Paris: Roger Federer will spearhead Switzerland's bid to reach the Davis Cup final for the first time against Italy in Geneva this weekend and in so doing put himself within striking distance of one of the few prizes that have eluded him.
Roger Federer. Pic/Getty Images
The 17-time Grand Slam champion has won all the top titles in tennis during his stellar career with the exception of Olympic singles gold and the Davis Cup. With good friend and Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka at his side and with a modest Italian team in opposition, he may never have a better chance of achieving the
Victory over Italy would put the Swiss into a November 21-23 final against either France or defending champions the Czech Republic who will contest the other emi-final in Paris. Speaking after his loss to Marin Cilic in the US Open semi-finals last weekend, Federer left no doubt about where his focus was.
"Obviously I think we are the favourites, which is always a nice feeling to be. So 18,000 people in Switzerland is something very special. "I think it's going to be record crowd for Swiss. I think people are quite excited to come see Stan and myself play, regardless of who it is against.
"Neighbouring country I think adds something special to it. I have had some memorable ties against Italians in the past. For me it was the first tie I ever played as a player in '99 against Davide Sanguinetti." This time around the Italians will field 17th-ranked Fabio Fognini and 48th-ranked Andreas Seppi, neither of whom
are thought likely to trouble world number three Federer and number four Wawrinka.
But the memory is still fresh from their quarter-final tie when the Swiss duo had to battle their way back from 2-1 down to Kazakhstan in order to reach the semis.
"We did not panic then and we will keep that in the back of our minds," said Wawrinka who was upset in four sets by Andrey Golubev in the opening rubber against the Kazakhs.
There would be no problem, he added, for himself and Federer to put aside their defeats in New York to concentrate fully on the Davis Cup challenge. In Paris, the Czech Republic will be looking to reach a third straight Davis Cup final having won the last two editions of the competition.
Tomas Berdych returns to the lineup, having opted out of the trip to Japan for the quarter-finals and at his side will once again be wily Davis Cup veteran Radek Stepanek. But the task on the familiar claycourts at Roland Garros looks huge with the French able to choose from US Open semi-finalist Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau.
Stepanek for one believes that despite the change of surface from hardcourts to clay and the home crowd advantage the French will enjoy, the Czechs have a good chance of reaching the final. "Tomas (Berdych) was missing in the second round and we were able to pull it out in Japan. Now we are back (with) the strongest possible combination and we are always happy to be together," he said.
"We definitely want to extend our streak even though we have one of the toughest opponents we can have, playing at home at Roland Garros. "We have respect for the French team but we also know that we can use our experience and a little of our own magic so that we can steal three points here." French captain Arnaud Clement said that his players were all on top form after New York and had been quickly getting used to the claycourts.
Like his Czech counterpart Jaroslav Navratil, Clement believes that past experience can count as the French target a first Davis Cup title win since 2001. "They are all good friends and they are always happy to get together. You can see that on the court and especially off it. "But they (Czechs) are one of the best teams in the world and what they have achieved in the last two and a half years is really exceptional."