Not Quite the Armada
We appear set for a tennis season very similar to last year.
The victory of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Sunday for his third straight Aussie Open title suggests the Serb is still the man to beat, although his opponent in Melbourne, Scotsman Andy Murray, is hot on Djokovic's heels.
At the U.S. Open, it was Murray in five sets.
Down Under, it was Djokovic in a more comfortable four.
Roger Federer lost to Murray and was the third-best player in the event, and the return of Rafael Nadal to competitive tennis next month promises some variation in the overall pattern, but more likely more of the same.
Outside of that top four, nobody's challenging to bust in and take over.
Internationally, however, things may be a little different.
The Czech Republic won the Davis Cup last year, with Tomas Berdych leading the way, and a new season in the team tennis competition begins this week with Canada eying an upset over Spain, a finalist against the Czechs.
Ordinarily, this would be a mismatch of the highest order, even more substantial than when Canada was thumped by France last winter.
Changes to the Spanish lineup, however, suggest the possibility of an upset are somewhat greater than would normally be the case.
For the event, there is some disappointment that Spain's top four singles players - Nadal, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco - will all miss next weekend's tie in Vancouver on the campus of the University of British Columbia.
But the tickets are all sold, and it now remains to be seen, starting Friday, whether a television audience can be attracted on Super Bowl weekend by the improved chances of a Canadian upset, or will be pushed away by the absence of star quality.
To be clear, Spain is still favoured, but not by nearly as much.
They aren't sending their B or C team, after all.
This is more like their F squad, their Black Aces.
Almagro was the latest Spaniard to pull out, and he was replaced by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, ranked 85th in the world. The other singles players are Albert Ramos (51st) and Marcel Granollers (32nd).
Both Felipe Lopez and Pablo Andujar are ranked higher than Garcia-Lopez, but they're not coming to Vancouver either.
Again, this is Spain's okay-if-we-have-to-send-somebody team.
And why shouldn't they feel this will still be more than enough?
Granollers and Marc Lopez, after all, are an excellent doubles team, something like the French tandem of Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau. Those Frenchmen dismantled Daniel Nestor and Milos Raonic last winter in Davis Cup competition, and Nestor lost both his Davis Cup doubles matches in 2012.
But this is also true. Raonic is No. 15 in the world coming off a fairly strong Australian Open, and he is more than capable of winning two singles matches next weekend.
That leaves the dubs - Raonic might play in that as well - and the other singles, likely to feature Frank Dancevic or Vasek Pospisil.
Both Dancevic and Pospisil are scuffling on tour right now. But both have beaten big names on the ATP circut and won big for Canada, Pospisil in particular. He hasn't played a match this year while battling mono, however, and has fallen to 127th from 85th. Dancevic, 28, didn't make it out of the qualification rounds in Brisbane or Melbourne.
Still, until Jesse Levine is cleared to play for Canada, and until another strong player appears at this level (Filip Peliwo?), this is about the best shot Canada is going to get at upsetting one of the big tennis countries.
And tennis could use a few surprises.