But for all the talk of a lack of star-power in these early stages of the World Group knock-outs, plenty of big names have once against chosen to add their weight to their nation’s campaign in the biggest annual international team competition in sport.
Of the 133 nations taking part in this 118th year of Davis Cup, attention this weekend is focused on the last eight who could win the title and take home that huge trophy in this watershed year.
Three of them are spearheaded by top-four-ranked players: No1 Rafael Nadal for Spain; No3 Marin Cilic for Croatia; No4 Alexander Zverev for Germany.
Two more have top-12 men lined up: No11 Lucas Pouille for France; No9 John Isner for the USA—along with two more top-20 players.
And there are doubles Major champions there, a handful of Masters champions, such as David Ferrer and Jack Sock, plus seven of the current top 15 in the Race to London—including one of the best performers during the last month, 21-year-old Borna Coric, who is at a career-high ranking after making the semis at Indian Wells and quarters in Miami.
Indeed, Cilic and Coric, playing at home, pose one of the most formidable challenges of the quarter-finals—especially against an under-powered Kazakhstan.
Some fine tennis is on the cards, then, and with not a little extra media interest courtesy of world No1 Nadal, who will be playing his first match on clay in 2018, and his first match anywhere since retiring in the fifth set of his quarter-final at the Australian Open almost 10 weeks ago.
His form, and his recovery from hip injury, will be watched with keen interest, for he has to win big over the coming weeks to keep that No1 ranking. He leads Roger Federer by only 100 points, so failure to defend his string of clay titles—Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, and the French Open—will see the top spot switch between the two men for the third time this year.
Spain has a deep well from which to draw, and won all five of its Davis Cup titles this millennium—but not since 2011. That could well be updated come November, even though Spain faces tough opposition in a Zverev-bolstered Germany. The 20-year-old has pressed Nadal very hard in their last two meetings, but lost heavily in their first in Monte-Carlo. Clay, and a Spanish home crowd, should see Nadal’s team head to the semis.
The USA is the most prolific winning nation in Davis Cup history, with 32 titles, but it has not won since 2007. All at once, though, the big guns are again in place: Isner, fresh from winning his first Masters title, on home soil, and into the top 10; Sam Querrey at No14; and fellow Masters champion Sock, ranked 16, but bringing his impressive doubles pedigree to the table in the absence of the Bryan brothers. Sock and Isner won the doubles title in Indian Wells, while Sock also won in Delray Beach—and he has a Wimbledon doubles title to his name, too.
So the USA looks a shoo-in for the semis against a Belgium without its star player. David Goffin, who has led his small nation to the final in two of the last three years, is still unfit to compete following the accident to his eye in Rotterdam last month.
The defending champions and top seeds, France, travel to Italy to take on the charismatic Fabio Fognini and his compatriots.
France, as usual, boasts a strong line-up, even without Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. Pouille, who clinched France’s first Davis Cup title in 17 years last November, is still supported by some in-form colleagues. Jeremy Chardy made the fourth round in both Indian Wells and Miami, while Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut comprise one of the best doubles teams in the world.
Adrian Mannarino is also a talented if unpredictable back-up who reached a career-high of 22 last month after some strong runs in the latter part of last year. But Italy will make life difficult for the visitors, especially on clay.
· Only 15 nations have won the Davis Cup. USA leads the way with 32, but fellow quarter-finalists also feature: France, 10; Spain, 5; Germany 3; Italy, 1; Croatia, 1.
· Oldest and youngest nominated players in this week’s World Group ties are: Feliciano Lopez, 36; Alexander Zverev, 20.
· Nadal is aiming to set a record 23-match winning streak in Davis Cup rubbers. He has not lost a rubber since the doubles rubber in Spain’s 3-2 win against Italy in the 2005 World Group play-offs.
· Italy is contesting its 250th tie this weekend, has lost just one of their last seven home ties, and has won eight of its last nine clay court ties.
· Only France and USA have won a Davis Cup final on all four surfaces (grass, clay, hard and carpet).
· France has only twice been absent from the World Group since its inception in 1981. Its 36 years in the World Group is joint-second with the Czech Republic behind USA (37).
· Spain has won 28 of its last 29 ties on clay, and 26 straight home ties dating back to 1999—but Italy holds the record with 29 straight home wins between 1949 and 1964.
· France has not won a tie on Italian soil in 91 years.
· Last year’s runner-up Belgium faces an away tie for just the third time in the last four years.
· Croatia won the title unseeded in 2005, and opponents Kazakhstan are bidding to reach the semi-finals for the first time.
· The USA is playing in its 290th tie—the most for any nation—in its 104th year of Davis Cup competition.
Italy vs France: H2H 5-5
Outdoor clay, Valletta Cambiaso ASD, Genoa, Italy
R1 Andreas Seppi (62) vs Lucas Pouille (11)
R2: Fabio Fognini (20) vs Jeremy Chardy (80)
R3: Simone Bolelli/Paolo Lorenzi vs Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Nicolas Mahut
R4: Fabio Fognini vs Lucas Pouille
R5: Andreas Seppi vs Jeremy Chardy
Spain vs Germany: H2H 6-10
Outdoor clay, Plaza de Toros de Valencia, Valencia, Spain
R1 David Ferrer (33) vs Alexander Zverev (4)
R2 Rafael Nadal (1) vs Philipp Kohlschrieber (34)
R3 Feliciano Lopez/Marc Lopez vs Tim Puetz/Jan-Lennard Struff
R4 Rafael Nadal vs Alexander Zverev
R5 David Ferrer vs Philipp Kohlschrieber
Croatia vs Kazakhstan: H2H 0-0
Indoor clay, Varazdin Arena, Varazdin, Croatia
R1 Marin Cilic (3) vs Dmitry Popko
R2 Borna Coric (28) vs Mikhail Kukushkin (92)
R3 Ivan Dodig/Nikola Mektic vs Timur Khabibulin/Aleksandr Nedovyesov
R4 Marin Cilic vs Mikhail Kukushkin
R5 Borna Coric vs Dmitry Popko
USA vs Belgium: H2H 4-0
Hard indoor, Curb Event Center, Nashville, USA
Draw to follow.
USA nominees: John Isner (No9), Sam Querrey (No14), Jack Sock (No16), Steve Johnson (No52), Ryan Harrison (No54)
Belgium nominees: Ruben Bemelmans, Joris de Loore, Joran Vliegen, Sander Gille
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