Weakened US take on confident Spain

Argentina start favourites in Davis Cup semifinal encounter against Czech Republic

With Andy Roddick retired, Mardy Fish unavailable, and Spain apparently unbeatable at home on clay -- the United States look distant second favourites when the two nations clash in the Davis Cup semifinal in Gijon starting on Friday.

Then again, few fancied their chances of beating a Switzerland team that included Roger Federer in round one and France in the quarterfinals led by the big-serving John Isner.

Argentina will also start as favourites in their semifinal against the Czech Republic in Buenos Aires with Juan Martin del Potro and Juan Monaco shouldering their nation’s hopes of winning the title for the first time.

The Czechs, however, boast in-form Tomas Berdych in their ranks and will be looking to repeat their victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires during the 1980 campaign which culminated in them claiming the huge trophy for the only time.

US captain Jim Courier’s tenacity seems to have rubbed off on his side this year and while Spain are overwhelming favourites as they chase a fourth title in five years, there are still a few reasons for optimism for the Americans.

When nations lose their top players captain’s hope that one of the underlings steps up to the plate and in the case of Spain and the United States, their wishes have been granted.

Spain have had to make do without the injured Rafael Nadal this season but world number five David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro underlined the Iberian nation’s depth as they cruised past Kazakhstan and Austria to reach the semifinals.

Likewise, Isner has assumed the leaders’ role for Courier’s side in the absence of former stalwart Roddick. World number 10 Isner has a perfect 4-0 record in Davis Cup singles this season, taking the scalps of Federer on clay in Fribourg and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, also on the dirt, to close out the quarterfinal in Monte Carlo.

Ferrer will open the tie against Sam Querrey on Friday defending a 14-0 singles record in Davis Cup on claycourts so Isner will almost certainly be playing catch-up by the time he takes to the Parque Hermanos Castro court against Almagro.

For the Americans to pull off a shock and end Spain’s run of 23 consecutive home victories in Davis Cup the world number one Bryans will have to earn their point when they take on Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez on Saturday.

Argentina, the only one of the semifinalists without a title will believe that this could finally be their year, having lost all four finals they have contested including last year's title clash against Spain. However there is a question mark about the fitness of eighth-ranked Del Potro, who has a left wrist problem.

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