Drive for glory at Davis Cup Finals

 - Alex Sharp

Four of the men’s top 10 have joined a bunch of stars descending on three cities, as 18 nations in six groups prepare for a shot at the prestigious Davis Cup.

Coupe Davis / Davis Cup ©C.Lecocq/FFT

Exactly two years ago to the day Rafael Nadal collapsed to the court at the Caja Magica in Madrid.

Spain were Davis Cup champions for the sixth time.

Fast forward to 2021 and across three cities, 18 teams drawn into six groups will vie to pop the champagne on December 5th.

Innsbruck, Madrid and Turin provide the setting for four of the world’s top 10 men amongst a collection of players out to write their name into the history books.

GROUP A – Spain, Russian Tennis Federation, Ecuador

What a sensational start. The defending champions might be without Nadal, however, they still go into battle with an exceptionally experienced squad.

The exciting proposition for the Spaniard’s is whether their not-so-secret weapon Carlos Alcaraz gets unleashed in Group A against the might of RTF or Ecuador.

The 18-year-old has recently notched up victories over Andy Murray, Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner, before finishing his personal campaign by lifting the NextGen ATP Finals trophy. He’s already the world No.32 and one of the most exciting proteges in the sport.

Well, the RTF squad packs a formidable punch too. World No.2 Daniil Medvedev brings a major pedigree alongside world No.5 Andrey Rublev. Add in Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev and powerhouse Karen Khachanov, they are arguably the strongest outfit on paper.

Can the RTF squad join the women’s side, who triumphed in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals earlier this month?

“I followed the girls very closely”, said world No.29 Khachanov. “We are very happy and proud of them and I congratulated everyone personally. Now it’s our turn.”

GROUP B – Canada, Kazakhstan, Sweden

Canada will bemoan the loss of talismen Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov in a very unpredictable group.

Vasek Pospisil, a Davis Cup veteran with 22 wins across singles and doubles, will spearhead the Canadian hopes. The gregarious world No.36 Alexander Bublik will bring plenty of hotshots and social media magic to proceedings for Kazakhstan.

You might be familiar with the Sweden captain. 2009 and 2010 Roland-Garros finalist Robin Soderling will be gearing his side up to spring a few shocks.

GROUP C – France, Great Britain, Czech Republic

A triumvirate who know about becoming champions.

France most recently took the silverware (2017), just before the Brits were champions (2015) ahead of the Czechs going back-to-back in 2012-13.

They might be missing some marquee names, but it’s going to be a finely poised outcome.

Sebastian Grosjean, a Davis Cup winner as a player in 2001, has some tricky selection choices ahead on the singles side. (Could the unorthodox wizardry of Hugh Gaston shine?) On the doubles side the French can reply upon the brilliance of last week’s ATP Finals champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Andy Murray is absent for the Brits, handing Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans the baton. Norrie excelled in 2021, soaring from world No.74 to be ranked No.12. The 26-year-old took home two titles including Masters glory at Indian Wells.

GROUP D – Croatia, Australia, Hungary

2018 champions Croatia’s squad bounces off the draw sheet with their main man Marin Cilic back in the fold. The hero of three years ago is joined by Borna Coric and the top doubles pair in the world – Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.

Lleyton Hewitt will install no fear in his Australia charges, led by Alex de Minaur, who guided the green and gold to the 2019 quarter-finals by going undefeated through four matches.

“It's amazing what coming back into a team environment does,” said the world No. 34, with ‘109’ tattooed on his chest to represent his order in Australian alumni.

“You’ve had a long year and not the best results at the end of it, but just being back in the team environment, it lifts you up. Attitude, energy, intensity, they’re all just better. I’m looking forward to representing the green and gold and hopefully playing some of my best tennis for my country.”

Debutants Hungary shouldn’t be counted out, especially with the world No.40 Marton Fucsovics in top spot. He’s robust, explosive and loves to bring down the very best.

GROUP E – Italy, USA, Colombia

“Our team is one of the strongest ever fielded and I am sure it will carry the colors of our flag very high,” said the devastated Berrettini, forced to withdraw with injury.

The Italian is right, their quintet is a remarkable squad. World No.10 Jannik Sinner, teenage prodigy Lorenzo Musetti and Davis Cup veteran Fabio Fognini blend together pretty much all you could want.

Record 32-time champions USA will fancy their chances with ‘servebots’ Reilly Opelka and John Isner making the trip. Frances Tiafoe has sparkled in 2021 and joins as a late recruit.

Can any of the Stateside stars nullify the threat of that Italian team? Whoever is selected, it promises to be an early box office bout.

GROUP F – Serbia, Germany, Austria

Germany (without ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev) and Austria will be concentrating on their own clash.

Why? Well Serbia have world No.1 Novak Djokovic at the helm. The 20-time Grand Slam champion relishes performing in his nation’s colours and arrives in high spirits.

“I like the way I'm playing. I like my chances against anybody in the Davis Cup really,” said the 2010 champion, finishing the season as the year-end No.1 for a record seventh time.

“Obviously, Davis Cup is a team competition. It doesn't depend on me only. It's a team effort. So hopefully the other guys are fit and ready. I'm very motivated to play for my country. Let's hope for the best.”