Youth, experience on
2019 Davis Cup final squad
Ashley Marshall | October 21, 2019
U.S. Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish will turn to two young and exciting Davis Cup debutants when Team USA competes in the new-look final in Madrid in November.
No. 2-ranked American Taylor Fritz and third-ranked U.S. man Reilly Opelka were named to Fish’s five-player squad that will compete in the final at La Caja Magica, from Nov. 18-24.
Fritz (pictured above) and Opelka will be joined by Sam Querrey, Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock.
"Every one of these guys on this team has played finals of tournaments and quarterfinals of Grand Slams, semifinals of Grand Slams even, so they’re certainly well versed to playing big matches," Fish said Monday. "This format is obviously a little bit different, playing for your team and your country is like no other. Two of the guys have never played and Frances has played once so that’s going to be new but I think they’ll thrive."ADVERTISEMENT
With world No. 31 Fritz, No. 37 Opelka, No. 47 Querrey and No. 48 Tiafoe, Fish has four of the top five-ranked U.S. players at his disposal, in addition to former world No. 8 singles player Sock, who has also found considerable success as a doubles player. The top-ranked American man, world No. 16 John Isner, was not included on the squad.
"He’s in the process of adding onto his family ... and he felt that he wouldn’t be as fully ready as he felt he needed to be," Fish said of Isner. "So he declined to play, but just because of that and not because he didn’t want to play or because he didn’t want to be a part of it. We’ll certainly look forward to having him next year."
The last time the U.S. had two debutants on the same Davis Cup squad was when Sock and Steve Johnson played in the 2015 World Group Playoff in Uzbekistan.
Many tennis observers have wondered when the next wave of talented American men will leave their mark on the game. That question could be answered sooner rather than later, with Fritz and Tiafoe, both 21 years old, and Opelka, 22, likely to play important roles in Team USA’s bid for a record-extending 33rd Davis Cup trophy.
With an average age of 25, it will be the youngest U.S. Davis Cup team in almost a decade. Fish, Querrey, Isner and Ryan Harrison averaged 23 years, 10 months old in the 2010 World Group Playoffs in Colombia, a tie famous for Fish winning three live rubbers. He is the most recent American man to achieve the feat.
Under the previous Davis Cup format, only two Americans made their singles debuts in the final: a 20-year-old Pete Sampras against France in 1991 and then-teenager John McEnroe against Great Britain in 1978.
So while Fritz won't be setting any age records in Madrid, he still could have a lot resting on his shoulders as the highest-ranked American at the competition. Ranked a career-high No. 25 in the world in August, Fritz, the second-youngest U.S. player in the Top 200 of the ATP rankings behind only Tiafoe, has had a breakout year.
He won a Challenger-level title in Newport Beach, Calif., in January, an ATP 250-level title in Eastbourne, England, in June and reached the final of consecutive tournaments in Atlanta and Los Cabos, Mexico, in July.
Big-serving Opelka, meanwhile, currently sits at a career-high No. 37 in the rankings. He defeated fellow 6-foot-11 compatriot Isner on his way to winning the New York Open in February, and he has reached three other semifinals in 2019 to see his ranking leap from 99 at the start of the year.
With 14 ties under his belt, Querrey is the most experienced of the quintet. He has a 10-9 record in singles play and a 1-0 mark in doubles in his eight years representing Team USA. He last played in the 2018 World Group semifinals, defeating former US Open champion Marin Cilic in four sets on the red clay to keep the U.S. alive in Zadar in an eventual 3-2 defeat.
Rounding out Fish's squad are Sock, a 2019 US Open doubles quarterfinalist, and Tiafoe, who broke into the Top 30 for the first time earlier this year on the heels of a quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.
Sock owns a career 4-3 singles record and is a perfect 3-0 in doubles play in Davis Cup. The 2019 final marks his seventh nomination since his debut in 2015. He most recently represented the U.S. in the 2018 World Group quarterfinals against Belgium in Nashville, Tenn., partnering with Harrison to seal victory as part of a 4-0 sweep. In September, he teamed with Isner and Nick Kyrgios to earn a pair of doubles wins over Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas and the duo of Rafael Nadal-Tsitsipas at Laver Cup.
Fish predicts Sock could well be the difference-maker in the competition.
"I think we’ve got, in my opinion, the best doubles player in the world by a significant margin in Jack Sock and he is as important as Novak Djokovic is to Serbia," added Fish. "The way the format is now, that doubles is massive so if we can get a couple singles wins early on and really get the guys rolling, we can rely on Jack quite heavily to push us through and that is exciting."
Tiafoe made his Davis Cup debut in Croatia last year. He fell to Cilic on Day 1 before pushing Borna Coric to five sets in a winner-takes-all decisive fifth rubber that ultimately saw Croatia progress to the 2018 final.
The U.S. automatically qualified for the 2019 year-end competition by virtue of reaching the 2018 semifinals.
The finals will feature 18 teams competing over one week at La Caja Magica, home of the annual Madrid Open. The competition begins with a six-group, round-robin stage, with the winner of each group and the two top-finishing second-place teams (with best percentage of games, sets and points won) advancing to the knockout quarterfinal stage.
Each tie will consist of two singles and one doubles match, all best-of-three tiebreak sets.
The U.S., as the No. 6-seeded nation, was placed into Group F, to which Italy and Canada were then drawn. The winner of Group F will play the winner of Group D in the quarterfinals, a group featuring Belgium, Colombia and Australia.
The U.S. is 7-3 all-time vs. Italy in Davis Cup and last played the Italians in the 1998 semifinals, won by Italy. Italy advanced to the 2019 final by defeating India, 3-1, in the qualifying round earlier this month, led by Andreas Seppi and Matteo Berrettini. They will be joined by Fabio Fognini, Lorenzo Sonego and Simone Bolelli in the finals.
Team USA is 15-0 all time vs. Canada in Davis Cup, but the neighbors haven't met in Davis Cup play since 1965. Canada advanced to the 2019 final by beating Slovakia, 3-2, in the qualifying round on the backs of young stars Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. The duo were also named to Canada's finals team earlier Monday, alongside Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil.