Raz Mirza looks at Great Britain's Davis Cup chances in Italy
By Razwan Mirza - Tweet me: @RazMirza. Last Updated: 03/04/14 10:16pm
Great Britain captain Leon Smith and No 1 Andy Murray go into battle against Italy in Naples
Great Britain will be bracing themselves when they play in front of fervent Neapolitan support against Italy on clay for a place in the Davis Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1981.
Leon Smith's team won't be overawed by the occasion though after enjoying a historical 3-1 victory against the USA on the San Diego dirt in February.
Andy Murray will be the focal point of the side although the British No 1 has reportedly been suffering from a stomach bug in the lead up to the crucial clash.
Order of Play:
Friday (1030 BST start)
Fabio Fognini v James Ward
Andreas Seppi v Andy Murray
Saturday (1300 BST start)
Simone Bolelli/Paolo Lorenzi v Colin Fleming/Ross Hutchins
Sunday (1030 BST GMT)
Fabio Fognini v Andy Murray
Andreas Seppi v James Ward
The Scot will be playing the second singles match against 34th-ranked Andreas Seppi on Friday while world No 161 James Ward was given the nod over the 130th-ranked Dan Evans by captain Smith to face the talented but unpredictable world No 13 Fabio Fognini.
The Londoner's selection was not a surprise given his stunning win over the USA's Sam Querrey in February, which helped Britain to a first World Group victory in 28 years.
Evans - who last played in September 2013 when GB beat Croatia - dropped out of the four-man team altogether and was replaced with Ross Hutchins, leaving Smith's options open for what could be a crucial doubles rubber on Saturday.
Plan A would have been for Murray to team up with fellow Scot Colin Fleming, but if it is felt that is too much for the Wimbledon champion, Hutchins will make his first Davis Cup appearance since his fight against cancer.
Did you know ...
Italy have won 11 of the 15 Davis Cup matches they have played against Great Britain.
Smith, Murray's junior coach, has won eight of his nine ties and victory over the Italians would represent by far his biggest win since taking over as captain in 2010.
Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti has selected singles specialists Fognini and Seppi, alongside Simone Bolelli and Paolo Lorenzi for the clash on the Bay of Naples.
GB will be encouraged by the news that the fiery Fognini has been troubled by a quadriceps injury in recent weeks and may not be 100 per cent.
Lorenzi replaces Filippo Volandri in the only change to the team selected for the first-round match against Argentina.
Barazzutti has fond memories of playing against GB having won the deciding rubber in the last meeting between the teams, beating Colin Dowdeswell at the climax of the match in Telford in 1984.
The winners of the semi-final will face either Switzerland or Kazakhstan in September for a place in the final.
Murray has struggled to rediscover top form this season after back surgery but one of his best weeks came in San Diego and the 26-year-old appears highly motivated to do well in Davis Cup. There were promising signs in Miami last week but his quarter-final loss to Novak Djokovic saw him drop to eighth in the rankings, his lowest spot since 2008. Beating Fognini would represent one of his best wins ever on clay.
In 2013, the brash Italian became the first man from his country to finish in the world top 20 singles rankings since Corrado Barazzutti in 1978. A fluent speaker of four languages - Italian, English, Spanish and French - Fognini has seen his best results on clay, with all three of his ATP titles coming on the red surface. Well balanced off both his forehand and backhand sides, Fognini does not have a glaring weakness in his game.
Known to his friends as Andy, Seppi's career-high singles ranking of 18 in 2013 highlights the sort of tennis he can produce on his day. The six foot three Italian plays a passive, counter-punching style in an attempt to draw errors from his opponent. Seppi's consistency rather than a stand-out shot has helped him stay inside the top 50 for over two years.
Injuries have plagued the 28-year-old's career, a factor in his singles ranking plummeting from 36th in 2009 to 364th currently. Without an ATP title to his name, Bolelli is likely to team up with Fognini in the doubles.
Lorenzi is an attacking all-court player who likes to come to the net at any opportunity. However, a tendency to suffer nerves on the big occasion has seen the 32-year-old Italian's singles ranking hover just inside the top 100 for the best part of the last two years. A high-profile Davis Cup quarter-final will be a stern test of Lorenzi's ability, should he play an active part.
Switzerland v Kazakhstan
Switzerland's dream team - led by Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka - will be aiming to reach their first Davis Cup semi-final for 11 years when they host Kazakhstan on indoor hard. They will be hot favourites to beat Kazakhstan, who are represented in singles by Mikhail Kukushkin and Andrey Golubev, both of whom are outside the world's top 50. A sell-out crowd of 16,000 is expected in Geneva for each of the three days. The winners of the tie will take on either Italy or Great Britain.
Japan v Czech Republic
Holders, the Czech Republic travel to Tokyo to take on Japan, who suffered a major blow ahead of the tie when Kei Nishikori announced he had to pull out due to a groin injury while while No 2 Go Soeda is ill and unable to play singles. They will therefore rely on Tatsuma Ito and Taro Daniel. The Czech Republic have won the title the last two years and they will be expected to reach the semi-finals again despite the absence of No 1 Tomas Berdych. They will be led by Lukas Rosol and Radek Stepanek, while 20-year-old Jiri Vesely is due to play doubles.
France v Germany
The other quarter-final pits France and Germany against each other in Nancy, and the hosts are heavy favourites despite missing injured No 1 Richard Gasquet. Germany cannot call on any of their top four players and are relying on Tobias Kamke and Peter Gojowczyk against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Julien Benneteau.