Photo: ImagellanBogdan Obradovic and Novak Djokovic
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, five days after his triumph at the Australian Open, will face 32-year-old Oliver Rochus in Charleroi, Belgium in the second rubber on Friday. Viktor Troicki will open the tie against rising star David Goffin.
Djokovic returns to Davis Cup after a year’s absence and with Janko Tipsarevic out with an injury his presence is very much needed by the Serbian team this weekend. “It’s been a long few weeks in Melbourne and exhausting but still very successful,” said Djokovic “Right now I am turning my attention to Davis Cup and I am glad I am part of this team again. I have missed that feeling to be honest and hopefully we can have a successful team.”
Defending Champions Czech Republic will take on Switzerland in Geneva and it is Stanislas Wawrinka who has the honour of opening the tie when he faces Lukas Rosol in the opening rubber. Wawrinka came within two points of beating Djokovic at the Australian Open in what has been a great start to the Swiss’ 2013 season.
Rosol famously took the scalp of Rafael Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon last year, a match that marked the end of the Spaniard’s season, he has been battling a knee injury ever since. The Czech team is without Davis Cup stalwart Radek Stepanek this weekend after a back injury forced the 2012 hero out of the first round.
Czech No. 1 Tomas Berdych will follow in Friday’s second rubber and will face Finland-born Henri Laaksonen, who is making his debut for Switzerland this weekend. Laaksonen couldn’t have faced a tougher opponent in this first match for his new country, Berdych is ranked 283 places above him and is worlds apart in experience.
France, on paper, look strong favourites against Israel in Limoges with World No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga leading the charge on Friday. Tsonga will play 173-ranked Amir Weintraub, swiftly followed by No. 10 Richard Gasquet against 103-Dudi Sela. France has tremendous depth but Israel made a surprise run to the Davis Cup semifinals in 2009 so it would be foolish to ever underestimate them.
Israel’s captain is full of confidence: “I believe in my players,” Eyal Ran said. “They’ve proved before that in Davis Cup they can raise their game. I’m sure we will have some chances.”
Argentina faces Germany in the first round for the second consecutive year and in Juan Martin del Potro’s absence it is left to Juan Monaco to lead the Argentines at home at Parque Roca. Monaco will take on Florian Mayer in the second rubber.
First up it will be Carlos Berlocq, who is 0-2 in Davis Cup play, against Philip Kohlschreiber. Kohlschreiber is returning to Davis Cup competition after a 12-month absence and is fired up to give his team an early lead, “I am pretty confident, but I know that we will have to give our 100 percent to win the tie,” said the German.
USA’s towering team of Sam Querrey and John Isner will face Thomaz Bellucci and Thiego Alves respectively on the first day in Jacksonville. Isner is returning from a knee injury that he picked up in Sydney that kept him out of the Australian Open. Brazil have a strong doubles team of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares but they may struggle to make an impact against Bob and Mike Bryan who are riding high after a record-breaking win in Melbourne.
Italian No. 2 Fabio Fognini takes on Croatia’s Marin Cilic in Turin on Friday, followed by Andreas Seppi against Ivan Dodig. Italy and Croatia are fielding players with pretty similar rankings so this tie could well go the distance this weekend.
Austria has travelled to Kazakhstan to fight for a quarterfinal position and look to have the stronger side. Austrian No. 1 Jurgen Melzer will watch from the team bench in the first rubber while Andreas Haider-Maurer battles against Andrey Golubev, before taking on 211-ranked Evgeny Korolev. Kazakhstan’s hopes took a blow when Mikhail Kukushkin, who is recovering from hip surgery, decided that he is fit enough to be nominated for a rubber this weekend, despite being named in the team.
And in the weekend's last World Group tie, hosts Canada are looking to capitalise on a weakened Spanish outfit owing to injuries to Rafael Nadal and Nicolas Almagro. Milos Raonic will need to be on song if the Canadians are to cause an upset on home soil. The big-serving Candian starts proceedings on Friday against lefthander Albert Ramos, followed by Frank Dancevic against Marcel Granollers.