Australian captain Pat Rafter has announced his team to face China in the upcoming Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Asia/Oceania Zone Group I first round tie, taking place on grass at the Geelong Lawn Tennis Club, near Melbourne, on 10-12 February.
“We're going to take Bernard Tomic, who has made himself available, Lleyton Hewitt, he thinks his toe will be fine, and Matt Ebden and Chris Guccione will be the four that we'll be taking,” said Rafter, speaking at the Australian Open.
“We'll take two orange boys, Blake Mott, who is a 15‑year‑old boy from Woolongong playing the Futures circuit. We have high hopes for him in about four or five years’ time. Also, Nick Kyrgios from Canberra will come along and make up the six. We'll get them introduced to the Davis Cup scene.”
Tomic comes into the tie off the back of an impressive performance at Melbourne Park. The Aussie teenager recorded wins over Fernando Verdasco, Sam Querrey and Alexandr Dolgopolov before eventually bowing out against Roger Federer in the fourth round, leaving Rafter happy with his recent form.
“He started off this summer really well,” said Rafter. “I noticed the first match up in Brisbane (against Julien Benneteau) when he was winning comfortably. He then went on to get down a break in that first match in a tight third set. He found a way and fought hard.
“In the past I would have expected Bernard to let it go a little bit, but he hung in there. I thought he moved really well, especially in the first match against Verdasco (at the Australian Open). His fitness has improved. His whole mental well‑being is going the right direction.
“I was very critical of him last year. He wasn't in the right head space. I think the improvements he's made now, he's gone the right direction, and he really impressed me over this summer. He's going to be a very, very good player.”
Australia and China know each other well having met last year. On that occasion, in Beijing, the Chinese team gave the Aussies a scare by winning the opening rubber before the visitors battled back to eventually prevail 3-1.
Australia hold all the cards for this tie – home advantage, higher ranked players and more experience in their ranks – but Rafter is wary of the fighting spirit that China possess.
“When you try your hardest out there, you never give in, you prepare as well as you can, and you always have a chance,” said Rafter. “That's the way I see the Chinese team. On paper, they're nowhere near as strong as our team.
“Over in Beijing, they showed just such great fight and attitude, they could have been sort of semi‑close to a bit of an upset. We lost the first rubber. We were struggling in the second match. If we were down 2‑0, it would have been very interesting.
“Again, it's all to do with their attitude, but I hope to think we can get through it pretty comfortably.”
China are yet to name their line-up for the trip to Geelong. The deadline for official team nominations to be submitted to the ITF is 31 January, ten days before the action gets under way.