France up for the Cup
Our Andy Schooler makes France his headline pick for this year's Davis Cup and also has 66/1 and 300/1 outsiders.
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The Davis Cup is always a market in which you can feel confident of getting a decent price on your coupon.
Two years ago the Czech Republic landed odds of 40/1 for this column, while last year 80/1 picks Canada narrowly missed out as they lost in the semis from 2-1 up.
- 3pts e.w. France at 11/2 (Betfred, totesport, ½, 1,2) - strength in depth can take them all the way
- 1pt e.w. Italy at 66/1 (Betfred, totesport, ½ 1,2) - big price about a team with some good players & in weaker half of the draw
- 0.5pt e.w. Kazakhstan at 300/1 (Sky Bet, 1/3 1,2) - home advantage can work in their favour; worth a risk at the price
I've got a couple of big-priced outsiders for this year's event - more on them later - but first up I'll name my headline selection as France, who have arguably more depth to their side than any other in the 16-team World Group.
They open against an Australia side shorn of Bernard Tomic, a tie they should win given their side is comprised of four top-40 players - Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfired Tsonga (both top 10), Gael Monfils and Julien Benneteau, the latter also being renowned for his doubles play.
Gilles Simon and Benoit Paire are other members of the top 40 who have failed to make the cut which shows France are well stocked if injuries hit their title bid at any point during the season.
France host Australia in that first-round tie and another reason I'm particularly keen on their chances is that they are virtually guaranteed home ties all the way through the top half of the draw.
The way the competition works, we already know which nation will host any of the potential ties and France will be at home against every opponent in the top half they could play, with the exception of Japan, but I'd be very surprised to see them reach the semi-finals which they would need to do in order to meet the French.
The biggest danger appears to be two-time defending champions the Czech Republic, but home advantage could be crucial in that one which means I'm prepared to side with Arnaud Clement's side.
If, as expected, the Australians are seen off, then Germany or Spain await the quarter-finals and that potential clash brings me to another key point.
Usually Spain would be fancied to win such a tie but they are just one of several sides without their best players for this weekend's first round - and probably beyond.
Without Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, I expect Spain to lose in Germany this weekend, yet they are still at the head of the betting at a best of 5/1. Some firms go just 9/4. Even if they scrape past Tommy Haas, Philipp Kohlschreiber and co, there's little indication that Nadal and Ferrer want to play Davis Cup this year.
Serbia, another side ludicrously short in the betting, have the same issue with Novak Djokovic opting out. With Janko Tipsarevic injured at present, I expect them to lose to Switzerland, who have Stanislas Wawrinka but not Roger Federer, in round one.
France are currently 11/2 and a very backable each-way proposition. I can see them being favourites on Monday morning and considerably shorter.
Down in the bottom half, USA and Great Britain will fight out the pick of the first-round ties in San Diego and it's a tough one to call.
Some will therefore be prepared to back one, if not both, in the outright market at a decent price which will shorten quickly if they prevail.
My concern here is both sides are set up one way with little in reserve if things go wrong.
The Americans have long picked an established doubles team - the Bryan brothers - which means their singles line-up is also set in stone with no flexibility to cope with an injury niggle or simply a poor performance.
As for GB, their lack of depth means the only way they look capable of winning ties is by Andy Murray winning two singles points in every single tie and then also taking the doubles. It's a tough ask - history suggests it's a virtually impossible one to do over four rounds - even with a fully-fit, fully-committed Murray and I'm not convinced that he'll definitely be available in peak shape for every single round if GB do manage to keep winning.
With newly-crowned Australian Open champ Wawrinka in their ranks, the Swiss will certainly have their backers - indeed they have already been cut in recent days - but they also look very reliant on their star man given Federer's absence. At the 7/1 price, I'm prepared to take them on in this section and turn to those long shots I touched upon earlier.
First up, I'm going to plump for Italy, a team who have struggled in the competition in recent years but one definitely on the up.
Fabio Fognini enjoyed a fine rise up the rankings in 2013 and will be a tough opponent for anyone on clay. However, his game on other surfaces has also improved considerably - as shown by his last-16 run in Melbourne - and I don't regard Italy as being only able to win ties on the red dirt.
World number 31 Andreas Seppi is another solid if unspectacular player, certainly one capable of winning plenty of rubbers. Like Fognini, he's most at home on clay - the surface Italy will choose for any home ties - but has also improved on faster courts.
If they beat an Argentina side which looks vulnerable without star man Juan Martin Del Potro this weekend, and I expect them to do so, then they'll host the winners of the USA v GB tie.
Essentially a semi-final place looks more than possible so I just can't make them a 66/1 shot that some firms do. Coral are as short as 16s about their chances. They look worth a small bet at the price.
My final selection is a real long shot but again the price just looks wrong.
Kazakhstan are hardly a nation you'd regard as having tennis pedigree yet the fact is their bits-and-pieces side has been to two quarter-finals in recent years and they've established themselves as a World Group team.
Mikhail Kukushkin and Andrey Golubev are hardly household names but are top-100 players who have shown an ability to raise their game when playing for their country, while Evgeny Korolev is a much better player than his current ranking outside the top 300 suggests.
They are in a strong position in terms of draw venues with home ties guaranteed against all their potential opponents bar the Czechs (who are in the top half and therefore largely irrelevant in terms of this each-way bet) and the Swiss.
No-one will like going to Astana where the Kazakhs will be happy to lay any surface that the opposition hates. Belgium certainly look like struggling there in round one.
That potential Swiss quarter-final is the worry but given the outlandish price on offer about Kazakhstan, it's worth chancing that Wawrinka is either struggling with the expectation of being a Grand Slam champion or injured going into that April clash which comes after back-to-back Masters events in the US. Certainly the Kazakh players will be fresher going into the tie.
In short, I just can't have them being 300/1 shots so again a small bet is advised.
- The action gets under way at 0400 GMT on Friday.