Davis Cup Qualifiers Previews Including Uzbekistan vs USA

Colombian Davis Cup team.

This is the first of two Davis Cup Qualifiers’ general previews for the weekend’s ties, starting with the six that will kick off on Friday. As always, we here at LWOT will preview and predict every match. You can find links to those match-by-match predictions throughout the article.

Davis Cup Qualifiers Previews

Hungary vs France

Head-to-head: France 4-1 Hungary

A surprisingly even tie with a lot of history. France and Hungary first met almost a century ago, with two of the legendary Four Musketeers, Jean Borotra and Rene Lacoste leading their nation to victory. Hungary got their only win in their second meeting shortly after World War 2, with Andras Adam-Stolpa and Jozsef Asboth getting the points. The last time they met was in the World Group first round in 1994, with eventual world #12 Arnaud Boetsch leading France to victory, dropping just 23 games across the three rubbers he won.

Now, 98 years since their first meeting, Hungary hosts France again but this time with a much better shot at winning. The hosts are led by a resurgent Marton Fucsovics and supported by a new talented generation on the rise. The 29-year-old has been on the rise after dropping out of the Top 100, finishing last season with a title in Bratislava, beginning this one with another title in Canberra, and reaching the Australian Open third round right after. Zsombor Piros has been chosen for the number two spot by captain Zoltan Nagy, a talent who has been held back by injuries throughout his career but has shone at times on the Challenger Tour. His form has been a bit lackluster so far this year, so his peers Fabian Marozsan and Mate Valkusz, also talents currently on the Challenger Tour will be available.

French men’s tennis is at one of the lowest points in recent history at the moment, waiting for talents like Luca Van Assche, Arthur Fils, or Arthur Cazaux to break through to the main tour. France currently has no Top 40 players and their number one in this tie, Benjamin Bonzi, is their nation’s number one player overall. The 26-year-old has managed to break into the Top 50 and has successfully established himself as a main tour player after his six-title breakout year on the Challenger Tour in 2023.

Captain Sebastien Grosjean then went all the way to number four in their team, nominating Ugo Humbert in the second spot, likely because the Frenchman dominated Fucsovics in their previous meeting. The Frenchman has been disappointing outside of his Melbourne run in 2023 and could be replaced for a potential fifth rubber. Grosjean will also have Adrian Mannarino and Arthur Rinderknech at his disposal, both very solid indoor hard players.

Expect France and Hungary to split the Day 1 singles, despite Humbert’s head-to-head advantage, Fucsovics is in much better form at the moment. France will be a big favorite in the doubles rubber, with 41-year-old Nicolas Mahut coming as the doubles specialist likely joined by Arthur Rinderknech. None of Hungary’s four best players play doubles regularly. The battle of the number one players between Fucsovics and Bonzi is close to a coin flip for me but I will say the Hungarian will meet the occasion in front of his home fans. Any of the potential French number two players should wrap the tie up in the fifth rubber though.

Prediction: France in 5

Germany vs Switzerland

Head-to-head: Germany 9-0 Switzerland

Germany has never lost to Switzerland in their previous nine meetings and none of their previous matches even got down to the deciding tie. Their first match though leads to a sobering reminder of history and a puzzling story. Germany’s first win over Switzerland dates back to the 1939 International Lawn Tennis Challenge, which somehow took place despite the Second World War being very much in progress.

Czechoslovakia had to withdraw after Germany’s invasion and partition and the event still continued with Germany notching wins over Switzerland, Poland, Sweden, and Great Britain before losing to Yugoslavia led by Franjo Punčec. This event is worthy of a feature-length documentary but I will now attempt to pivot back to current-day tennis. Switzerland have a pretty decent chance to get their first win over Germany in history.

That is largely due to Michael Kohlmann’s player selection looking very uninspired, especially in the singles column. One could argue that Germany’s Top 3 players have earned a right of first refusal for a place in the Davis Cup team. Kohlmann might have even been under pressure from the federation but when those three guys have a combined record of 2-8 on the season, maybe consider what more in-form guys with great indoor hard acumen like Jan-Lennard Struff or Maximilian Marterer (combined 12-4 in 2023) offer you in a team.

lexander Zverev leads the team despite looking arguably the worst player of the three this season, 1-3, and really had to grind to beat Juan Pablo Varillas. The home crowd will surely suit Zverev and boost his effort but with his game looking as rusty as it did in Australia, is a high-pressure situation like this really the best option for him to play himself into some form by Indian Wells? We saw Oscar Otte peak way up at #36 last season and a regression is coming for him now.

The German had a strong run between April and June last season, reaching the semifinals in Munich, Stuttgart, and Halle. This does suggest that Otte really performs better at home but his level in the past six months has been reminiscent of the Challenger player the 29-year-old was for the majority of his career. Daniel Altmaier is the worst indoor hard player of the five. Andreas Mies and Tim Puetz should make a decent team, though they have never played together before and cannot be named a lock to get that rubber.

A new Swiss generation arrived last year, led by Marc-Andrea Huesler who won a 250 in Sofia and two Challengers in Mexico, breaking into the Top 60. It is still yet to be seen if the 26-year-old can stick around on the main tour but his performances in Australia were not a complete disaster. He has been up and down on indoor hard over the course of his career but has put together some great runs on the surface. Despite being number four on the team, Stan Wawrinka is a very logical choice ahead of young guns Dominic Stricker and Leandro Riedi.

The 36-year-old had decent performances in Australia and indoor hard is where he is most dangerous at this point in his career. Last year he got wins over Daniil Medvedev and Casper Ruud on the surface. Stricker and Riedi will be ready to sub in for either player if they disappoint on Day 1, and will make it a very tough decision for captain Severin Luthi with what they have shown in the past six months.

This is probably the toughest tie to predict as all of the singles ties are close to toss-ups but here goes nothing. I believe Otte will take the lead for Germany, Wawrinka ties it up by beating Zverev, Mies/Puetz get the job done for a 2-1 lead but Stricker or Riedi subbed into the number one spot for Huesler will defeat Zverev with Wawrinka winning it for Switzerland. Expect the most drama from this tie.

Prediction: Switzerland in 5

Colombia vs Great Britain

Head-to-head: first meeting

A historic-first meeting between two countries with a unique potential for an upset, there may be more to this tie than first meets the eye. With Colombian altitude clay at play, anything could happen in Cota this weekend.

Great Britain enters this match as titanic favorites with all of their first-choice players turning up but without the legendary Andy Murray. Britain’s number one, Cameron Norrie, is 8-2 on the season and enjoyed a strong showing in the first two weeks of the season especially. The world #11 went through United Cup undefeated, beating Alex De Minaur, Rafael Nadal, and Alex De Minaur to start his year. Norrie also came close to his fifth ATP title, only losing to Richard Gasquet in the final of Auckland.

Melbourne was not his best showing, getting upset in the third by Jiri Lehecka on his breakout run. Outside of his Montreal semifinals run, Dan Evans is been largely mediocre over the past 12 months. Despite his dislike for clay the conditions could suit him and he has more experience than their No. 3 Jack Draper. There are question marks around the rising star’s fitness after he suffered through his Australian Open loss to Rafael Nadal after looking good enough to win the match early on. Brits also brought their best in Doubles, World No. 1 Neal Skupski and No. 4 Joe Salisbury.

Colombia will host without their top-ranked singles player in Daniel Elahi Galan. The only Colombian in the Top 250 started the season injured, retiring after one set in Adelaide, and was far from his best in his first-round Melbourne loss. Nicolas Mejia now leads the team as Colombia’s only full-time singles player, with four members of the Doubles Top 100 joining him. The world #253 is keeping himself afloat on the Challenger Tour despite never having a season with a winning record at that level.

The Colombian has more experience on altitude clay but his game is not necessarily well-suited to it. 35-year-old Nicolas Barrientos will be the No. 2. The World No. 510 went 18-14 in singles last season, most of the matches being in Challenger qualifying. Barrientos absolutely dominated on the Challenger Tour alongside Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela in doubles though. The pair won 6 Challenger titles, reached four more finals they lost in as well as a 250 final in Seoul, breaking into the top 70.

Barrientos is unlikely to play in doubles though with veterans Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah having those spots locked down, even if they’re not No. 1 in the world anymore. Barrientos’ strong net skills and likely offensive tactics that he will employ on the altitude clay will make him a very annoying opponent.

Despite Colombia not looking as hopeless as it may seem at first, I am still predicting a sweep for Great Britain. Colombia will have its best chance to prolong the tie in the Doubles, where I see the rubber as 50/50 on clay with Colombia’s home crowd and conditions. Mejia and Barrientos will be tricky but ultimately I do not think they will pull off two upsets in four matches.

Prediction: Great Britain in 3

Norway vs Serbia

Head-to-head: Serbia 2-0 Norway

Serbia carries over a 2-0 head-to-head from the Yugoslavia days, not dropping a single rubber to Norway in 1934 or 1982. 41 years since their last meeting, Serbia are favorites to repeat this feat again as both teams come in without their number one players.

Novak Djokovic is currently the best player on the planet but even without him, Serbia has a very solid squad. Djokovic’s former back-ups are gone with Janko Tipsarevic starting his own academy and Viktor Troicki taking over the role of Davis Cup captain. The new generation of Serbia will be led by 23-year-old Miomir Kecmanovic, world #34 who has established himself as a strong player on slower hard courts and clay. Also starting is number three Laslo Djere who only really had two impressive runs in the past two seasons, enough to keep him on the main tour but without much buzz, until he beat Casper Ruud in Auckland. Backing him up will be number two Filip Krajinovic. The 30-year-old has had his best career results on indoor hard, reaching the final of the Paris Masters. However, the Serb does not always have consistency on the faster surface and has a better overall record on clay.

This tie was decided the moment Casper Ruud withdrew. There are only really two full-time pro tennis players in Norway and now Viktor Durasovic has to find a new level and win three rubbers as opposed to attempting an upset to decide the tie in singles or doubles as the number two. Durasovic is a solid doubles player and under-ranked by maybe 50-70 spots in singles due to the lack of ITFs in his scheduling but he is still a fringe Challenger player at the moment.

Norway’s number two Andreja Petrovic is a Junior at Florida State University, so as a college player his pro tournament opportunities have been limited. Still though, Petrovic was 21-14 in singles last year and did not make it into the year-end Top 125 of the ITA Collegiate Tennis Rankings, so we can’t really expect a miracle here. Serbia should dominate Norway here.

Prediction: Serbia in 3

Sweden vs Bosnia and Herzegovina

Head-to-head: first meeting

Sweden’s Ymer brothers are hosting a Bosna and Herzegovina team past its best in a historical first fixture between the two countries. The younger, Mikael Ymer, sits at world #60 in the rankings and will lead the team. The 24-year-old is in good form, 10-4 on the season, and coming off a run to the final of a Challenger 125 on indoor hard. Elias Ymer has dropped out of the Top 100 and has not had the best results this season despite a 4-3 record.

The Swede has only fully beaten Miljan Zekic, Nick Hardt, and Kenny De Schepper in 2023 while taking straight-sets losses to Yu-Hsiou Hsu and Altug Celikbilek. He is unlikely to appear but Leo Borg is now on the verge of breaking the Top 500 after a 40-29 season of hard work on the ITF tour, winning his first professional title at the end of October. Borg had a very rough introduction to pro tennis when he was 17 and 18, showing very little promise in his many wild card opportunities and a 1-17 record in his first two pro seasons. It is good to see that there is a player in there after the teen started off his career as a punchline.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s best player at this point is doubles world #59 Tomislav Brkic, who has been in the fringe main tour player/seeded at Challengers bracket for the last couple of seasons, winning two ATP titles. Former world #23 Damir Dzumhur is still the number one here despite being on the edge of the Top 200. The 30-year-old still had a couple of decent runs last year (Montpellier 250 quarterfinals, Challenger finals in Banja Luka and Sibiu) but they are becoming rarer and rarer.

World #394 Mirza Basic has been past his best for longer, though he did reach as high as #74 once. The 31-year-old got his career-best result on indoor hard back in 2018, when he won the 250 in Sofia as a qualifier, beating Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals. Mikael Ymer should get Sweden off to a good start with a straightforward win over Basic. The next two matches of Elias Ymer against Damir Dzumhur and the doubles rubber are both close to toss-ups, so let’s say they split them. Mikael should then secure Sweden’s victory with a win over Dzumhur.

Prediction: Sweden in 4

Uzbekistan vs USA

Head-to-head: USA 2-0 Uzbekistan

The third meeting between USA and Uzbekistan in eight years. Uzbekistan hosted the first one in Tashkent, though on clay, and took the lead through now-captain Denis Istomin. USA rallied though with Jack Sock picking up the singles rubbers and Sam Querrey with Sam Johnson securing the singles. In their most recent meeting, Team USA dominated in Honolulu, not dropping a single set and just 2o games across the tie.

It is an end of an era for Uzbekistan in the Davis Cup, with the playing captain Denis Istomin now 36 years old and not nominating himself for any of the rubbers despite being in the team and available. Istomin still could play in doubles or Day 2 singles if he chooses to substitute himself in but it would be the first match of the season for the former #33. 22-year-old Sergey Fomin leads the hosts after helping them secure a Qualifiers spot last September with wins over Shintaro Mochizuki and Sho Shimbakuro.

The world #366 was one of the most surprising champions last year on the Challenger Tour, coming out of qualifying to win Shymkent despite never winning back-to-back matches at a Challenger before (or since). Uzbekistan’s number two Khumoyun Sultanov has been largely an ITF player for most of his career outside of a four-month Challenger Tour stint in 2019, peaking at No. 299 in the rankings so far. The 24-year-old has gotten off to a decent start in 2023, reaching the final of an M25 in Al Zahra. Like Fomin, Shymkent was also the breakthrough spot for Sanjar Fayziev, though in doubles. The Uzbek took the title alongside Markos Kalovelonis and reached two more Challenger Doubles finals to break into the Top 200, one of them with Fomin.

Team USA has gone through some turmoil recently. After a puzzling decision to leave doubles world #1 Rajeev Ram out of the Finals nomination in November and a fine for promoting gambling on social media, Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish was replaced by David Nainkin. The South African will take charge as the first non-American captain in USA’s history, having previously served as Team USA’s Olympic Tennis head coach in 2021.

As expected, many of the USA’s top players are skipping this tie with their number three, number 13, and number 15 in the rankings nominated. Despite that, the Americans will be overwhelming favorites. Tommy Paul is coming off of the best tournament in his career, reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open. Mackenzie McDonald also performed very well in Melbourne, outlasting countryman Brandon Nakashima in five sets before eliminating hampered defending champion Rafael Nadal to reach the third round.

Denis Kudla is a veteran player whose game suits fast surfaces, making him the ideal reserve singles player for a potential deciding rubber, especially on indoor hard. The team is supplemented by two Top 10 doubles players Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek, who will likely wrap the contest up. With all due respect to Fomin and the rest of Uzbekistan’s team, I do not expect the USA to drop even a set unless the indoor hard conditions in Tashkent are set up to an extreme and manage to catch out McDonald on Day 1.

Prediction: USA in 3

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images