SYDNEY: Just five days after the conclusion of the Australian Open, tennis shifts its attention to the Davis Cup this weekend.
France is the defending champions and starts their campaign at home to the Netherlands while the United States, the record 32-time champions, travel to Serbia.
AFP Sports looks at five key aspects of the first round ties which take place from Friday to Sunday:
Stars miss out
The sport’s ‘big five’ are all missing from this week’s first round. Australian Open champion Roger Federer and injured compatriot Stan Wawrinka, key men in Switzerland’s 2014 title success, miss the trip to Kazakhstan.
Also, nursing injuries are Novak Djokovic, who sits out Serbia’s home tie with the US while Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray miss the clash between Spain and Britain.
However, world number three Marin Cilic, the runner-up to Federer in Melbourne, leads Croatia’s challenge at home to Canada. Cilic can equal Ivan Ljubicic’s record for most Davis Cup match-wins by a Croatian player if he wins three rubbers this weekend. He has a 33-16 win-loss record in doubles and singles.
Hungary has appetite
Hungary faces 2017 runners-up Belgium looking to reach the World Group quarter-finals for the first time and record their best Davis Cup result. The Hungarians have won nine of their last 10 ties with successive promotions in 2014-15, rising from Europe/Africa Zone Group III to Group I by 2016, before winning promotion to the World Group last year.
Mum’s the word for Japan’s Kiwi
Ben McLachlan was born in Queenstown, New Zealand but the 25-year-old switched his allegiance in 2017 due to his Japanese mother and is in the squad for the home tie against Italy. McLachlan made his debut in the World Group play-off victory against Brazil in September. With Japan missing the injured Kei Nishikori, McLachlan could have a crucial role having made the semi-finals of the doubles at the Australian Open alongside Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.
Golden oldie Hewitt
He may be 36 years old and officially retired but former world number one and Wimbledon and US Open champion Lleyton Hewitt could still feature in the doubles for Australia in their home tie against Germany. Hewitt, the team captain, was rejuvenated at the Australian Open where he made the quarter-finals with compatriot Sam Groth.
France looks to keep perfect record
Defending champions France host the Netherlands at Albertville boasting a 10-0 record in the tournament over their European rivals since their first meeting 93 years ago. Last year, France equalled Great Britain in third place on the list for most Davis Cup titles after winning the title for the 10th time, beating Belgium 3-2 in the final in Lille.