Misha at Davis Cup
Davydenko's wrist causing headaches for Russia
With three days to go before Russia and France play for a place in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas semifinals, the health of Nikolay Davydenko's wrist is still causing concern among the Russian camp.
Already missing Marat Safin, who is taking four weeks off to let a knee inflammation heal, the Russians are heavily dependent on Davydenko, who was a semifinalist at Roland Garros and whose position of fifth in the ATP Champions Race testifies to the fact that he is having the best year of his career.
Davydenko withdrew from his second round match at Wimbledon against Jonas Björkman because of an inflammation in his left wrist. He rested the wrist before heading to Gstaad, where, after taking the first set 6-1 in his first round match against Sargis Sargsian, the problem flared up again.
"Nikolay will be ready to play on Friday," said Russia's captain Shamil Tarpischev, who, having celebrated Russia's Fed Cup semifinal triumph over the USA last weekend, is looking to become the first captain of any nation to steer his country to Fed Cup and Davis Cup success in the same year.
But the confidence from the players was less convincing. Mikhail Youzhny, who is expected to play second singles behind Davydenko or first ahead of Igor Andreev if Davydenko can't play, said: "I don't know who's going to be in the team. Marat has an injury, and we don't know about Nikolay's injury."
Davydenko himself said: "The doctors have said it needs a few more days of rehabilitation. I should be fit to play Friday, but we'll see."
Davydenko's problem presents a further headache for Tarpischev, who was at pains to stress that "Marat Safin is not out of the team, he has never refused to play for Russia, he is just injured".
But Safin played on all three days of Russia's first round win against Chile, and his absence inevitably prompted the question about who would represent Russia in the doubles. "Davydenko and Andreev have played together on the tour," said Tarpischev, "but it could also be Youzhny and anybody else."
If Russia's injury problems are adding to France's attractiveness with the bookmakers (some of whom are making France favourites to lift the Davis Cup in December), the French captain Guy Forget is taking no notice. The master tactician is still talking about Russia being the favourites, and talks about his own team as a "team of the future", with Richard Gasquet playing his first Davis Cup match on Friday, and Gaël Monfils brought along for the experience.
Even without Sebastien Grosjean, who is on holiday with his family to recover from an intense French Open and Wimbledon period, France look to have a strong team, with Gasquet and Paul-Henri Mathieu likely to play singles, and the doubles specialist Michael Llodra certain to team up on Saturday with Arnaud Clement, who is sporting a new severely cropped haircut in Moscow. "I like it because I like the feel of the hair grease on my hands," Clement joked at a news conference on Tuesday.
At that conference, Russia's journalists inevitably wanted to probe Mathieu about facing Youzhny, the man who came back from two sets down to beat the Davis Cup debutant Frenchman in the fifth and decisive rubber of the 2002 final. "It's no big deal," said Mathieu, "that was three years ago, and I've played Mikhail since then." Yes, but he has a 0-3 head-to-head against Youzhny, and their only meeting since the 2002 final ended in victory for Youzhny after Mathieu had again taken the opening set.
The speculation as to who will play will end on Thursday lunchtime when the draw is made. But Youzhny added a note of caution for those looking to pre-judge the tie: "I tell you," he said, "I think everybody from our team and everybody from the French team can beat everybody in this match."
The King Roger Federer
Pain is only temporary but victory is forever