Davis focus falls on Melbourne misfits

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Serbia’s Novak Djokovic reacts during his Men’s singles second round match against Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin at Melbourne Park during Australian Open on January 19, 2017.

Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios hope the Davis Cup heals the wounds of their painful Australian Open exits this weekend when they will be the only two top-15 men competing.

World No 1 Andy Murray has opted out of Britain’s transatlantic trip to Ottawa, where Canada will be without fourth-ranked Milos Raonic for the World Group opener.

Meanwhile, Australian Open champion Roger Federer and world No 3 Stan Wawrinka will miss Switzerland’s tie in the United States.

Rafa Nadal, runner-up to Federer in Melbourne, will sit out Spain’s match in Croatia, which will be missing Marin Cilic.

Japan and France meet in Tokyo with the host’s Kei Nishikori and the visitor’s Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on the sidelines.

Tomas Berdych is out of the Czech Republic team to face Australia in Melbourne while David Goffin skips Belgium’s short hop to Germany.

Just as concerning for the 117-year-old tournament is Juan Martin del Potro sitting out defending champion Argentina’s home tie against Italy.

Despite seeing all his big rivals take a breather, Djokovic is relishing leading 2010 champion Serbia against Russia in Nis.

The world No 2 was stunned in the Aussie Open second round by Uzbekistan’s unheralded Denis Istomin for his earliest Grand Slam exit in nine years.

“I am overjoyed to be back amongst these guys as we are all close friends and it’s a very special atmosphere every time we get together,” 29-year-old Djokovic told daviscup.com.

“But Russia is a young team and we can’t underestimate them.”

Russia, which won the last of its two titles in 2006, will be led by world No 52 Karen Khachnov.

A win for Serbia will set up a quarterfinal against five-time winner Spain or 2005 champion Croatia, who clash in Osijek.

In Nadal’s absence, Spain will be led by 16th-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut and world No 26 Pablo Carreno Busta.

Croatia will rely on Franko Skugor and Nikola Mektic, ranked at 223 and 319 respectively, neither of whom have ever won a Davis Cup singles tie.

At Kooyong in Melbourne, No 15 Kyrgios will try to restore his battered reputation after being accused of tanking in his five-set, second-round loss to Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open.

Australia, the 28-time champion, faces a Czech side led by world No 54 Jiri Vesely in the absence of world No 12 Berdych.

“I’ve got to improve a lot of things in my game, I’ve got to work harder,” said 21-year-old Kyrgios.

For Britain, Murray dropped out of the Canada tie after his stunning fourth-round defeat to Mischa Zverev in Melbourne. Raonic is missing after injuring his groin in his quarterfinal loss to Nadal.

With top-50 players Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund among its ranks, Britain is favored as Canada’s top singles player, Peter Polanksy, is ranked 128.

The winner of that tie will face Japan or nine-time champion France in the last eight.

Japan is without fifth-ranked Nishikori, who was bothered by a hip injury in his loss to Federer in Australia.

In his absence, Yoshihito Nishioka, ranked 85, leads the Japanese challenge against a French squad that still boasts Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon, both inside the top 25.

Without Federer and Wawrinka, Switzerland will look to Henri Laaksonen and 35-year-old Marco Chiudinelli, both outside the top 100, to shock its American host.

The US is led by top 30 trio Jack Sock, John Isner and Sam Querrey.

Top seed Argentina is without Del Potro and Federico Delbonis, who won the reverse singles to beat Croatia in the 2016 final, when it opens its title defense on clay in Buenos Aires against Italy.

The winner will face Germany or Belgium, who clash in Frankfurt.

China Daily

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