Moment of destiny awaits the history boys

“We have the opportunity to write history,” said Roger Federer on the eve of Switzerland’s first Davis Cup semifinal in 11 years. And indeed the weight of history seems to hang heavily over Geneva’s Palexpo exhibition centre as it gears up for welcoming 18,500 spectators for one of the greatest weekends in Swiss tennis history.

The opportunity is massive for Switzerland - this is the country’s third semifinal in 86 years of competing in the world cup of tennis - but it’s also massive for Federer. Many speak of him as the greatest player in the history of tennis, but a Davis Cup winner’s medal is the one meaningful and historical title missing from his overflowing trophy cabinet. The closest he came was 11 years ago, when he was beaten from two-sets and 5-3 up by an inspired Lleyton Hewitt, the Swiss leaving the Rod Laver Arena in tears as his country’s Davis Cup dreams drifted into the Southern Ocean.

Since then Federer has felt the expectation of being his country’s only world-class player, and has tended to play Davis Cup only after the Grand Slam season has finished. Yet this year he has committed to the competition from the start, and at 33 has the chance to fill the last gap in his list of achievements. And ironically this weekend’s opportunity has its roots in that disappointment at Melbourne Park 11 years ago.

“We travelled to Melbourne with eight or nine players,” Federer recalled, “and Stan was one of them. He was very young at the time, so I’m very happy he got the experience back then, and has seen it all unfold, the good times and the bad. As a team, we haven’t had much success over the past 50 years, so people in Switzerland still talk about 20 years ago when we made the finals. Hopefully they’ll talk about this tie in 20 years, that would be wonderful - this is the dream for us, the players.”

Switzerland’s passage to the 1992 final happened in this exact same stadium, when the two-man team of Jakob Hlasek and Marc Rosset beat Jaime Oncins, Luis Mattar and Casio Motta of Brazil in two days. This time the Swiss are again reliant on two players, although its captain Severin Luthi isn’t ruling out using Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer in the doubles, as he did in February when Switzerland beat Serbia with all four players playing live rubbers.

By contrast, the visitors have a greater strength in depth and have used that strength to make a mildly surprising selection. Italy’s captain Corrado Barrazzutti has opted for his third-ranked singles player Simone Bolelli over Andreas Seppi, the hero of Italy’s fifth-rubber win over Great Britain in April’s quarterfinals. That’s probably, because in 10 previous matches, Seppi has won just one set against Federer. Bolelli hasn’t won any but as he has lost just twice to the Swiss, he may be less scarred than Seppi. Bolelli’s last match was a five-set thriller against Tommy Robredo at the US Open when he played some outstanding tennis early in the match, and he is generally playing well on hard courts.

The draw, made by Switzerland’s 1992 hero Marc Rosset, leaves the line-up for the weekend looking like this:

Roger Federer (SUI) v Simone Bolelli (ITA)
Stan Wawrinka (SUI) v Fabio Fognini (ITA)
Roger Federer/Stan Wawrinka (SUI) v Paolo Lorenzi/Andreas Seppi (ITA)
Roger Federer (SUI) v Fabio Fognini (ITA)
Stan Wawrinka (SUI) v Simone Bolelli (ITA)

Not only is the focus all on Federer, but the Swiss are strong favourites with Federer ranked world No. 3 and Wawrinka at world No. 4. Yet Italy will prove a tough nut to crack. Fognini, ranked world No. 17, is very capable of beating Wawrinka, and Federer and Wawrinka don’t have a great record in doubles in recent years.

And while the Italians were in the final more recently than the Swiss - 1998 to 1992 - the desire burns brightly among Italy’s men to emulate the success of their female contemporaries who have won the Fed Cup four times in the last eight years.

“If we get to the final it’ll be worth more than winning one Fed Cup,” says Fognini with a twinkle in his eye, before quickly admitting he’s joking. It may be a joke - he would have Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta to answer to if it wasn’t! - but it testifies to how the Italians have the ability and the desire to spoil the Swiss’ moment of history in Geneva this weekend.

Date: 11th September 2014, Source: Davis Cup


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