Preview of the first round of Davis Cup play, including four significant ties—Japan vs. Canada, U.S. vs. Britain, France vs. Germany and Australia vs. Czech Republic.
Just a few months since Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka led Switzerland to its first David Cup title over France, the 2015 Davis Cup landscape is barely recognizable. Federer and Wawrinka have opted out of Switzerland's first round tie against Belgium and Federer already announced he'll skip the competition entirely this year. After a poor performance in 2014, usual powerhouse Spain isn't in the World Group this year and is relegated to World Group II. And after skipping Serbia's 2014 campaign, No. 1 Novak Djokovic is back in the mix in 2015.
The result of the shake-up is a wide-open competition. Djokovic's commitment combined with the rise of Viktor Troicki as a solid No. 2 makes Serbia an early favorite for the title, especially with the strongest teams in their half of the draw—Japan and Canada—facing off in the first round. Serbia opens against Croatia this weekend and the Croats are without their top player Marin Cilic, who has yet to play all season due to injury.
Here are the four weekend ties that could shape the Davis Cup season:
See the full World Group draw here.
Japan vs. Canada
The Canadians are hosting Japan with both teams sending their top players with No. 4 Kei Nishikori and No. 6 Milos Raonic. Canada has the stronger overall team, with Vasek Pospisil backing up Raonic in singles and the veteran doubles specialist Daniel Nestor ready for Saturday's doubles rubber. Nishikori leads his head-to-head with Raonic 4-2, but Raonic got the better of him in their only meeting this year, a tight three-tiebreaker match at the Brisbane International. The winner of this tie will play either Switzerland or Belgium in the next round.
Australia vs. Czech Republic
Australia is without their top player, Nick Kyrgios, as the teenager is still recuperating from the back injury that has sidelined him since the Australian Open. But with Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek both sitting out for the Czechs, this is a big opportunity for the Aussies to score an upset. Captain Patrick Rafter has opted to go with 18-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis instead of the higher-ranked Sam Groth to face Lukas Rosol on Day 1, while Bernard Tomic gets the nomination to play Jiri Vesely in the second singles rubber. The strategy seems to be to save Groth and Lleyton Hewitt for Saturday's doubles. The winner of this tie would play either Italy or Kazakhstan in July.
U.S. vs. Great Britain
Can the Americans avenge their disappointing loss to Andy Murray's Brits on home soil last year? With Bob and Mike Bryan the favorites to earn a point on Saturday, the question is whether the Americans can pull off two wins in singles. In terms of rankings match-ups, that shouldn't be difficult, as Britain's No. 2 is James Ward, ranked No. 111. But when the two teams played in San Diego last year, Ward came through with a big win over Sam Querrey to put the tie in Murray's hands, and he sealed with two singles wins. Captain Jim Courier had a tough call to make with regards to his second singles nomination behind John Isner—Steve Johnson was the most consistent over the last year, Donald Young had a strong month in February and Querrey showed signs of improved play. Courier decided to go with the hot hand and put in Young to face Murray in the first round. On the whole, both teams have a tough draw this year, as the winner will face either France or Germany.
France vs. Germany
Given their bevy of talent, it would be a shame if this generation of Frenchmen didn't win the Davis Cup at least once. A finalist last year, the nine-time champions have seven men in the ATP Top 40, but they're without their top player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga this weekend. Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon got the singles nods, with Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut in doubles. They'll be playing a German team in complete disarray, with a new captain in Michael Kohlmann, 75-year-old Nikola Pilic added as an advisor and the team's top player Philipp Kohlschreiber not exactly endearing himself to his teammates. The Germans are on a seven-tie losing streak to the French.