Monday, November 30, 2009

Czeching Out Rafa and Nando

Well, that's pretty much it for tennis this year, except for the Davis Cup final this weekend - which really is going to be an interesting affair. Normally you'd pick the Spaniards every time over the Czechs, especially given the headcaseness of Tomas Berdych, but I just don't know this time. The Spaniards have definitely got the firepower to take out the Czechs, but I think it's really going to depend on who they play.

Let me elaborate - the two big guns of Spain are Nadal and Verdasco, yeah? No questions asked there. Rafa is THE man to beat in Davis Cup and we all know what the final last year did for Nando's career. They are the guys to beat. However... both of them are not exactly what I would call in form.

This applies less, I think, to Verdasco. He, like Nadal, did not win a single match at the year ending championships, but he pushed people pretty close - he took a set off Federer and took Murray to a third set breaker. He was in a tough tough group - I mean, does it come much tougher than Federer, Murray and del Potro? - and it would have been more surprising if he had won a match than losing all three, I think. He's not quite on that level - which for Davis Cup is fine, because Stepanek and Berdych aren't on that level either. Stepanek is, I would say, a real threat to Verdasco - their levels are not so far apart, and Stepanek can beat just about anyone, on his day - but I think Nando would have a definite edge over Berdych.

But the fact remains that this is a much harder task than the one he had last year. His big win there - the one that spurred him on to those heights of excellence that he reached in Australia - was against Jose Acasuso. Second round at the French Open aside, I don't think too many players are quivering in fear at the thought of playing big Jose. So it'll be interesting to see how Nando fares - I wouldn't say he's out of form, but I wouldn't exactly say he's on fire either. But if anything is going to ignite him, Davis Cup will.

Now. Rafa.

Look, if I were the Spanish team captain, I would be having serious second thoughts about playing Rafa. I think you could give him a run against Berdych, but I would be worried playing him against Stepanek. Rafa is not all there at the moment. He knows that, the world knows that, and I'll bet the Spanish captain knows that too. If he were to take a loss in Davis Cup - in the final, in an arena where he normally would shine - I think that would do him a lot more harm in the long run than a win would do him good.

That said, if Rafa were to be benched, I don't think that would necessarily do him any good either. I don't know if there's really a perfect option in this scenario. I believe Rafa is capable of beating either of the Czech boys - I mean, who wouldn't believe it? But he's not Rafa right now. He's Shmafa. And a loss would, I think, be bad for him mentally. And I don't want a broken Rafa. I like him just the way he is. watch him prove me spectacularly wrong.

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