There may not be a more hotly contested clash this weekend in the Davis Cup than the playoff between a pair of big-time rivals. Neighbours Germany and Poland will do battle in the Davis Cup world group playoffs this week in Berlin with both squads looking to book their place in the top level of the competition for 2017. Both teams fell 3-2 on home soil in the first round back in March and will be looking for a second chance in 2017, but first they need to take each other on in a tough regional battle.
Despite being without their top two players, the Germans are undoubtedly the favourites entering this tie. They will be lead by Florian Mayer, ranked 59th in the world, and Jan-Lennard Struff, ranked 67th. The Germans will be hoping that Mayer can bring the form on home soil that he rode to a title in Halle back in June, where he took out top-ten player Dominic Thiem and German number one Alexander Zverev on the way. For the doubles, the Germans will look to the big-hitting Daniel Brands and the youngster Daniel Masur to provide some backup for their solid singles players.
The Polish team is, at least on paper, at a massive disadvantage in singles. They are once again without their number one Jerzy Janowicz, who was injured during their first round loss in March. Even if Janowicz were in the lineup, he would still be ranked lower than the number two German. Instead, the Poles will be leaning on world number 277 Kamil Majchrzak and world number 329 Hubert Hurkacz in the singles. Both of these young guns (Majchrzak is 20, Hurkacz is 19) are ranked behind the lowest ranked German in the tie (Masur).
The one advantage the Poles have is the doubles. They will be led by veterans Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski. If Poland is going to have any chance of pulling an upset in this tie, they are going to need a win in the doubles to keep them alive.
This is the fourth Davis Cup meeting between the two countries, with Germany winning two of the previous three. However, this is their first meeting since 1977 when the Poles topped West Germany. The Germans two wins came in 1939 and 1960. This is the first tie between the two countries not being played in Warsaw, Poland.
The tie will be played on outdoor clay in the Germany capital of Berlin. The surface gives a slight advantage to the Germans, although Mayer’s best result this year came on a fast grass court surface. However, historically the top German in the tie has played his best on clay. Struff has won two of his three challenger titles on the surface, with almost all of his finals coming on clay. The Poles have historically preferred fast, indoor surfaces which puts them at a disadvantage on the slow clay.
Germany is the overwhelming favourite in this tie. All of their players outrank the Poles in singles and they all have a ton more experience. Majchrazk and Hurkacz have a grand total of three rubbers played between them with a 1-2 record (Hurkacz won the dead rubber back in March). While Struff has only played two rubbers of his own, going 1-1, Mayer has played in 11 ties, going 9-8 in 17 rubbers (6-5 on clay).
It’s going to take some serious magic from the Poles to pull an upset in any of the four singles rubbers. The lone advantage they might have is that fact that Majchrazk and Hurkacz are unknown quantities. It will be harder for the Germans to learn about their styles and prepare for them, while the Poles have lots to research about Mayer and Struff. The element of surprise is the only card the Poles really have to play in this tie. They’re going to need to steal at least two of the singles rubbers.
Prediction: Germany 4-1
Poland will probably take the doubles, but that won’t be nearly enough. They’re on a surface where they tend to be weaker against a far stronger and more experienced team. This is the German’s tie to lose. They’re stronger than Poland in pretty much every way and with home court advantage, this is a golden opportunity for them to stay in the world group.