While ATP tour-level matches are individual events, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, Hopman Cup and Olympic Games are team events, where participants play for national honor. Davis Cup is the most prestigious men’s annual team event, controlled by International Tennis Federation and all its 130-plus members are eligible for participation. The tournament’s 106th edition got underway on February 3 at several global venues and the most focused ties being World Group first rounds. 16 nations are fighting this weekend to retain their status in next year’s World Group, while 8 losers go to 2018 World Group play-offs. Beginning Friday, reigning champions Argentina play against Italy at Buenos Aires, 2017 runners-up Croatia take on Spain at Osijek, Serbia play against Russia at Nis, Japan will host France in Tokyo, Belgium go to Frankfurt to play against Germany, Australia square up with the Czech Republic at Melbourne, USA take on Switzerland at Birmingham Alabama and Canada face Great Britain at Ottawa.
Defending champions Argentina begin this year’s Davis Cup with a handicap. Playing at Buenous Aires against Italy, Argentina will miss last year’s Davis Cup hero Juan Martin del Potro. The big Argentine is not match-fit yet, after injuring his finger in November’s Davis Cup final against Croatia. The home advantage alone won’t be enough for Argentina. Friday’s singles rubbers will have Guido Pella taking on Italian Paolo Lorenzi while Carlos Berlocq faces Fabio Fognini. Saturday’s doubles will have Argentinians Leonardo Mayer/Diego Schwartzman meeting Simone Bolelli/Andreas Seppi while Sunday’s first reverse singles will be between Carlos Berlocq and Paolo Lorenzi and second between Guido Pella and Fabio Fognini.
2016 runners-up Croatia are hosting Spain at Osijek, where Friday’s first singles rubber will see the Croat Franko Skugor taking on Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta and in the second, Croatia’s Ante Pavic faces Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut. The order will reverse in last day’s singles but before that, Croats Marin Draganja/Nikola Mektic take on Spaniards Feliciano Lopez/Marc Lopez in Saturday’s doubles. Big names are missing from both sides in the crucial tie. While Borna Cilic, Ivo Karlovic and Ivan Dodig are not playing for Croatia, Spain captain Conchita Martinez will rue the absence of Rafael Nadal. However, she can still take heart from having Carreno Busta, Bautista Agut and the two Lopezs, Feliciano and Marc.
There is good news for Serbian tennis fans as World no.2 Novak Djokovic will lead the nation’s charge against Russia in Southern city of Nis. Djokovic takes on debutant Russian Daniil Medvedev on Friday after Viktor Troicki’s first game against Karen Khachanov. Saturday’s doubles will have Serbian captain Nenad Zimonjic pairing up with Troicki to play against Russians Andrey Kuznetsov/Konstantin Kravchuk, while in Sunday’s reverse singles, Djokovic plays against Khachanov and Troicki faces Medvedev.
At Frankfurt, hosts Germany take on Belgium, who are without their top star David Goffin. Their second best player Steve Darcis plays Friday’s first singles against Philipp Kohlschreiber, while in the second, Belgium’s Davis Cup debutant Arthur de Greef will fight against Alexander Zverev, who is already rated as a future Grand Slam champion. In Saturday’s doubles, Alexander’s elder brother Mischa pairs up with Jan-Lennard Struff to take on Belgium’s Ruben Bemelmans/Joris de Loore. On Sunday, Alexander Zverev plays against Steve Darcis while Philipp Kohlschreiber squares up with Arthur de Greef.
Sans Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, Switzerland havr arrived in Birmingham, USA for taking on USA. That gives a definite edge to the hosts. On Friday, Jack Sock plays against Swiss Marco Chiudinelli while John Isner takes on Henri Laaksonen. Saturday’s doubles will have the pairs of Steve Johnson/Sam Querrey playing against the Swiss duo of Antoine Bellier/Adrien Bossel, while Sunday’s two singles rubbers will have Sock and Isner playing with Laaksonen and Chiudinelli respectively.
At Ottawa, Canadian Daniel Nestor will play his 50th Davis Cup tie. The 44-year old Nestor will pair up with Vasek Pospisil in Saturday’s doubles rubber against GBR’s Dominic Inglot/Jamie Murray. Before that, Friday’s first singles rubber will see 17-year old Canadian debutant Denis Shapovalov taking on Dan Evans while in second rubber, Pospisil plays Kyle Edmund. On Sunday, the singles order will reverse.
However in two other World Group ties, the initial trend is already available. At Melbourne, hosts Australia have taken a 2-0 lead against Czech Republic on Friday. The same 2-0 result has also come from Tokyo, where France are playing Japan. In Melbourne, Australian Jordan Thompson defeated Jiri Vesely 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 and Nick Kyrgios made it 2-0 with his 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over Jan Satral. On Saturday, Australians Sam Groth/John Peers take on Zdenek Kolar/Radek Stepanek while Sunday’s reverse singles rubber will see Kyrgios playing with Jiri Vesely and Thompson with Satral. In Tokyo, Frenchman Richard Gasquet defeated Japan’s Taro Daniel 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in the first rubber and Gilles Simon made it 2-0 for France with an easy 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win over Yoshihito Nishioka. In Saturday’s doubles, Frenchmen Pierre Hughes-Herbert/Nicolas Mahut take on Japan’s Yuichi Sugita/Yasutaka Uchiyama while in Sunday’s reverse singles, Gasquet meets Nishioka and Simon plays against Taro Daniel.