One of the things I've been toying with this year is a basic system for projecting the outcomes of tennis matches. (Like, absurdly basic. No adjustments for surface or anything; the only tweak is that it differentiates between best-of-3 and best-of-5 matches.) I'm using this year to test the system and see if its absurdly basic nature hampers its accuracy within general groups of matches, and I'll be posting about the results at the end of the year.
But since it's Davis Cup week, I thought it might be fun to wheel out the nascent projections and see what they think about the odds of each of the eight first-round World Group ties being played this week. (Kind of. There is, of course, a doubles match in each tie, and I'm not even going to pretend I know what to do with that, so I'm treating each doubles match as a 50-50 proposition. This is clearly incorrect and the results should be evaluated with the requisite grains of salt.)
The ties have become quite a bit different (and mostly worse) since the initial roster announcements, as a few big names (and a few smaller but important names) have pulled out. These are current as of the end of the draws on Thursday:
Poland vs. Argentina (99% Argentina): The Argentine team is full of clay court specialists, and the tie is being played on indoor hard in Poland. Which gave the Poles a chance... when hard-hitting Jerzy Janowicz was supposed to be playing. The revised singles lineup of Michael Przysiezny and Hubert Hurkacz is projected to be at least 92% underdogs in each individual match... which is not ideal.
Serbia vs. Kazakhstan (98% Serbia). Serbia features the #1 player in the world, by a wide margin, and has another player in the top 30. Kazakhstan... does not have those things. These odds may be a bit on the high side, if only because it's theoretically possible for Novak Djokovic to turn an ankle or something. But if he and Viktor Troicki are healthy and paying attention, the Kazakhs are not going to win.
France vs. Canada (96% France). Another once-promising matchup gutted by injury, this one to Milos Raonic. The French have four top-20 singles players, and the Raonic-less Canadians don't have anyone who can be counted on to play anywhere near that level. The fact that the matches will be played on clay takes most of the punch out of whatever puncher's chance Vasek Pospisil and company might have had.
Italy vs. Switzerland (94% Italy). Switzerland tends to have a widely variable Davis Cup team, depending on who actually plays for them; they have two of the ten best players in the world, and nobody else in the top 100. Italy, meanwhile, has a bunch of guys who are pretty OK, led this time by Andreas Seppi and Paolo Lorenzi. Since neither Swiss superstar is playing this week, the Italians should cruise.
Australia vs. USA (84% USA). This would be a fascinating matchup if Nick Kyrgios was healthy; he grades out as a slight favorite against both Jack Sock and John Isner, while Bernard Tomic scores as a slight underdog against both of them. Kyrgios has been switched with Sam Groth, which drops Australia's odds in those two matches from the 60's into the teens. They're the home team and they're playing on grass, which should favor both of their singles players, but it would still be a surprise if the Aussies come through here, especially with the Bryans waiting in the doubles rubber.
Great Britain vs. Japan (61% Britain). Two very similar teams, as both feature one top-tier singles player with little backup. Last year, Andy Murray was enough to propel the Brits to the Davis Cup title, and with this tie being played on indoor hard, his chances look good again for at least a first-round victory. However, this is the one matchup that was actually made closer by injury, as British #2 Kyle Edmund was replaced by Dan Evans, improving Japan's odds by about 7%. This grades out as the tie most likely to be decided by the doubles rubber (51% chance the teams split the four singles matches), which probably bodes well for Britain and the Murray brothers.
Germany vs. Czech Republic (61% Czech Republic). Given that the Czechs have Tomas Berdych, those are better odds than the Germans might have expected. But the Melog system (which I'm of course using in these projections) loves Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Alexander Zverev is a worthy second option who played a competitive match with Berdych just last month and can at least potentially come out on top against Lukas Rosol. Their chances still aren't great, but I won't faint if they pull the upset.
Belgium vs. Croatia (54% Croatia). Marin Cilic and David Goffin are strongly expected to beat the other teams' #2 options. Their matchup is very close (Goffin a slight favorite), and Borna Coric is a medium favorite over Kimmer Coppejans (or any of the other potential Belgian #2 options). This is another matchup that has a great chance of coming down to doubles (45%), which would probably favor top-10 doubles player Ivan Dodig and the Croats.
All right, enough dubious math! Let the matches begin.