The finals of the 2021 Davis Cup will take place around Europe next week as 18 nations bid for glory.
Spain will be the defending champions having won the competition when it was last played in 2019, while Great Britain will be hoping for more success after lifting the trophy in 2015.
With most of the world’s top players set to compete for their countries, we look at who the key figures could be across the week…
Medvedev, Rublev lead Russian Tennis Federation to Davis Cup glory
Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
While others might shy away from the prospect of playing for their country, that is certainly not the case for Novak Djokovic, at least not at this stage of his career. The world No 1 has said winning silverware for Serbia is top of his priority list along with adding more Grand Slam titles to his collection.
Djokovic helped Serbia win their only previous Davis Cup title in 2010 and was clearly desperate to achieve more success for his country at the Tokyo Olympics in the summer. That he missed out on any sort of medal may fuel his desire to finish his season with a Davis Cup win, and he is feeling confident ahead of the competition.
“I like my chances against anybody in the Davis Cup really,” he said after losing in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals.
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“I look forward to that. Obviously, Davis Cup is a team competition. It doesn't depend on me only. We have to try to win another singles or at least one singles, one doubles. Yeah, 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.”
With doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic not in the team, there’s a strong chance Djokovic could feature in the doubles as well as the singles. Nikola Cacic is the only regular doubles player in the team, which will be captained by Viktor Troicki.
Serbia team: Novak Djokovic, Dusan Lajovic, Filip Krajinovic, Nikola Cacic, Miomir Kecmanovic
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Cameron Norrie (Great Britain)
When Great Britain won the Davis Cup in 2015 it was largely because of the heroics of Andy Murray. This time around they don’t have the same star power in singles - with Murray saying he didn't "deserve" a place in the team - but their line-up appears stronger across the board.
Leading the line in the singles will be Cameron Norrie, who is up to No 12 in the world rankings after his impressive season that was capped off by winning the ATP Masters 1000 in Indian Wells. Norrie is no stranger to Davis Cup heroics, having come from two sets down to beat Roberto Bautista Agut on his debut in the competition in 2018. If Norrie can live up to his ranking then he should be well supported by world No 25 Dan Evans and doubles specialists Joe Salisbury, who made the doubles final of the ATP Finals in Turin, and Neal Skupski.
“It’s such a positive having a team like this,” team captain Leon Smith told PA. “What Cam has been doing this year is absolutely exceptional. Of course he wasn’t in our last squad and to go from that to being our No 1 player and closing in on a top-10 ranking, it’s really so impressive. Every single person respects what he’s doing.”
Britain face France in Innsbruck, Austria on Saturday and Czech Republic on Sunday.
Great Britain team: Cameron Norrie, Daniel Evans, Joe Salisbury, Neal Skupski, Liam Broady
Daniil Medvedev (Russia)
When it comes to all-round team strength, it’s hard to top Russia’s line-up at the finals.
World No 2 Daniil Medvedev is one of three top-20 players in the squad, along with world No 5 Andrey Rublev and world No 18 Aslan Karatsev, while world No 29 Karen Khachanov adds even more depth.
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However, it should not be overlooked that Rublev is not in the best of form and Karatsev has not hit the same heights in recent months as he did at the start of the year. Khachanov has also been short of match wins lately.
That could leave a lot of the heavy lifting to US Open champion Medvedev, who admitted after losing in the ATP Finals to Alexander Zverev - who will not be competing for Germany - that he was slightly tired. Medvedev has called Russia the “big favourites” for the Davis Cup because of the quality in their team but he will likely need to deliver some big performances if they are going to win silverware.
Russia team: Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Aslan Karatsev, Karen Khachanov, Evgeny Donskoy
Marin Cilic (Croatia)
Are 2018 champions Croatia potential dark horses to win the title again?
With Borna Coric missing from the team as he recovers from injury, a lot will rest on the shoulders of Marin Cilic. The former world No 3 has not been in great form over the last few years but he showed some positive signs last month as he won his 20th tour title in St Petersburg.
“I think I can take my tennis to an even better level,” he said in Russia. “I want to be able to beat the best. This is my goal.”
If Cilic is firing then he should be well supported by the top doubles team in the world. Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic have been in fine form this year, winning nine titles together, including Wimbledon and a gold medal at the Olympics. With just two singles matches and one doubles match in each tie, Mektic and Pavic should give Cilic a shot at securing some tight wins.
Croatia team: Marin Cilic, Nino Serdarusic, Borna Gojo, Nikola Mektic, Mate Pavic
Carlos Alcaraz (Spain)
Spain's preparations for the defence of their Davis Cup title suffered a blow with the withdrawal of Roberto Bautista Agut due to injury.
It was expected that world No 19 Bautista Agut would lead the team in singles in the absence of Rafael Nadal, but the late setback paves the way for Carlos Alcaraz to get more court time.
Alcaraz is coming off a breakthrough season that has seen him win his first ATP Tour title, secure two top-10 wins, reach No 32 in the world, and lift the trophy at the Next Gen Finals in Milan. He now looks set to make his Davis Cup debut and his explosive game should give the Madrid crowd plenty to cheer about.
Spain start their group campaign against Ecuador on Friday before a tantalising clash against Russia.
Spain team: Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta, Carlos Alcaraz, Feliciano Lopez, Marcel Granollers
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