With the completion of this year's playoffs, the Level 1 field is set for next year and it's time to start the annual data dump.
** Ireland(11th) vs. Croatia(15th) -- Led by Siobhan O'Doherty(41st), the best player for either nation, Ireland is one of those marginal nations that is a little too good for Level 2, not good enough for Level 1. They went down two years ago, and lost to Mexico in an attempt to get back up last year. Croatia has been at the top level for almost 15 years straight, but they've only made it out of the group stage once in the past four years and appear to be on the decline. They had just enough to skate by here, staying up 3-2 and Ireland will have to try again.
** Italy(6th) vs. Phillipines(16th) -- This was a walk-over, as the Phillipines has yet to find a second player to go with Condon. They fall to Level 2 and it will probably be just the beginning of their decline. Italy suffered a humiliating 5-0 loss to France two years ago, then was beaten by Denmark last year in what has been a long road for them to get back up to Level 1 after nearly suffering the insult of being demoted to Level 3 just five years ago. With two Top-30 players now in Mugur Kinczllers and Tobia Alberti, they are more than deserving and should be one of the better nations the next few years. Both players are shy of their 24th birthday, right in Girsh's age range, and should continue to get even somewhat better.
** Luxembourg(20th) vs. Switzerland(14th) -- Luxembourg has been on the rise the last few years, falling 3-2 to Austria in a playoff last year to prevent making it to Level 1. They've been fueled by the efforts of Mikaila Groeneveldt, but his decision to focus on doubles weakens their prospects considerably. The Swiss have recent Top-10 addition Roger Federer and fading veteran Vito Bonamoni(42nd), more than enough to get them by 4-1. After a narrow loss to Argentina last year sent them down, they bounce right back up and hope to stick around this time. It seems unlikely that Luxembourg will have enough to mount another meaningful challenge ...
** Russia(7th) vs. Sweden(21st) -- Russia is a sinking ship with the Topolski/Goncharenko pair now gone, while the Swedes are on the rise behind Olav Birkeland(18th), well familiar to us unfortunately, and Elias Trulsen(71st), a decent 23-year-old on the rise. That wasn't quite enough, with Russia winning 3-2 to stay up behind veteran Pavel Bestemianov and a youngster to watch, Afasny Bereznity(41st). Bereznity is just shy of his 21st birthday, and is making a name for himself already. Russia is not nearly what they were, but they hang around narrowly -- Sweden is more than good enough to be in the top tier, but they'll have to spend next year trying to bounce back up. I think their chances of doing so are excellent.
Italy and Switzerland move up, the Phillipines and Sweden drop down. Overall this is an improvement but Sweden is better than a number of Tier-1 nations; they will be missed.
2043 World Team Cup Preview
Sri Lanka ends 2042 at 13th, a fine rise of nine spots from 22nd. We have another favorable draw, sitting in Group 1 with Denmark(14th), Italy(6th), and Mexico(9th). Mexico is the weakest, with Denmark and Italy just good enough to sport a challenge if everything goes wrong. Italy will be up first on grass, and they are definitely the toughest opponent so we'll know where we stand right away. I expect a perfect run through group play and for us to easily take first; I can't imagine a non-disastrous scenario in which we don't advance to the knockout rounds again. The USA and Czech Republic figure to be the two nations that pose the biggest threat at the business end, unless of course Germany gets absurdly lucky again. We really should be able to handle anyone else, and anything short of making the semifinals will be a total failure. By the end of the year, Sri Lanka should crack the Top 10 for the first time.