The ATP tour is idle until Marseilles, but that doesn't mean the top men have nothing to do. The first round of Davis Cup begins Friday. Here are the matchups:
- Austria vs Croatia
- Argentina vs Sweden
- Belarus vs Spain
- Switzerland vs Australia
- Germany vs France
- Netherlands vs Russia
- USA vs Romania
- Chile vs Slovakia
Who will move on to the second round?
1. Austria-Croatia: Although Austria is host and clay probably is not Croatia's best surface, it's pretty hard to pick Melzer, Koubek and company over the likes of Ljubibic and Ancic, both of whom are playing well. Croatia advances.
2. Argentina vs Sweden: This should be one of the toughest first-round tests, but you have to like Nalbandian, Gaudio, and Chela at home on clay. Argentina advances.
3. Belarus vs Spain: Belarus hosts, and the choice of surface is indoor carpet, but David Ferrer and company will be too much for the Belarus journeymen led by Max Mirnyi. Spain advances.
4. Switzerland vs Australia: The top players from each nation, Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt, are absent. This is a coin toss, and I can't see either of these making it past the next round unless they get beefed up. Australia's Peter Luszak showed some promise in Melbourne, and Swiss youngster Stanislas Wawrinka has had some uneven brilliance in 2006, but there are no elite players here. Host team wins. Switzerland advances.
5. Germany vs France: Here is a nice matchup, particularly since the Australian Open semifinal breakthrough of Nicolas Kiefer. Will we see a replay of the dramatic quarterfinal against Sebastian Grosjean? More significantly for Germany's chances, Tommy Haas looks to be playing in top 5 form, while France's heir-apparent Richard Gasquet has not had a good start to 2006. Germany advances.
6. Netherlands vs Russia: Okay, this is hosted in Amsterdam, but who is going to bet against Davydenko, Youzhny, Andreev and Tursonov on this level? I suspect the Dutch will be hard-pressed to win a match. Russia advances.
7. USA vs Romania: The Americans have world #3 Andy Roddick. Although he got battered by Marcos Baghdatis in Melbourne, Romania doesn't have anyone likely to upset either him or James Blake. And the Bryans in doubles? Well. USA advances.
8. Chile vs Slovakia: Dominik Hrbaty is world-class, but doesn't have much supporting cast behind him going into Chile to face Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu, although doubles player Michal Mertinak has a very respectable 8-4 Davis Cup record. I'm liking the home side here. Chile advances.
All in all, there should be some very competitive ties here. And as always, Davis Cup will produce some surprises, and the rankings - along with the predictions - will go out the window. Those who offer up prognostications must be prepared to eat humble pie.
Tim is developing editor of talktennis.org.