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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, November 23, 2022

 
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A talented U.S. team takes on Italy in tomorrow's Davis Cup quarterfinals. Did captain Mardy Fish make the right call leaving one major champion off the roster?

Photo credit: Getty

Thanksgiving Day will be a feast or famine experience for some stars.

Four hungry players—Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul and Jack Sock—form the United States' squad that will launch its quest for a record-extending 33rd Davis Cup championship when it faces Italy in tomorrow's quarterfinals in Malaga, Spain.

More: Nick Bollettieri Tribute

World No. 3 doubles player Rajeev Ram won't be part of the American mix.

Fresh off partnering Joe Salisbury to the ATP Finals doubles championship in Turin on Sunday, Ram pulled no punches expressing his deep disappointment U.S. captain Mardy Fish left him off the squad.

Two-time reigning US Open doubles champion Ram was doubly disappointed because he partnered Sock in a stirring 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 win over Great Britain's Andy Murray and Salisbury in September to help seal the USA's quarterfinal spot and because captain Fish could have opted to select five players instead of four.

There's the the fact that Ram, a U.S. Olympic silver mixed doubles medalist with Venus Williams, while playing some of the best tennis of his life right now, is 38 years old and may not have too many cracks at the Davis Cup left in his life.

"Very disappointed. I put in a lot of hard work this year to help the team get there," Ram told the media in Turin about his Davis Cup omission. "I felt like I had earned the spot, if you will.

"So I was quite surprised when I wasn't picked, and even more surprised to be honest that they only went with four players instead of five. That was the choice. But, yeah, I was hoping to be on the team for sure."



Italy will be without its top two singles players—Jannik Sinner and 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini. Sinner is sidelined with a finger issue, while Berrettini, who traveled to Malaga, Spain for the Final, has been ruled out with a foot injury.

In their absence, world No. 23 Lorenzo Musetti and No. 46 Lorenzo Sonego, who owns an indoor win over Novak Djokovic, are the expected Italian singles starters. Former Monte-Carlo champion Fabio Fognini and doubles No. 21 Simone Bolelli, who are former Australian Open doubles champions, are the expected doubles team though the captains can make substitutions.  


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Asked about his roster decision at today's pre-quarterfinal presser, Fish said he's spoken to Ram personally and holds him and his game in high regard but ultimately opted to go with a four-man squad because "I want to put a different doubles team on the court, period."

As a former American Davis Cup player, Fish knows exactly what it feels like to be a key contributor—and be left off the team too.

In 2004, Andy Roddick and Fish helped lead the U.S. to the Davis Cup final. Fish went 1-1 in the final staged on red clay in Spain when a Spanish squad of Carlos Moya, Rafa Nadal and Tommy Robredo led Spain to a 3-2 win.

Three years later, Fish was in the building though not picked by captain Patrick McEnroe for the U.S. team that defeated Russia to capture the Davis Cup in Portland, Oregon.

In today's presser, Fish pointed out he is the captain that picked Ram, who had been largely ignored previously, for the last American tie. Ram owns a 4-1 Davis Cup record in five appearances. Fish said he "loves" Ram but being captain requires making tough roster calls.

"I love Rajeev. Rajeev has been a phenomenal player for us," Fish said. "This is a different roster this specific time. We have Davis Cup next year. I told him that he is still very much in my plans for future ties and beyond. Obviously we play every year.

"I have been the only captain, I will say, the only captain to call him and to be a part of the team. So I think that speaks volumes in terms of what I think of him as a player. The doubles, speaking specifically about the doubles, I think the world of him in terms of his game. Obviously he's one of the best players in the world. But matching, putting a team together isn't as simple as just taking a player that's ranked high and put him with another player and just hope that they do well."

It is believed Sock, a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion widely regarded as one of the world's best doubles players, and Paul will play doubles tomorrow with Fritz and Tiafoe slotted for singles.

Captain Fish said he's not worried about his players' fitness, but is concerned about the challenge Fritz faces adjusting to a different surface speed and different balls compared to Turin.

"The only concern is just getting used to the balls and the surface. These guys are the pros and they do this every week in, week out," Fish said. "You play three tournaments in a row and you're going to have three separate surface speeds. You may have two separate balls, different types of balls to try and get used to.

"A lot of times if you do well the week before you only have a day or so. He's had three days to get ready. He hasn't hit on center yet, but we will tomorrow. I think it's a little bit quicker than it is on the practice courts, it seemed. We have only been out there once. Obviously there's matches going on, so it's been difficult to get practice time on the center court."

The United States vs. Italy tie will be televised live by Tennis Channel starting at 4 a.m. Eastern time on Thanksgiving Day.

Tennis Express

Captain Fish says he does not expect to see the crafty and feisty Fognini play singles tomorrow.

"I'd be surprised if Fabio played singles," Fish said. "To say that they are an equal team without Berrettini and Sinner would probably not be the case.

"That doesn't mean that Musetti and Sonego can't -- Sonego played last year when we played them in Turin. He was awesome. He beat Opelka. That was in front of their fans, the home court. It's nice and fun to get that type of atmosphere back in Davis Cup."

The Americans own an 8-4 edge over Italy in Davis Cup competition. The two nations have played in each of the last two iterations of the Davis Cup Finals, with the U.S. winning in 2019 and the Italians winning in 2021.

The USA and Italy winner will play the winner of Canada vs. Germany in the semifinals on Friday at 1 p.m. local time ( to be aired lived at 7 a.m. Eastern time on Tennis Channel). The championship tie begins at 1 p.m. local time on Sunday. the USA launches its quest for a record-extending 33rd Davis Cup championship.


 

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