Pat Rafter will be taking charge of his first tie as Australia’s Davis Cup captain next week when he leads his team into battle against China in the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I second round.
The Aussies enter the tie as red-hot favourites to advance into September’s World Group play-offs, but Rafter knows that the Chinese team on home soil will provide a tough challenge for his star line-up.
“The Chinese are awkward, they are very disciplined,” he said. “They do the fundamentals very well, they play very well at home. Our biggest problem is if we are complacent and we take them easy. That will be the one thing that I will jam down their throat, they will be very tough.”
Rafter, a two-time US Open champion, is taking a six-man squad to Beijing, which he will narrow down to a final four on draw day. Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt makes the trip alongside Bernard Tomic, Chris Guccione, Marinko Matosevic, Peter Luczak and Ben Mitchell.
The ace in the pack for Rafter is the in-form Tomic, fresh from becoming the youngest man since Boris Becker in 1986 to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals. The talented teenager, who won the US Open junior event in 2009, will be playing in his second Davis Cup tie, having made his debut against Chinese Taipei last year.
Rafter’s opposite number, Shao-Xuan Zeng, doesn’t have the luxury of a former world No. 1 or Wimbledon quarterfinalist in his ranks. The Chinese captain has nominated Ze Zhang, Di Wu, Mao-Xin Gong and Zhe Li to take on the Aussies.
Australia aren’t the only nation in the Zone Groups able to boast a big name or two. Other top players include Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, Great Britain’s Andy Murray, South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci, Ecuador’s Pablo Cuevas, Italy’s Fabio Fognini, Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Netherlands’s Robin Haase.
Cyprus have also received some good news in their fight against relegation to Group III after former Australian Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis declared himself available to face Bulgaria, while Canada were forced to announce the withdrawal of their top player, Milos Raonic, due to a hip injury sustained at Wimbledon.
Alongside the World Group quarterfinals, there are 24 Zone Group I and II ties taking place on 8-10 July, as nations continue their promotion and relegation battles.