In place of the familiar 16 World Group nations embarking on the four-stage knock-out progression to the end-of-season final, 24 nations are competing to qualify for 12 places among the 18 that will make up the transformed Davis Cup Final come November.
Six nations have already qualified for the end-of-year, round-robin event, which will be held in Madrid: the 2018 semi-finalists, Croatia, France, Spain and the USA, plus two wild cards, Argentina and Great Britain.
But while the driving force behind much of this restructuring was aimed at accommodating the top players into its schedule, ie those men who go deepest into the draws on the ATP and Major circuit and thus play the most tennis, there is a dearth of big names among the national teams that take to court this Friday.
It was always unlikely that older champions who have already committed many years to the Davis Cup, have been part of winning teams, but are now aiming to extend high-level careers through their 30s—the likes of Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka, John Isner—would commit to this very different version of the Davis Cup.
However, rest and rehab, injury recovery, careful pacing, and training blocks are vital to the health, success and ambitions of all players, and the Qualifying event comes literally days after the conclusion of the Australian Open and the packed month that preceded it.
For example, it comes as no surprise that Novak Djokovic will not play only five days after lifting the trophy in Melbourne—switching hemisphere and heading indoors into the bargain. But nor do Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, or Fabio Fognini—all top 20 players.
Indeed, the only top-10 player in action is world No3 Alexander Zverev, while the only additional top-20 players will be No11 Karen Khachanov, No16 Daniil Medvedev—both in a strong Russian squad—plus Marco Cecchinato for Italy.
Head into the 20s, and 19-year-olds Alex de Minaur, ranked 28, and Denis Shapovalov, No25, make appearances.
What stands out, then, is the number of young stars who look keen to take over as standard bearers from the ‘old guard’, eager to taste this uniquely patriotic competition. Though whether they will continue to do so once another new ‘national team’ tournament, the ATP Cup, debuts next January.
For now, it is good to see talented young guns showing their wares in this home-and-away phase of the competition, and giving fans around the world a taste of what lies ahead when that ‘old guard’ hangs up its racket.
· No53 Matteo Berrettini, age 22, joins a solid Italian team in India.
· No41 Nicolas Jarry, age 23, along with top-100 22-year-old Christian Garin of Chile may surprise the home Austrian team.
· There are very exciting prospects for Canada playing away in Slovakia, where teenagers Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime are slated to play in all five matches.
For the winning dozen teams this weekend, here is what they will face in the Final.
· The one-week event will feature 18 teams: the 12 qualifiers, the previous year’s four semi-finalists, plus two wild card nations.
· The 18 teams will compete in six round-robin groups of three teams, Monday to Thursday, with each tie comprising two singles and one doubles match, all played on one day.
· The six group winners plus the two second-placed teams with the best records based on sets and games will go through to knock-out quarters, semis and final.
· The two teams with the worst record after the round-robin phase will be relegated to the respective Zone Group 1 the following year.
· The 12 teams that finish in 5th to 16th position will compete in the Qualifying event the following February (ie after Australian Open) with the 12 promoted Zone Group 1 teams (ties played home and away).
· All singles and doubles matches are best-of-three tiebreak sets, all with regular ad scoring.
· Zone Groups will continue to play in April and September. 12 Zone Group 1 winners will advance to the following year’s Finals qualifying event.
For more background to the changed Davis Cup format, see ITF approves ‘world cup’ restructure of Davis Cup; launches five weeks before new ATP Team World Cup
The Ties: Friday/Saturday 1/2 February
· Listed in order of seedings [shown in brackets]
· Home team shown first, including H2H
· Each tie comprises four singles matches and one doubles match
· All played in best of three tie break sets (doubles played with regular ad scoring)
Brazil vs Belgium (1), Uberlandia, 0-3: Clay indoors
Players Belgium: Kimmer Coppejans, Arthur de Greef, Sander Gille, Joran Vliegen
Players Brazil: Thiago Monteiro, Rogerio Dutra Silva, Thiago Seyboth Wild, Marcelo Melo, Bruno Soares
Uzbekistan vs Serbia (2), Tashkent, 0-1: Hard indoors
Friday: Sanjar Fayziev vs Dusan Lajovic; Denis Istomin vs Filip Krajinovic
Saturday: Fayziev/Istomin vs Nikola Milojevic/Viktor Troicki; Istomin vs Lajovic; Fayziev vs Krajinovic
Australia (3) vs Bosnia/Herzegovina, Adelaide, 0-0: Hard outdoor
Friday: John Millman vs Dami Dzumhur; Alex de Minaur vs Mirza Basic
Saturday: John Peers/Jordan Thompson vs Basic/Tomislav Brkic; de Minaur vs Dzumhur; Millman vs Basic
India vs Italy (4), Kolkata, 1-4: Grass outdoors
Friday: Ramkumar Ramanathan vs Andreas Seppi; Prajnish Gunneswaran vs Matteo Berrettini
Saturday: Rohan Bopanna/Divij Sharan vs Simone Bolelli/Marco Cecchinato; Gunneswaran vs Seppi; Ramanathan vs Berrettini
Germany (5) vs Hungary, Frankfurt, 3-2: Hard indoors
Friday: Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Zsombor Piros; Alexander Zverev vs Peter Nagy
Saturday: Tim Puetz/Jan-Lennard Struff vs Gabor Borsos/Nagy; Zverev vs Piros; Kohlschreiber vs Nagy
Switzerland (6) vs Russia, Biel, 2-1: Hard indoor
Friday: Henri Laaksonen vs Daniil Medvedev; Marc-Andrea Huesler vs Karen Khachanov
Saturday: Huesler/Laaksonen vs Evgeny Donskoy/Andrey Rublev; Laaksonen vs Khachanov; Huesler vs Medvedev
Kazakhstan (7) vs Portugal, Astana, 0-0: Hard indoors
Friday: Alexander Bublik vs Joao Sousa; Mikhail Kukushkin vs Pedro Sousa
Saturday: Aleksandr Nedovyesov/Timur Khabibulin vs Gastao Elias/Joao Sousa; Kukushkin vs Joao Sousa; Bublik vs Pedro Sousa
Czech Rep (8) vs Netherlands, Ostrava, 5-2: Hard indoors
Friday: Jiri Vesely vs Tallon Griekspoor; Lucas Rosol vs Robin Haase
Saturday: Adam Pavlasek/Vesely vs Matwe Middelkoop/Jean-Julien Rojer; Vesely vs Haase; Rosol vs Griekspoor
Colombia vs Sweden (9), Bogota, 0-0: Clay indoors
Players Colombia: Daniel Elahi Galan, Santiago Giraldo, Alejandro Gonzalez, Juan-Sebastian Cabal, Robert Farah
Players Sweden: Mikail Ymer, Markus Eriksson, Jonathan Mridha, Robert Lindstedt
Austria (10) vs Chile, Salzburg, 0-3: Clay indoors
Friday: Jurij Rodionov vs Nicolas Jarry; Dennis Novak vs Christian Garin
Saturday: Oliver Marach/Jurgen Melzer vs Hans Podlipnik-Castillo/Julio Peralta; Novak vs Jarry; Rodionov vs Garin
Slovakia vs Canada (11), Bratislava, 1-0: Clay indoors
Friday: Filip Horansky vs Denis Shapovalov; Martin Klizan vs Felix Auger-Aliassime
Saturday: Filip Polasek/Igor Zelenay vs Shapovalov/Auger-Aliassime; Klizan vs Shapovalov; Horansky vs Auger-Aliassime
China vs Japan (12), Guangzhou, 1-8: Hard outdoors
Friday: Li Zhe vs Yoshihito Nishioka; Zhang Ze vs Taro Daniel
Saturday: Gong Moa-Xin/Ze vs Ben McLachlan/Yasutaka Uchiyama; Ze vs Nishioka; Zhe vs Daniel
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news
BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge