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Beyond the Baseline

Watch List: Davis Cup kicks off

John Isner (right) leads the U.S. against defending champ Spain in the Davis Cup. (EPA)

No rest for the patriotic. Less than a week after the last ball skidded past the baseline at the U.S. Open, the men are back in action on Friday for the Davis Cup semifinals and World Group Playoffs. The U.S. will be without Mardy Fish as they take on a Rafael Nadal-less Spain team on clay, while Tomas Berdych will look to continue the form that scored him an upset over Roger Federer at the U.S. Open to try to upset Juan Martin del Potro's Argentina team in Buenos Aires.

Let's break down the matchups:

Spain vs USA, World Group semis, Gijon, Spain: Team America will try to pull off the impossible: Beat Spain on clay. Spain, the defending champions, have not lost on the dirt, or at home, in 13 years. And this weekend has both. Though they'll be without the services of Rafael Nadal, they're still stacking a team that includes U.S. Open semifinalist David Ferrer and Spain's No. 3, Nicolas Almagro. So do the Americans, led by John Isner, Sam Querrey and the Bryans, have a chance? It's hard to count out a team that knocked out Roger Federer's Swiss team in February. In fact, the Americans have made it into the semifinals the hard way, beating Switzerland on clay in Fribourg and then France on clay in Monte Carlo.

The catalyst for this 2012 run has been Isner, who has single-handedly put an end to the myth that Americans are allergic to clay. His Davis Cup play has been a revelation, beating Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Gilles Simon this year. Under Captain Jim Courier, himself a two-time French Open champion, Isner has learned how to use his big-man game on the red stuff, stepping in and attacking the high bounces that go right into his strike zone. Teamed up with Querrey, who won a clay title in Belgrade in 2010, and maybe this won't be the rout that the numbers suggest.

If the always reliable Bryans can secure a point in doubles the tie will ultimately rest on the shoulders of Nicolas Almagro. Almagro's clay bonafides are tried and true, having won two clay titles this year and making the quarterfinals of the French Open, though he has been more vulnerable on the surface this year than last.

Match Schedule

Friday - R1: Ferrer vs. Querrey, R2: Almagro vs. Isner

Saturday - R3: Granollers/Lopez vs. Bryan/Bryan

Sunday - R4: Ferrer vs. Isner, R5: Almagro vs. Querrey

Argentina vs. Czech Republic, World Group semis, Buenos Aires: Davis Cup stalwart David Nalbandian has been forced out of this tie with a rib injury, meaning the Argentines will rely on an injured Juan Martin del Potro and Juan Monaco when they host Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek and the Czechs this weekend. Del Potro, who has complained of left wrist pain since Cincinnati, has said he'll play the tie. While you never want to question a player's decision to play for his country, it's hard not to worry that the decision to play though the pain could derail the rest of his year. No guts, no glory, they say. Yeah, but what about healthy wrists? I'm pretty sure you need those.

Match Schedule

Friday - R1: Del Potro vs. Stepanek, R2: Monaco vs. Berdych

Satuday - R3: Berlocq/Schwank vs. Minar/Rosol

Sunday - R4: Del Potro vs. Berdych, R5: Monaco vs. Stepanek

Other ties to watch

Netherlands vs. Switzerland: Roger Federer will indeed take the court for Switzerland as they try to avoid relegation from the World Group.

Canada vs. South Africa: Milos Raonic will look to keep Canada in the world group against a completely depleted South African team. Kevin Anderson, South Africa's only player in the Top 100 is sitting it out and their No. 2 player, Rik de Voest, ranked No. 170, is also out of the tie.

Germany vs. Australia: Can an Aussie team led by Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt avoid relegation on Hamburg's red clay? Hewitt gets the nod over young Matt Ebden in singles and Tomic is looking to prove something to Captain Patrick Rafter, who called his desultory effort at the U.S. Open "disgraceful".

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