outdoor clay
Playing against the five-time champions at home on clay is a tough hurdle for any nation. Doing so without your top singles players in Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund makes it nearly impossible. Cameron Norrie is at his best on faster surfaces and has a big game, but will it be enough to earn a singles win?
Taro Daniel (Japan)
Italy vs. Japan in Morioka, Japan on indoor hard
Japan is playing host to a deep Italian squad. It was crucial that Taro Daniel, who’s started the year 0-2 and has gone through a bout of inconsistency over the past few months, gets off to a good start in his opener against the combustible Fabio Fognini. Instead Fognini scored the win, while Daniel's teammate Yuichi Sugita saved the day with a win over Andreas Seppi.
Robin Haase (Netherlands)
Netherlands vs. France in Albertville, France on indoor hard
There’s a huge gap in results between the defending Davis Cup champions and the Dutch squad, whose players have performed better in doubles lately. Robin Haase has a big game and can potentially upset at least one of France’s singles players.
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