GLASGOW, GREAT BRITAIN: Great Britain are aiming to rise to the challenge without Andy Murray when they take on Slovak Republic in Glasgow this weekend. In their first Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Zone Group I tie since 2009, the home side are underdogs against their higher-ranked opponents in Friday’s opening singles rubbers.
21-year-old Dan Evans, the world No. 276, will make his first Davis Cup appearance since March 2010 when he takes on Lukas Lacko, ranked No. 65, before world No. 158 James Ward faces Martin Klizan, ranked No. 120.
Murray, the world No. 4, was forced to rule himself out of this weekend’s tie on medical grounds after his recent exertions in reaching the semifinals of last month’s Australian Open. But British captain Leon Smith is hopeful his side can step up and raise their game in the absence of their star player and reach the second round in April, when they would play Belgium at home.
“The rankings of the Slovak players show that they are very strong and in good form,” said Smith, who has made a successful start to his career as GB captain after guiding the team to promotion in his first season in charge in 2011.
“It is going to be very tough but I am confident our guys can step up. It is not as if we are playing players in the Top 20, although they are very good. On any given day, they can be beaten and our guys have all had good wins against very good players. It is another opportunity for this team to step up, pull together and work hard to try and come out with a result which would be a really significant one should we get through.”
Slovak captain Miloslav Mecir, the 1988 Olympic gold medallist who was in charge when Slovak Republic beat Britain 5-0 in Bratislava in 1995, acknowledges that the rankings may show his side to be favourites but is remaining cautious.
“I think it is for the journalists to set the favourites first,” said Mecir. “The match is still to be played and if we knew who was going to win, we would not have to play. Sometimes a player can have a very good day and a good game. You never know when that is going to be, so we have to concentrate on the match and play good quality tennis.”
There was a surprise on the eve of the tie between Slovenia and Denmark in Velenje when Danish captain Kenneth Carlsen nominated Kristian Pless - ironically on the day of his 31st birthday - as one of his singles picks for the first day.
Pless, a former world No. 65 in 2002 and junior world No. 1, has not played a tour match since 2009 and has not represented his country since 2001, but has been thrown into action for Friday’s opening rubber against Grega Zemlja, the world No. 111.
“The nomination of Pless changes it a little bit,” said Slovenian captain Blaz Trupej. “He is well known, has so much experience and all of his good results have been on hard court. I expect a tough match.”
In the second rubber, world No. 112 Blaz Kavcic plays Frederik Nielsen, ranked No. 226. After achieving promotion last year, this is Denmark’s first tie in Group I since 1998. Denmark captain Kenneth Carlsen said: “We have got nothing to lose. We will play without any pressure and see how it ends.”
In the remaining Europe/Africa Group I tie, Netherlands host Finland in s’Hertogenbosch, and the away side have been hit by an injury blow after their No. 1 Jarkko Nieminen, the world No. 47, was forced out of the opening day due to a wrist injury. Nieminen visited the local hospital this morning for a cortisone injection and is hopeful he can return in time for Saturday’s doubles
Robin Haase, the world No. 54, will be the overwhelming favourite in the opening match of the day against world No. 656 Juho Paukku, who replaced Henri Kontinen in the Finnish squad this morning. Thiemo de Bakker, ranked No. 209, will then take on world No. 314 Timo Nieminen, who is no relation to Jarkko. Finland are aiming for their first win against Netherlands after losing all five meetings so far.
Captain Leon Smith (GBR) - 09/02/2012
Captain Miloslav Mecir (SVK) - 09/02/2012