Latvia to battle Moldova without Ernests
Latvia will travel to the Republic of Moldova without their top player in the first round of the 2009 Davis Cup.
According to Latvian news portal, eSports.lv, Ernests has announced his unavailability for this tie due to a scheduling conflict.
Having been bounced back to Group II of the Europe/Africa zone after losing to Italy, Latvia now have to battle past the Moldovian team in order to at least maintain their status.
A loss here would pit them against Hungary or Bulgaria in the relegation playoff, with the loser consigned to Group III in 2010.
The winner will proceed to the quarterfinals, with a shot at returning to Group I if they were to triumph in September’s semifinal tie.
Latvia are the No. 4 seed in Group II and theoretically will be favoured to dismiss Moldova, whose top player is ranked No. 374, with relative ease.
As the hosts, however, Moldova have the advantage of selecting the surface on which the tie will be played. Clay is likely to be chosen as it is the most effective in countering the Latvians’ game, which is more suited for zippy indoor courts.
Nonetheless, the timing of the tie is what poses the most troublesome challenge for Ernests. Scheduled for 6-8 March, it will be played right up to the day before Indian Wells, a Masters Series tournament, is due to begin in the United States.
Indian Wells is one of the most important events on the calendar and offers 1000 ranking points for the winner. Its compulsory status means that main draw entrants who refuse to play will face severe sanctions. Ernests made it to the second round this year, where he narrowly lost to David Nalbandian.
If he were to join the Davis Cup team, jet lag potentially will not be the sole obstacle which he has to overcome. Should Moldova opt to stage the tie on clay, he would also have to re-acclimatise himself to hard court within a mere one or two days.
This dilemma is not new to tennis, with the season’s calendar being decided by two different governing bodies: the ATP and the ITF. Several top players, such as Roger Federer and Andy Murray, also dealt with it by skipping Davis Cup ties which could adversely impact upon their singles careers.
Ernests’ decision, though sensible, is likely to be unpopular. He is Latvia’s key player by a considerable margin, and his absence from the team would significantly shorten Moldova’s odds against them.