© Ella Ling

Kei Nishikori - Australian open

The return of the Japanese

   

The Tennis Space briefing: Five things you need to know about the Davis Cup.

It’s another weekend of national pride at stake as the Davis Cup follows last week’s Fed Cup first rounds. With the 16 World Group nations dotted all over the place, once again it’s an exercise in keeping tabs across the time zones, as players don their national tracksuits in pursuit of one of the most famous (and impressive) trophies in tennis, Dwight Davis’s Cup.

Watch out for an upset
Kazakhstan are the proverbial minnows of the World Group, competing in the Davis Cup’s elite tier for only the second year. But after knocking out the Czech Republic in five thrilling rubbers in icy conditions in Ostrava last year, and following on from Mikhail Kukushkin’s run to the fourth round in Melbourne, the first Kazakh to make it to the second week of a major, there’s no knowing what might happen.

Their opposition though, are about as tough as it gets. Spain, the world’s leading tennis nation, the defending champions, and at home, too. Spain may be without their two most formidable members, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer choosing to take a break after winning the trophy in December, but they still boast a grand slam champion in Juan Carlos Ferrero, an experienced doubles duo in Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, and sheer grit in Nicolas Almagro. Kukushkin starts against Ferrero, followed by Almagro against Golubev, a player who seems to get more baby-faced by the day. All said and done, it will be a tough one for the Kazakh’s to come out on top. But one to watch, certainly, even just to see the Davis Cup trophy in all its glory.

Hello, Roger
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic may not be playing for King and country this weekend, but Roger Federer is, in Fribourg, Switzerland, as the Swiss take on the USA. With Bob Bryan missing in action on account of his new-born baby daughter, it’s up to Mardy Fish, John Isner, Mike Bryan and rookie Ryan Harrison to try and stop Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka putting Switzerland into the quarter-finals. It will be the tie with the most blockbluster clashes though, that’s for sure, with Wawrinka starting against Fish, followed by Federer against Isner. Don’t miss it.

Where did Japan come from?
Japan, in the World Group? Yes indeed. With Kei Nishikori climbing the ranks of the ATP with every event he plays, the Japanese number one and Go Soeda completed a 5-0 sweep over Slovenia to move up to the top of the Davis Cup tree, and will fancy themselves capable of going even further when they take on Croatia at home. The Croats are without both Marin Cilic and Ivan Ljubicic, forced to fall back on Ivan Dodig and Ivo Karlovic instead,  and so it’s certainly winnable for world number 20 Nishikori and world number 90 Soeda. Follow Karlovic on twitter for the inside track on the weekend. You may not learn much about the tennis, but you will know exactly what Karlovic has been eating and drinking.

And the rest?
The five other ties are rather unknown quantities, as Austria face Russia at home, Canada take on France at home, the Czech Republic take on Italy at home, Serbia face Sweden at home, and Germany take on Argentina. Austria and Russia will likely be a squeaky one, as will Germany v Argentina. The Czechs should see off the Italians without too much ado, the French too over Canada, and Serbia against Sweden as well. But the beauty of the Davis Cup is that you just never know.

What about the Brits?
Team GB are continuing their trek up from the depths of the Europe/Africa Zone Group II, a low they sunk to this time two years ago with a loss to Lithuania. But this weekend they’re back in Glasgow for the third tie in a row, aiming to beat the Slovak Republic and advance to a play-off to make it up into the World Group. What an achievement that would be for Leon Smith, who is yet to lose a tie in charge of the national side. Their opposition, spearheaded by Lukas Lacko, are no slouches though, and it will need every ounce that James Ward, Dan Evans, Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins can give if the Brits are to continue moving on up.

Follow every ball struck in Davis Cup this weekend on www.daviscup.com