Davis Cup Preview: Novak Djokovic skips action. India host Italy on grass.


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Davis Cup Preview: Novak Djokovic skips action. India host Italy on grass.

The newly-formed Davis Cup Qualifiers will take place between February 1-2, with 24 countries fighting for 12 positions at Davis Cup finals in November in Madrid. Brazil and Belgium are among the selected squads that will battle for one of 18 spots in the final and they will meet at the Sabiazinho - Ginasio Presidente Tancredo Neves in Uberlandia on an indoor clay surface.

After five away ties, including the one in Belgium, Brazil will compete in front of the home crowd for the first time since July 2016 when they beat Ecuador 3-1, with a municipality in the state of Minas Gerais serving as the host for the first time.

Brazil had settled in the World Group in 1997, staying there for seven straight years before losing five consecutive ties in 2003-2004 to drop into Group 2, falling to win any of five World Group Play-off ties in a row before playing in the elite again in 2013 and 2015.

In the last three seasons, the Brazilians have lost the most important matches of the season although they were ranked high enough to enter Davis Cup Qualifiers where they will try to overpower the fourth-best team in the world and the finalist in 2015 and 2017.

The Brazilians are the clear favorites to score a win and book Madrid ticket, with David Goffin, Ruben Bemelmans and Steve Darcis all skipping the tie for Belgium, leaving Johan Van Herck with a weak squad that will try to perform a miracle and propels their country to Madrid.

The Brazilians have been struggling to make an impact on the ATP Tour or Challengers in 2018, with no players ranked in the top-100 and with just four in the top-300 of the singles list. Thiago Monteiro, the veteran Rogerio Dutra Silva, Thiago Seyboth Wild, Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares are all in Uberlandia, forging a strong team that should beat Belgium without troubles.

Kimmer Coppejans, Arthur De Greef, Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen have played only eight Davis Cup matches combined, with no one expecting anything special from them in away tie on clay. Belgium took down Brazil in 1960, 1993 and most recently in 2016 when Goffin and Darcis led the home squad towards a 4-0 triumph in Ostend.

Twenty-five years after they made Davis Cup debut, Uzbekistan will compete in the elite group of the most prominent men's team competition for the first time in 2019, hosting Serbia in the capital of Tashkent on an indoor hard surface.

Saxovat Sport Servis Sport Complex will host the best Uzbekistan players and 2010 champion Serbia in what should be an exciting tie, with Novak Djokovic missing the Davis Cup action after winning his seventh Australian Open title.

After playing away ties in 2017 and 2018, Uzbekistan will finally have the opportunity to play in front of the home fans for the first time since September 2016 when they lost a tight clash against Switzerland. In the last Davis Cup tie of 2018 season, Uzbekistan fought well against Great Britain in Glasgow before losing 3-1 although they are ranked high enough to secure the place in Davis Cup Qualifiers, fighting for the spot in Davis Cup finals.

Denis Istomin is by far the most experienced Uzbek player and he leads his country for the 15th straight year, winning 34 Davis Cup ties for Uzbekistan so far. Sanjar Fayziev, Khumoyun Sultanov, Sergey Fomin and Jurabek Karimov are there to help Istomin in their goals and we will see who will join Denis in singles rubbers.

After reaching the semi-final in 2017, Serbia had lost in the first round of the World Group for the first time since 2014 as the USA proved to be too strong last February in Nis. The Serbs scored a solid win over India in September and they will now try to reach Madrid and hope Novak Djokovic will be there to guide them towards the second Davis Cup trophy.

Dusan Lajovic, Laslo Djere, Filip Krajinovic, Nikola Milojevic and Viktor Troicki will travel to Uzbekistan and they will be the favorites for an overall win if Dusan or Filip defeat Istomin in singles rubber, having more balanced and better-ranked squad than the host team.

It should be another thrilling Davis Cup Qualifiers tie and it could go down to the wire, especially if both sides bring their best tennis. They had played only once before, nine years ago in Serbia when the home team scored a comfortable 5-0 triumph.

The famous Calcutta South Club in Kolkata will stage Davis Cup Qualifiers tie between India and Italy on grass court, with two teams fighting to earn the place at Davis Cup finals at Caja Magica in Madrid in November. With the action taking place just a week after the first Grand Slam of the season in Melbourne, the Indians made the best possible decision when they went for grass, having some excellent players capable of delivering the magic on it and knowing how inexperienced the Italian squad is on the fastest surface in our sport.

The Indian Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi (he had played for India between 1995-2011, winning 27 out of 33 doubles matches) is confident about his team's chances as they looked for the best possible surface to make the Italians uncomfortable and give the advantage to their singles players Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Ramkumar Ramanathan.

After 2008 ties against Japan and Uzbekistan, India had used grass only once, two years ago against South Korea, and the only country that has managed to beat them at home on the green surface since 1995 is Sweden, in 1996 and 2005.

India has beaten Italy only once in five Davis Cup ties, at this very same court in Kolkata back in 1985, and they will be the favorites again now during the two-day action and the best-of-three matches. India competes in the elite for the first time since 2011 and Mahesh Bhupathi is counting on Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Divij Sharan, Rohan Bopanna, Saketh Myneni.

With Leander Paes out of the squad and Yuki Bhambri who is still dealing with a knee injury, the best-ranked singles players Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Ramkumar Ramanathan should play in singles while Divij Sharan and Rohan Bopanna are set to share the same side of the doubles court.

On the other hand, Fabio Fognini opted not to travel to India and Corrado Barazzutti can count on Marco Cecchinato, Andreas Seppi, Matteo Berrettini, Thomas Fabbiano and Simone Bolelli, seeking for the best possible combination in both singles and doubles to stand a chance against the home nation.