Holders Spain will have the opportunity to defend their Davis Cup title this week when the competition resumes in yet another new format across three European cities, with all eyes on teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the absence of Rafa Nadal. After an exhausting week in Madrid’s Caja Magica, a Nadal-inspired Spain won the inaugural edition of the revamped team event two years ago.
The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled last year’s 18-nation Davis Cup Finals, and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and partners Kosmos Tennis have since moved to make the event more manageable, with Turin and Innsbruck added as co-hosts. The 18 finalists will compete in six groups of three starting on Thursday, with eight qualifying for the knockout rounds and the final on December 5 in Madrid. Spain begin on Friday against Ecuador.
However, the spectre of COVID-19 has returned, and the two groups competing in Innsbruck will have no fans cheering them on following Austria’s reintroduction of a lockdown. Impossibly late finishes to ties (two singles and a doubles) and smallish crowds for some matches tainted what was an encouraging debut for the revamped Davis Cup Finals in Madrid in 2019, which is why it has been expanded to ten days across three nations this time. In Madrid, however, Spain will feel right at home with Group A, which also includes a strong Russian team and Ecuador.
They will be without talisman Rafael Nadal, who is still recovering from a foot injury. Instead, the spotlight will be on Alcaraz, the 18-year-old who is widely expected to fill the void left by 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal. Alcaraz will make his debut in the competition, and he will be joined by Roberto Bautista Agut, one of the heroes of the 2019 Davis Cup, when Spain defeated Canada in the final, as well as Pablo Carreno Busta, Feliciano Lopez, and Marcel Granollers.
“It was a dream that I had since I was a child and being able to make my debut is super beautiful and super special,” Alcaraz, the world number 32, said this week.
“It will be a difficult challenge because only one team definitely gets through in the group and Russia has a great team, but I trust a lot in the Spanish team,” he added.
On paper, Russia appears to be the favourites, led by world number two Daniil Medvedev and world number five Andrey Rublev, but Serbia will have world number one Novak Djokovic in their ranks in Group F in Innsbruck. Serbia will face Austria and a German team that will be missing their star player, Alexander Zverev.
Britain, who were semi-finalists in 2019, will be confident of progressing from Group C, which also includes France and the Czech Republic, despite the absence of Andy Murray. The United States, which has won the Davis Cup a record 32 times, is in Group E in Turin, alongside Italy and Colombia. Australia’s Davis Cup heavyweights will face Croatia and Hungary in Group D, while Canada, Sweden, and Kazakhstan will compete in Group B.