LONDON – It’s easy to believe the Davis Cup in the last few years has been the plaything of the Big Four in tennis.
Since 2010, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray have won the Davis Cup for the first time. Rafael Nadal has more Davis Cup titles than all of them combined, having featured in three winning finals — the last in 2011 — and helped Spain to a fourth triumph.
The fate of the cup, especially since 2008, has usually hinged on the availability of either of the four, and this year’s event looks set to be decided between Djokovic’s Serbia and Murray’s Britain.
Federer was unavailable again for Switzerland, while Nadal, who has played in two ties in the last five years, has this week off because Spain has a bye in the Europe-Africa zone, where its languished since last year.
None of the Big Four has met in Davis Cup, but that could change if Serbia and Britain win this weekend. They would meet in the quarterfinals in July, after Wimbledon.
When Djokovic has committed to the cup, and he has sidekick Viktor Troicki, Serbia has excelled. After the 2010 triumph, they reached the semifinals in 2011, and final in 2013. He wasn’t available for the quarterfinals last year, and Serbia lost in Argentina.
Djokovic is on a nine-match winning run in the cup, ahead of the series in Belgrade against Kazakhstan. He is optimistic about his chances of playing, as he recovers from infections in his eyes, which forced him to retire in the Dubai semifinals last week.
Kazakhstan has reached the quarterfinals in the last three years, but all three ties were at home.
The British begin their defense in Birmingham against Japan, their first meeting since 1931. Murray will play for the first time since the Australian Open final and the birth of his first child. Japan is led by Kei Nishikori, who has won his last 11 cup matches over four years.
“Japan are a bit similar to our team,” doubles player Jamie Murray said. “They have a world-class singles player who’s right at the top of the game, and then other guys who are like our guys, (ranked) 80, 90, 100 in the world.
“From that point of view, we’re pretty evenly matched. We probably have an advantage over the doubles team, but in Davis Cup that doesn’t guarantee you points.”
France chose to play on clay outdoors on the island of Guadeloupe to neutralize Milos Raonic of Canada, but he’s sidelined, as he’s still recovering from the adductor he tore in the Australian Open semifinals. Doubles specialist Daniel Nestor is also out.
France, beaten by Switzerland in the 2014 final, has four top-20 players to pick from: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, and Gilles Simon.
Australia and the United States, winners of the most cups, meet for the 46th time but first since the 1999 quarterfinals.
Hewitt is making his debut as captain, but could end up playing in Melbourne, as No. 2 Nick Kyrgios has been laid low by a virus since last week.
Italy, hosting, should end a three-match losing run to Switzerland, which starts without Federer and Stan Wawrinka. The winner meets Argentina or World Group newcomer Poland.
Poland has gone for an indoor hard-court in Gdansk to try and blunt the Argentine clay-courters, who should still prevail in their 15th consecutive year in the elite.
Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, the heart of a Czech team which won the cup in 2012 and 2013, go to Hannover for their first tie with Germany in 11 years. Germany is debuting Alexander Zverev, who took Berdych to three sets in Marseille last month.
Belgium, after reaching its first final in 111 years last November, has home advantage again but a tough start with Croatia, led by U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic.
“It’s a good match for us,” said Borna Coric, the Croatia No. 2.
BY FOSTER NIUMATA
#AUSUSA @SamGrothTennis and @JohnIsner will be first up on Friday followed by Bernard Tomic and @JackSock #DavisCup pic.twitter.com/0xdKnA4AhA
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) March 2, 2016