Serbia begin the defense of their Davis Cup title today with a home tie against India, while Jim Courier takes charge of the US for the first time with a tough tie away to Chile.
The Serbs grabbed their first ever Davis Cup triumph in December by bouncing back from 1-2 down to defeat France in an enthralling final in Belgrade.
Hero of last year’s Serbian campaign and now Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will miss the tie as he takes some time off to recover physically from a hectic start to the year.
However, with experienced campaigners as Victor Troicki, Janko Tipsarevic and doubles expert Nenad Zimonjic, the Serbs should still have more than enough firepower to see off the Indians, especially since they will be without top doubles pair Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, who are both injured.
Asian and Commonwealth Games champion Somdev Devvarman will shoulder Indian hopes, but he will start as underdog in both his singles rubbers.
Four-time Grand Slam winner Courier takes over as US captain from Patrick McEnroe and is tasked with winning a Davis Cup for the Americans for just the second time in the last 16 years.
He has at his disposal Davis Cup stalwart Andy Roddick and the giant John Isner for the singles as well as the world’s top doubles pairing of Bob and Mike Bryan.
However, they will be wary of South American outdoor claycourts, anathema to both Roddick and Isner, even though top Chilean Fernando Gonzalez is unavailable through injury.
It has been a troubled buildup for last year’s runners-up France as they prepare to take on Jurgen Melzer’s Austria in a hangar at Vienna Airport.
Injuries have deprived the French of their three top-ranked players in Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet and there have been unconfirmed reports of tensions in the team camp notably between captain Guy Forget and Gilles Simon who will lead the singles.
Still, Simon has been in fine form of late, running Roger Federer close in Melbourne, and in Michael Llodra and fit-again Julien Benneteau, the French have strength in depth.
Spanish hopes of a third Davis Cup win in four years have been boosted by World No. 1 Rafael Nadal’s decision to play in Belgium where he will have strong backing from David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco.
The Belgians will look to veterans Xavier Malisse and Olivier Rochus.
Russian hopes in Sweden have been badly dented by the news that Michael Youzhny, the hero of the dramatic triumph in Paris in 2002, will no longer play Davis Cup ties and the withdrawal of Nikolay Davydenko.
In their places will be Igor Andreev and Teimuraz Gabashvili, but they will be underdogs against world No. 4 Robin Soderling.
The other three ties see the Czech Republic take on Kazakhstan in Ostrava, Argentina face Romania in Buenos Aires and Croatia welcome Germany to Zagreb.
Elsewhere, Taiwan take on China in an Asia/Oceania Group 1 first-round tie in Shanghai.
additional reporting by staff writer
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