Great Britain captain Leon Smith has backed his team to upset Italy on home soil and reach the Davis Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1981 Smith’s hopes of overcoming the Italians in the quarter-finals on the clay surface in Naples were initially dealt a blow yesterday when news of British No 1 Andy Murray’s illness emerged.
However, the Scot last night appeared to be winning his fight to shrug off the virus in time for his singles match against Andreas Seppi today and was able to practice at the Tennis Club Napoli.
Smith has won eight of his nine ties since taking over as captain in 2010, enhancing his reputation with each one, and is confident that his improving side can deliver another victory.
He said: “As usual there’s been very good team spirit. We’ve got a really good bunch of guys, we get on great and we’ve had a good time. But it’s also been very business-like. We’re here to do a job. We believe we can win, which is important. We really feel that we’ve earned the right to be here.
“There’s a few challenges: they’ve got a very strong team, obviously we’re away from home again and I think the crowd will play a part, and the surface. But I think we’re strong enough mentally and we’ve got enough quality to put up a really good fight.”
The Tennis Club Napoli, meanwhile, does not hold happy memories for Murray, who recalled losing in qualifying at a lower-tier event when he was a teenager.
He said: “I didn’t remember I’d been here and then when I actually turned up to the club, I was like, ‘I’m sure I played on that court’. I was probably 16 or 17.”
The winners of the Naples tie will take on either Switzerland or Kazakhstan, who clash in Geneva this weekend.
The Swiss are looking to move one step closer to a first Davis Cup title and with Roger Federer apparently committed to trying to win one of the biggest prizes still to elude him and Stanislas Wawrinka the sport’s newest grand slam champion, they may never have a better chance.
For the second successive tie, Australian Open champion Wawrinka is the Swiss No 1 and 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.
The Czech Republic have won the title for the last two years and they will be expected to reach the semi-finals again, despite the absence of Czech No 1 Tomas Berdych.
Berdych is sitting out the tie in Japan but the hosts are majorly understrength because of injury to world No 18 Kei Nishikori, while Japan No 2 Go Soeda is ill and unable to play singles.
They will therefore rely on Tatsuma Ito and Taro Daniel against a strong Czech team of Radek Stepanek and Lukas Rosol, while 20-year-old Jiri Vesely is due to play doubles.
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.